This is what happens when the marketing types in their skinny-legged suits and R1000 haircuts stick their shiny Italian shoes up the overall-clad backsides of the engineering types.
I can almost picture the howl of protest from the petrolheads at BMW’s M-division when they were told they have to prostitute their souls by plonking M-badges onto huge SUV’s. So what if the Motorsport Division has never before been asked to produce road cars that are inherently unsuited for a race track? So what if all M-cars have always been rear-wheel drive? So what if all M-cars have always had manual gearboxes? Or that they’ve always been naturally aspirated? Or that subtlety was more important than crassly shouting “my M-badge is bigger than yours”?
It counts for nothing in a market-driven world where the pressure is on to sell cars at all costs, even if it means adding a pedigreed motorsport badge on a turbocharged 4×4 SUV with an auto box. If Mercedes-Benz can sell ML AMG’s and Porsche can sell the Cayenne Turbo’s, it was only a matter of time before BMW followed suit.
It’s still disappointing though, a bit like finding out Superman uses his X-ray vision to peek through the walls of the ladies change room at the Daily Planet. BMW’s M-division clearly isn’t the superhero the guys who glue fake M-badges to their E36 316i’s thought it was.
So let’s get over that particular kick-in-the-gut and try to evaluate the X5 M objectively. Here goes. It is an outstanding piece of engineering, a hulk of car capable of demolishing 0–100kph in around five seconds, limited to a top speed of 250kph, packed with technology and luxury features and dynamically it performs like something weighing half of its 2.3 tons.
The 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 is a masterpiece. BMW’s first turbocharged M-engine is going to be awesome in the next M5. Yes, it’s not normally aspirated, but that’s the way the world’s turned. More power, less fuel and less emissions. It makes too much sense for any car maker to still cling to normally aspirated performance engines.
It’s hard to argue with 408kW and 680Nm of torque that remains constant from 1500rpm to 5650rpm. BMW claims that the response of the two twin scroll turbochargers is faster than any other turbo engine in the world. Responsive is to mild a word to use to describe what happens when flattening the accelerator pedal to the floor.
Shifts on the six-speed ZF-auto transmission are smooth and quick as the horizon screams towards you. Thankfully the M-paddles to select gears aren’t the push//pull ones that BMW have used in their regular cars over the last few years. Pull the right paddle to gear up, pull the left one to gear down. Just like on a F1 car and on your Playstation. Simple. Effective.
The X5 M sounds fantastic – if you’re standing on the outside as it barrels past you tearing a huge whole through the air. Inside its rather muted, nothing like the delicious howl of the normally aspirated V8 M’s we’re used to.
Via iDrive you can play around with your M drive to set damping, steering and power to Sport mode. Tweak your pilot-like heads-up display, press the M-button on the steering wheel and you’re ready to rumble with all the other heavyweights.
Cornering is flat, grip astounding for a car this big. But… and with a car like this there’s always going to be a big but. Like the Porsche Cayenne Turbo or the ML AMG it’s not a car I enjoy driving dynamically on a track or even through a mountain pass. It’s just too huge and I’m constantly aware of how heavy it is. Even though all the computers and sensors linked to the four-wheel drive are doing an excellent job of keeping the car on the road, it’s just not that much fun to drive.
Yes, it’s a battleship bristling with firepower. And like the battleship in modern warfare, it’s completely and utterly pointless.
If you want a big, fast SUV with massive presence on the road, the X5 48i or X6 50i will do the job fantastically well for almost R500000 less. If you want a real M-car, buy the M3 or wait for the new M5
Those large intakes and M-gills, side sills and 20-inch alloys in the oversized arches, plus the four exhausts and M-badge on the back, are just not that convincing a reason to buy the X5 M. Why would you?
Then again, there are people who will love this car. Like the guy with a very special personalized number plate trundling into town in his SUV in front of me not too long ago.
Dear PEN15 XT-WP in you Land Rover Discovery 3. It’s time to trade up. Your car has arrived.
R1 255 500
4395cc, 32v twin-turbo V8, 408kW @ 6000rpm, 679Nm @ 1500 – 5650rpm
Six-speed auto, four-wheel drive
0-100kph 4.9sec, 250kph, 14.3l/100, 335g/km
0-60kph 2.91sec, 0-100kph 5.46sec
QUARTER MILE TIME/TERMINAL SPEED
60-100kph 3.15sec, 80-120kph 3.16sec