Can the new X5 summon up the charisma expected of the M badge, or does it fall short of rivals from Porsche and Mercedes-AMG?

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With the original X5, BMW virtually invented what we now know as the sports utility vehicle.

The cross-pollination of clunky 4x4 and Bavarian driving machine ought to have been as silly as mountaineering stilettos, but it turned out to be the answer to modern motoring: slyly involving when necessary, a quarantine of elevated solitude when not.

The previous generation X5 M and X6 M SUVs were unforgiving machines to live with and run, and were ultimately overshadowed by better-known rivals and less-compromised stablemates

However, while profligacy and power were conspicuously at the heart of the BMW X5, BMW failed to take it to its inevitable conclusion, leaving others – notably Mercedes-AMG and Porsche – to sweep in and build supercar-fast versions of their contemporary SUVs.

Realising its error, BMW instructed M division to hollow out the BMW X5 and BMW X6 and remake them in its own image.

The results, equipped with the firm’s new twin-turbocharged 4.4-litre V8 motor, were among the quickest SUVs ever built. But they were unforgiving machines to live with and run, and were ultimately overshadowed by better-known rivals and less-compromised stablemates.

Now, with the latest F15 variant of the X5 a little over a year old, M division has returned with a second run at what it thinks a fast SUV should be.

First and foremost, it has been keen to point out that the revised V8 makes the M-badged model more efficient than ever – claiming a 26% improvement in range. But this being M division, it hasn’t forgotten to make it yet more powerful either, with a 10 per cent rise in peak torque making the Range Rover Sport SVR and Porsche Cayenne Turbo look positively limp-wristed. However, in the same breath the Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S has a 10bhp advantage over the BMW

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Nevertheless, the SVR came scandalously close to delivering everything we could want from an anti-socially fast 2.5-tonne SUV. To equal its five-star score, the BMW must live up to the Land Rover’s rich and usable charm, as well as its speed. Onward.

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BMW X5 M rear
The previous generation BMW X5 M was powerful but unforgiving

Above all else, M division claims to cherish the harmony of a vehicle’s components. In that respect, twinning the fearsome 4.4-litre V8 to BMW’s xDrive all-wheel drive system makes sense.

In contrast to the rear-drive BMW M5, which uses the same engine but loses traction more quickly than you’d misplace a set of see-through house keys, the latest BMW X5’s ability to send up to 100% of available torque to either axle (and side to side at the rear via the diff-mimicking Dynamic Performance Control) gives it a clear and obvious advantage over the saloon.

M division engineers have set up the rear-biased xDrive system to sanction "mild drifts" in the DSC's Dynamic mode

The benefits of an SUV’s hereditary drivetrain are chiefly what permits an additional upgrade of the V8’s output. Consequently, where the X5 M started with 547bhp and 502lb ft (essentially where the M5 remains), it now has 567bhp and 553lb ft.

This is the result of higher cylinder pressures produced by the 200bar fuel injectors and twin-scroll turbochargers (fed from a cross-bank manifold), made possible by a supremely rigid forged crankshaft and closed-deck crankcase.

Also new to the X5 M is the eight-speed M Steptronic automatic gearbox, which replaces the old six-speeder. It’s a torque converter rather than dual-clutch automatic unit, and it’s in the far wider ratio spread afforded by it that M division has found much of its efficiency savings. BMW quotes 20 per cent improvements for both economy and emissions, with the 258g/km CO2 output making the X5 M a full 40g/km cleaner than the Range Rover Sport SVR.

However, of likely greater interest to buyers will be the chassis changes. Just as the V8 will continue to be fed oil at 1.2g without issue, M division has fettled the front wishbones for increased camber and stiffened the bearings all round on a suspension, which remains air sprung and self-levelling at the rear to ensure the two-tonne X5 is capable of summoning up that much lateral load in the corners.

Its iron will is designed to be approachable, though. The engineers have set up the rear-biased xDrive system to sanction “mild drifts” in the DSC’s Dynamic mode, beyond the typical M car neutrality for which they always strive.

But that’s for later. For now, suffice to say that the BMW X5, with its cavernous air intakes, huge compound brakes, hot rod rear track and quad exhausts, looks as outwardly determined as M division’s efforts underneath.


