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2015 BMW X5 M review: Engineering triumphs over physics

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The Good The 2015 BMW X5 M combines an extraordinarily capable suspension system with a powerful engine, leading to serious sports performance. A new detection system warns the driver of pedestrians and bicyclists on dark streets, and a surround-view camera system helps with parking lot maneuvers.

The Bad Fuel economy averages in the mid-teens. The firm ride can take a toll even with the suspension in Comfort mode.

The Bottom Line The 2015 BMW X5 M seems to defy physics with its performance technology, letting it take turns at tremendous speed, but the sports focus of this SUV takes away some of its practicality.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

8.3 Overall
  • Performance 9
  • Features 9
  • Design 7
  • Media 8

Review Sections

Popping the accelerator while executing a hard left turn, the 2015 BMW X5 M adds a little rotation, actively kicking out its back end. The firm ride and adaptive suspension means no wallow as it comes around and the 567 horsepower engine feels like it wants to put all its power to the wheels.

And that's with all systems set to comfort.

The all new X5 M follows BMWs recent theme of programmable cars in its M performance line. Steering, shifting, throttle and suspension all offer multiple modes, from Efficient or Comfort to Sport Plus, with combinations of settings savable to the M1 or M2 buttons on the steering wheel. The X5 M is a truly remarkable SUV, proof of BMW engineering competence and a rubber-meets-the-road demonstration of performance technology.

Although the X5 M weighs over 5,000 pounds and boasts 8.1 inches of ground clearance, it handles supremely well and will scare the pants off other drivers on a track day.

To prove the point, BMW gave me an opportunity to drive the new X5 M on the track at Laguna Seca, the famed circuit near Monterey, California. As I hadn't been in an M car recently, I mistook the transmission's S setting for a sport program. No, in this context S means sequential, or manual shift mode, causing me to putter through the first couple of turns in too high of a gear. Figuring it out, I got on the paddle shifters and the throttle for the sinuous turn 5, then used the massive horsepower to take the ensuing uphill straight.

In the groove now, I approached the Corkscrew, that hard-left downhill right-turn follow through, taking advantage of the six piston front brakes to shave off speed. Hard over on the wheel, the X5 M pointed its nose downhill with no drama or and minimal body roll, in a manner that something of this size should not be able to do. Through another couple of laps, taking the sweeping turn 9, powering up the main straight to well over 100 mph, and pulling a double apex on the Andretti hairpin turn 2, I found it easy to keep control of this big SUV and its tremendous power.

2015 BMW X5 M
The X5 M gets BMW's powerful 4.4-liter V-8 with two dual-scroll turbos, the modern expression of M power. Josh Miller/CNET

CNET editor Tim Stevens took the X5 M's twin-under-the-skin X6 M around the Circuit of the Americas F1 course in Austin , and had this to say about the performance:

"Slicing through the famous S-turns at the Circuit of the Americas, doing my damndest to chase down BMW pro driver Bill Auberlen, the X6 M not only changed direction quickly and capably but stayed remarkably flat while doing so, something you wouldn't expect from a thing as tall as this. It also got properly loose, even with the DSC enabled. Driven on edge the car constantly moves about, rear slowly braking away when I accelerated too early out of fast turns, front washing out when I carried too much speed into the tight ones.

"In other words, the big X6 M felt remarkably balanced, and the DSC allowed enough slip for me to feel like I was correcting my own mistakes before it stepped in and properly saved my bacon. Knowing that I had that safety blanket let me push the car harder than I normally would have on an unfamiliar track, yet it didn't ruin any of the fun."

2015 BMW X5 M
The X5 M powers through the corkscrew at Laguna Seca, doing what a heavy SUV shouldn't be able to do. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Twins

A 4.4-liter V-8 using two twin scroll turbochargers, one for each cylinder bank, and BMW's double VANOS valve control technology sits under the X5 M's hood, good for 567 horsepower and 553 pound-feet of torque. The twin scroll turbos create spin up quickly with low pressure at lower engine speeds, then higher pressure as the rotations per minute rise, a formula that effectively eliminated turbo lag.

Although the eight-speed transmission uses a torque converter instead of the dual clutch technology found in other BMW M car transmissions, it delivers quick, hard shifts with its lock-up clutch and operates in a similar manner as BMW's dual clutch transmissions. For example, it doesn't make the X5 M creep -- put it in drive and the car will just sit there until you give it some gas. There is no Park position on the shifter. Like other BMW M cars, you leave it in drive, activate the electronic parking brake, then switch off the engine to park it.

The real magic happens in the suspension, keeping the X5 M remarkably steady in the turns and doing a fine job combatting the inertial forces attempting to keep this beast going in a straight line when you need it to corner. Like the standard X5, the X5 M gets an air suspension at the rear axle, but it adds adaptive suspension components at the front wheels. As sensors detect pitch and roll, the suspension reacts in milliseconds to keep the body flat, ensuring strong contact patches from the tires, a mixed set with 285/40s at the front and 325/30s at the rear. In addition, the all-wheel-drive system can dynamically throw 100 percent of torque to the front or rear wheels to increase grip.

2015 BMW X5 M
BMW M cars have become very programmable, with settings for everything from steering to gear shifting. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

That trackability definitely affects the public road character of the X5 M. If you desire comfort most of all, look elsewhere. The suspension goes from Comfort to Sport to Sport Plus, but what BMW calls Comfort would be termed Sport by most other automakers. The ride quality remains firm and may prove untenable for longer trips. Dial it up to Sport or Sport Plus and the X5 M becomes sports car stiff.

For stop and go traffic, the throttle requires delicate control, as the X5 M feels like it would rather be going from zero to 100 mph instead of holding pace at 5 mph. That holds true for its Efficient setting, and even more so for Sport and Sport Plus. Gear change settings also go from Comfort to Sport Plus, but I found it less noticeable when leaving the transmission to automatic shifting in traffic. Those settings come into play more when using the steering wheel-mounted paddles for sequential shifting.

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