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The BMW XM is a problem

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I took a drive in the new BMW XM at a local dealer event instead of flying to Arizona like everyone else. 

I’d seen the BMW XM in person before. But concept cars that pop out onto real-world roads always look like a tiger that’s escaped the zoo. And here I was, looking at this tiger right in its X7-inspired face. But I think this tiger has a problem, and if you get one, you might just be one too.

The definition of bespoke


Cars are built on platforms that are designed to be modular. Big, small, coupe or sedan – they only use the bits they need. This saves time, development costs, and part requirements. There are very few truly bespoke cars built anymore.

And if we look at the history of M, there are very few bespoke cars in it. The M1 was about as close as it got – that had a unique chassis and engine not shared anywhere else. It was also BMW’s only mid-engine car up until the i8. It’s not the M1’s fault that BMW would later take the engine and place it in an M5.

After that, you could make a case for the E60 M5 and E9X M3 – their motors were truly unique, the only two that do not share a single element with anything else in the BMW lineup. But the cars themselves were of course based off their series counterparts.

So here comes the BMW XM, touted as the first truly dedicated M car since the M1. Is it though? The chassis is from an X7, modified for use here (they share the same wheelbase). Its powertrain is unique for now. But the M5 is already rumored to get it, and of course the rest of the bits are from the X5/X7 family.

Power pain

Behold -M’s most powerful car gets its least powerful V-8 since the naturally aspirated S65.

So the XM isn’t bespoke. It’s also lacking in some core M dynamics. Its 6,100 lb curb weight is more than an X7. The only cars I’ve reviewed that weigh more are a Ram TRX and a Hummer EV.

It’s M’s most powerful car ever. 644 horsepower, 599 lb-ft of torque. How they get there is the issue. The XM is a hybrid, and it gets a new M motor – the S68. Replacing the aged-out S63, the 68 maintains a 4.4-liter displacement and puts out 483 horses on its own. That’s 43 less than it makes in an X7 M60i.

Added to that is an electric motor that makes 194 additional horsepower, and it’s all pushed through the usual (and excellent) ZF eight-speed automatic.

But something doesn’t make sense here. You can only go 30 miles on electric power alone (and would you want to? A 194-hp, three-ton M car?). And when you combine the power plants, they produce just 30 horsepower more than an F90 M5 that’s powered conventionally. The price you pay is that the XM is 2,000 lbs more than that M5, with nearly identical fuel economy.

Having two motors, no matter how they are powered, is not a better choice for the environment or the consumer.

So we’ve added weight. We’ve added complexity. We’ve added price. Have we added experience?

What it’s like to drive the BMW XM

It is comfortable to sit in, but not particularly special.

When you open the door, there’s an immediate sense of familiarity if you’ve driven a late model M car. Normally, I like that, but there’s just not much here to make it feel special. The M5’s seats are great, but feel a bit out of place in the XM.

Start it up, and you’re greeted with a loud grumble that gives no indication it’s a hybrid car. Once underway, the XM is pretty stiff, even in comfort mode. It’s no Mercedes on the ride home from work, that’s for sure.

This is a big boy, though it doesn’t seem as big once you get moving. There’s nothing sloppy or untoward in the XM’s body motions. Like most M cars, it feels smaller the faster you drive, but here we’re talking about a B-52 feeling like a 737. You wanna try an inverted dive with a MiG-28 in either one of those?

There is a little regenerative braking here as well, but it’s nothing like a true electric car. The XM falls somewhere in the realm of electric/M/X5, and it’s a weird combination out on the road. I didn’t really want to push it like X5 M, and you’re not getting much of an M experience in  battery mode.

I’ll reserve final judgement until I can get some extended wheel time.

Is this a luxury experience?

Looks familiar in here…

The first time I saw the XM, it was a pre-production model, so when I looked inside and saw switchgear out of an M3, I wasn’t too concerned. Considering the price, surely they wouldn’t let it go to production with that stuff.

Here we are. Same dash, buttons, steering wheel. These are parts you’ll find in a 330i with an M Sport package. They are nice bits on a $50,000 car, questionable on a $100,000 car, and insulting at this price point. Hop in a Bentley, which doesn’t need to worry about the downmarket crowd, to see what I mean.

To be fair, there are some nice things inside. The roof is cool. Check out the “Club M” themed light show. Some nice cut lines and materials along the dash. Makes a nice first impression if you’ve never seen a BMW before.

I have.

The rear is called the “M Lounge”, complete with throw pillows. Please. It’s a bench seat – wouldn’t the seats from the rear of an M5 CS be better? There’s no seat adjustability, massage function, side-window privacy shades, or dedicated entertainment system. My daughter would be begging for the Cadillac Escalade.

Do you want a BMW XM?

We’ll see just how well it does in a future road test.

I get it – you want to match. If I were in the market for a sport SUV, I would consider the XM even just for the sake of matching with the rest of my garage theme too. But it’s a tough sell for me.

The X7 M60i isn’t a real M car, yet just as fast. No air suspension means a Range Rover is more capable off-road (and more luxurious inside). Because we’ve gotten used to the styling on the X7 and 7 Series, it doesn’t seem as crazy as it did when the concept appeared.

This tiger may have escaped the zoo, but it looks like a house cat walking down the street.

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