BMW X5 M's interior
X5 M's driving position is raised but not bent-legged

The X5 M’s cabin satisfies most of the conflicting demands made of a fast SUV with consummate ease.

Buyers will expect a supportive, cocooned driving position and plenty of performance flavour, but also a lavish, luxurious, high-tech ambience and outstanding comfort and convenience. Put simply, fast SUV owners want it all – and this BMW makes a fine fist of providing it.

The X5 M's load bay is both longer and taller than that of the Range Rover Sport SVR, while the rear cabin is spacious

There’s no mistaking the raised driving position that you slide into from the kerb for anything other than an SUV hallmark, but it’s also a little more recumbent than in some rivals. The multi-adjustable seats have generous under-thigh support and good shape and bolstering, and they’re excellent over long distances.

The standard equipment on the X5 M is impressive as you would expect of a range-topper, with it getting a 20GB iDrive infotainment system with sat nav, Bluetooth, USB interface and wireless charging all as standard. There is also the addition of heated front sports seats, a leather upholstery, wifi hotspot preparation, and a powered tailgate.

The Mugello Red merino leathers and carbonfibre inlays of our test car may look a bit crass, but they’re optional. More important, the hide is beautifully supple, soft and attentively finished, and it can swathe the entirety of the dashboard and doorcards should you want it to.

BMW’s M-specific steering wheel and instruments strike a familiar impression of clarity and purposefulness. They’re partnered with a standard head-up display that comes into its own when you put the car into its Sport+ driving mode, relaying additional speed, gear position and rev counter information closer to your natural line of sight.

The centre console is populated by BMW’s stubby M-specific gear selector and a slightly fiddly array of buttons for individually configuring the car’s stability control, gearbox, engine, power steering and damping systems.

BMW’s position on all this is that M division clientele aren’t discouraged by such complexity; rather, they embrace the opportunity to endlessly tailor and tweak. While the two ‘M’ preset buttons on the wheel at least allow you to save a set-up you like, we prefer a simpler control philosophy and a more discreet approach to the integration of so many active systems.

The car’s case is strengthened by strong practicality. The load bay is both longer and taller than that of the Range Rover Sport SVR and has generous underfloor storage, while the rear cabin is spacious.

Meanwhile, a split tailgate adds to the load bay’s ease of use – something that its British rival doesn’t have in its armoury.


BMW X5 M cornering
X5 M's engine and gearbox are little short of sensational

A quick memorandum for M division diehards: the current BMW M5 saloon took 4.3sec to hit 60mph; last year the BMW M4 Coupé did it in 4.1sec.

The 2.4-tonne, 4.9-metre-long X5 M splits the difference between the two, making it the fastest-accelerating SUV we’ve tested.

We recorded 4.2sec to 60mph as an average, but on one run the X5 M did it in 4.0sec. Staggering, even before you factor in two people and a full tank of fuel

Fabulous traction and a brilliant launch control system combine for a ferocious standing start. The BMW needs one more gearchange than the Range Rover Sport SVR to hit 60mph, yet it still beats its rival over the benchmark sprint by a clear two-tenths of a second.

And yet only when third gear is selected does the X5 M feel as if it hits a blazing full stride. By the time 100mph comes around, the Range Rover Sport SVR is trailing half a second behind and steadily retreating in the rear-view mirror. And even here – despite the sheer quantity of air through which the BMW X5 is cleaving – neither the M4 nor the M5 is more than a second ahead.

The X5 M’s engine and gearbox are little short of sensational. Throttle response manages to feel at once perfectly clean, wonderfully savage and progressive and linear. Torque builds quickly enough below 3000rpm to make the car fast no matter how many times you’re inclined to downshift.

And the icing on the cake is a delicious crescendo to the power delivery between 6000 and 7000rpm. It’s the last thing you’re expecting – either of a turbocharged engine or from an SUV.

Below those sorts of crank speeds, the V8 could do with a little more rasp. It’s smooth and entirely pleasant to listen to, but the engine lacks the stirring aural virtuosity and charisma that its performance merits.

The gearbox, meanwhile, is much better at full-bore upshifts than simple fuss-free manoeuvring. The car declines to creep at first when you ease off the brake pedal, and while it can be persuaded to eventually by a singular prod of the accelerator, it isn’t as easy to park or turn around as a big luxury car ought to be.

