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From the steering wheel, the X5 M gives you the capability to take corners at tremendous speed while it remains composed. BMW coupes and sedans allow a little drift in corners, getting the back end out to get the car pointed in the right direction. But we were impressed to get that same sort of behavior from the X5 M. First, it's an SUV and the kind of vehicle we expect to lean and wobble when stressed in a hard turn; second, it's all-wheel drive. Most all-wheel-drive sports cars we test tend to keep the rear wheels following in the path of the fronts, but somehow BMW engineered the X5 M to get some rear-end drift.
The all-wheel-drive system, Xdrive in BMW nomenclature, is tuned for sport driving. Along with sending torque from front to back, it also sends power along the rear axle, giving extra twist to the outside wheel in a turn. In M mode, the power is focused more on the rear wheels, contributing to that rear-wheel drift we felt in the corners.
After time spent racing through the mountains, we forgot the X5 M was an SUV, convinced by its handling and power that it was a performance sedan. It wasn't until we came up behind another car that the height difference reminded us of what we were driving.
See the world through satellite
The navigation system contributes to the joy of mountain driving by showing topographic contours in 3D mode. Even better for those who like to use a navigation system to explore new territory, when zoomed out to one mile or greater, the navigation system shows satellite imagery on its maps, letting you see what the various mountains and canyons actually look like. Although we love this type of detail in maps, the standard street-view maps suffer from a poor color scheme. Streets are light gray and surrounding areas are a slightly darker gray, making it difficult to see individual roads. Likewise, although the street name resolution is good, the font is a little too small, and in the same color as the streets.
We also find BMW's route guidance algorithm a little annoying, as it sometimes gets stuck on the route it thinks you should take, rather than adapting to the roads you want to take. For example, we chose a parallel road to the one suggested by the BMW navigation system, and for many, many blocks it urged us to turn. Other cars we've tested on this same route seem more willing to accept our chosen road.
Otherwise, its route guidance is excellent with the system providing useful graphics for turns and reading out street names. More importantly, it dynamically routes around traffic congestion. We were pleased when, after setting a destination into downtown San Francisco, it mentioned a couple of traffic problems on the way, each time recalculating our route.
The included Bluetooth hands-free phone system works equally well. It easily paired with an iPhone, ingesting the contact list to the car and making it available on the LCD. The only feature lacking is voice dialing by name, an option pioneered by Ford that is getting picked up by other automakers. The audio quality over the Bluetooth system was a little muffled, although it is loud, which has a lot to do with the car's stereo system.
As is typical with BMWs, the X5 M's stereo, comprised of 16 speakers and a 600-watt nine-channel digital amp, produces a heavy sound. The system shows very good quality, reproducing music with clarity and staging, but the sound seems to echo the car's overall feel or power. As such, it handles bass-heavy tracks well, delivering a punch in the chest with the volume up. Beyond the usual treble and bass controls, BMW also includes a seven band equalizer for people who really get into fine-tuning the sound.
Audio options in the X5 M are expansive, with the highlights being iPod integration, the 80GB onboard hard drive that reserves 15GB of space for music storage, and HD radio. For iPod and locally stored music, the interface lets you browse by artist, album, and genre. Satellite radio is also included, along with an in-dash CD player that reads MP3 CDs. A glove box-mounted DVD changer is available as an option, as is a rear-seat entertainment system.
To keep the X5 M dent-free, it includes an innovative parking system: a top-view camera along with sonar distance sensors and a rearview camera. Its rearview camera system includes distance and trajectory overlay lines, a useful feature. A simple click of the iDrive controller lets you switch the view to top-down that shows objects on the sides and to the rear of the car. We noticed some odd flickering in the camera views, but it was little more than an annoyance. The system is very useful.
We also like the head-up display that normally shows the car's speed projected on the windshield. Enter a destination in the navigation system, and route guidance instructions get added to the display. In M mode, the display shows a colorful tachometer, speed, and the car's current gear.
We have high praise for the 2010 BMW X5 M as it is a serious tech tour de force. To get such incredible handling and power out of it, BMW threw in just about everything available, such as the air suspension, dynamic antiroll bars, and electromagnetic dampers. BMW's twin turbo technology also works excellently, forcing 555 horsepower out of the engine. It's just too bad about its dismal fuel economy. The automatic transmission might be the weakest link in the power train, but it's far better than most.
BMW's cabin tech in the X5 M is very good, but there are some glitches. The satellite imagery on the maps is a nice feature, but the color scheme of the street maps makes them hard to read. And while we like the traffic routing feature, the system could benefit from other data sources, such as weather. The phone system is very good, but not quite up to par with the systems from other manufacturers. Driver aids such as the parking system and head-up display are useful, but we would also like to see a blind spot detection system.
The design of the cabin tech interface has a couple of problems, but we still give BMW credit for ditching the old iDrive. As for style, the X5 M doesn't misrepresent, looking as brawny as it is. With a press of the M button, its clothes rip away, revealing the Hulk beneath.
|Model||2010 BMW X5 M|
|Power train||Twin turbocharged 4.4-liter V-8|
|EPA fuel economy||12 mpg city/17 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||13.2 mpg|
|Navigation||Standard hard drive-based system with live traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||Standard MP3 compatible single in-dash CD; optional six disc CD/DVD changer|
|MP3 player support||Optional iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||USB drive port, satellite radio, HD radio, internal hard drive|
|Audio system||Optional 600-watt amplifier, 16 speakers|
|Driver aids||Optional head-up display, rear-view camera, top-down camera|
|Price as tested||$91,375|