Braking performance is, however, every bit as good as the acceleration. The car hauls up from 70mph very powerfully indeed, with good pedal feel and without excessive fade – which is particularly reassuring to report from such a big BMW M car.


The 567bhp BMW X5 M
X5 M loses composure on rougher roads in its stiffer damper settings

The X5 M is a remarkable dynamic achievement. In its sportiest settings, this is a full-size SUV with levels of grip, agility and body control that some sports saloons would struggle to match, and it demonstrates that Porsche doesn’t have a monopoly on bending the laws of physics to suit the size, shape and mass of an SUV.

But if that’s all you require of a £88k luxury 4x4, we suspect you’re in the minority. If it’s not, there are undoubtedly ways that this sporting leviathan could leave you wanting.

The X5 M carves through bends more quickly than you'd credit. A surfeit of traction and a clever torque vectoring driveline allows you to pour on power confidently

Your first job is to negotiate the aforementioned operating modes of the steering, damping, engine and gearbox, some of which make the X5 M feel leaden and unyielding on most UK roads.

Comfort preferences for everything but the engine and gearbox put the X5 M on a stronger footing, allowing enough chassis compliance for a reasonably fluent ride and apparently optimising the active anti-roll bar and power steering settings for the most consistent steering weight.

But even thus configured, there’s little delicacy about the way the car deals with uneven surfaces and only a fleeting sort of tactile feedback in evidence through the wheel – little to keep you interested in the driving experience at everyday speeds, in other words.

The handling is always very precise and stable – except over rough roads, with the stiffer damper settings locked in and during hard cornering, when the suspension’s refusal to yield can begin to throw the car off its line.

But attempts to dial some feedback into the steering with the Sport and Sport+ settings more often lead to a deterioration in simple predictability, as resistance fluctuates and hysteresis interferes.

Rolling refinement in the car could be better; our test car’s optional 21in wheels and Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres created notable road noise.

Too much, perhaps, for a customer looking for the ultimate blend of luxury and performance to put up with.


BMW X5 M costs from £90,180

At £88,300, the X5 M is slightly cheaper than a Range Rover Sport SVR or a Porsche Cayenne Turbo, but not by a margin that prospective buyers would worry about.

Standard kit is appropriate for a range-topper, but that didn’t stop our test car from accumulating an additional £10k worth of extras.

Residually over a four-year period, our experts have the X5 M's value just behind the Range Rover Sport SVR and well short of the always in-demand Porsche Cayenne Turbo

Assuming you don't fancy the mechanically identical X6 M, there's really only the spec list to worry about. Of the optional kit on our test car, we'd keep the stuff that should be standard anyway - the panoramic glass sunroof £1,295) and the reversing camera (£375) - and jettison the rest, including the 21in alloy wheels (£1,900).

Elsewhere, it will probably be the greater range that owners most appreciate about the V8’s improved economy. BMW claims 25.4mpg; we reduced that to 21.2mpg in True MPG testing.

Our data doesn’t go back far enough to cover the previous model, but slightly lengthening the time between pit stops will be triumph enough for those already acclimatised to the idea of repeatedly filling an 85-litre tank.

The drop in CO2 is worthy, too, although it’s all but redundant from a financial standpoint, as the £505-a-year VED band M starts at 255g/km, just below the X5 M’s 258g/km score.

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4 star BMW X5 M SUV
The new SUV performance champion is a little short on delicacy and charm

The BMW X5 M is a performance SUV of staggering pace and dynamic poise.

It feels like the efforts of engineers who have had to watch as their rivals at Porsche seized the sporting initiative with the Porsche Macan and current Porsche Cayenne – before aiming one almighty haymaker of their own.

BMW's X5 M is hugely fast and capable, and now a better all-rounder. Its engine is still the star, though.

The X5 M is a much more serious performance machine than the model it replaces. Its handling rivals that of any Cayenne and even some super-saloons at the same price. It is similarly uncompromising in other ways, from cabin design to rolling comfort.

However, you can’t escape the feeling that this car is the product of the tunnel vision of individuals too concerned with how fast it goes and not sufficiently concerned about how it goes fast. Even in full cry, the X5 M’s motive character is always a bit clinical for our liking.

And ultimately, there are better ways to combine the last word in speed, capability, luxury and desirability.

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BMW X5 M 2015-2018 First drives