Most cars sporting BMW's vaunted M badge maintain a dual character: Clark Kent for everyday commutes and Superman for track days and weekend jaunts. But the all-new 2010 BMW X5 M is more like Dr. Bruce Banner--it can never really hide the Hulk lying beneath the surface.
Even at its most tame settings, the X5 M feels brawny. The thick steering wheel offers plenty of grip for your hands and road feedback, while its mighty heart, a twin-turbo V-8, pulses powerfully under the hood. In full M mode, the X5 shows its Hulk brute force, the engine roaring in anger and its muscular tires keeping it planted firmly on the ground.
Previously, BMW kept the M badge reserved for its coupes and sedans, but the X5 M deserves the honor. It is pure violence, a powerful beast of German engineering. Before this car came along, thewas the only SUV we felt really brought sports car performance to the segment.
Except for the 20-inch alloy wheels, from the side the X5 M looks conventional. But its front shows the car's brute character explicitly, with a ridiculous amount of big vents containing black honeycombs surrounding the traditional BMW kidney grille and lining the area below the bumper. Four pipes stick out of its back, confirming the M badge on the tailgate.
The panoramic sunroof lets in light for the front and rear seat.
Standard X5 traits that carry over to this M car are the clamshell tailgate and ample cargo area. Inside, the X5 M treats its occupants to a panoramic sunroof and a typical quality BMW interior. BMW uses leather liberally around the X5 M's cabin, on the seats and door insets, while the dashboard is all soft plastic.
Roll your own M mode
We weren't surprised to find BMW's new iDrive controller on the console, as the company rapidly updates the electronics across its model line. This controller works well, letting you select menu items on the car's LCD and provides a set of quick access buttons for audio, navigation, phone, and the stereo. This interface could still use some work, though. It includes an Option button near the controller and a Settings item on screen, each of which lead to different menus.
These settings let you tailor what happens to the car when you push the M button on the steering wheel.
The iDrive lets you program the steering wheel's M button to customize the X5 M's performance. You can choose sport or normal settings for both the suspension and stability control, choose power or normal for the engine, and set the head-up display to go to a special M view. You can also have the stability control disengaged. These settings will all take effect when you hit the M button on the steering wheel. We generally left the suspension and stability control in sport and the engine in power mode.
When driving the X5 M in normal mode, it did a poor job of disguising the power of its twin turbo V-8. Under acceleration, the turbine whine kicks in, making the X5 M sound like a jet fighter. Lifting up on the accelerator causes an impressive bass exhaust backflow, little sonic booms from the exhaust system.
Although this engine is the same basic configuration and displacement as that in thewe reviewed, it makes much, much more horsepower. The M tuning gives the X5 M 555 horses, compared with the 7-series' 407hp. Its torque is up at 501 pound-feet, a good chunk more than the 7-series' 442 pound-feet. But tuning for this kind of power comes at a cost, namely fuel economy. We made liberal use of the car's M mode, but also spent time cruising on the freeway and negotiating city traffic, resulting in an average fuel economy of 13.2 miles per gallon. This thirsty engine limits the X5 M's range, as well. With its 22-gallon gas tank, don't expect to go much more than 300 miles.
Weighing more than 5,000 pounds, the engine gets the X5 M moving very fast, very quickly. According to BMW, the X5 M hits 62 mph in 4.7 seconds. Every time we mashed the accelerator, the car threw us back into our seats with force, regardless of if we were in M mode .
The paddle shifters are thick aluminum, echoing the solid feel of the car.
The transmission might seem a disappointment to M fans, as only a six-speed automatic is available; there is no manual, no dual clutch gearbox, as found in the M3. We tried its drive, sport, and manual modes for fast launches, finding we could get the best acceleration shifting with the thick, aluminum paddle shifters. But it was also difficult to keep from over-revving, as the engine speed rises very quickly, sending the tach needle past the redline.
Ultimately, we were impressed by how quickly the automatic transmission shifted in manual mode, showing little slushiness. The automatic's sport program was generally good, but occasionally spastic. As we slewed the X5 M through difficult corners, the sport program downshifted aggressively, setting the right gear for acceleration at the apex and letting the engine speed rise appropriately before upshifting. But occasionally the sport program delivered a downshift when it wasn't called for, probably because it misinterpreted our gas and steering inputs, massively lurching the car and nearly sending our photographer through the windshield.
Cornering was a surprising experience in the X5 M. We've never felt an all-wheel-drive SUV rotate in the corners before, but this one does it. Throughout this car, BMW shows no hesitancy to use tech to improve performance, and that goes for the suspension and all-wheel-drive system as well. An air suspension is standard on the X5 M, but handling is improved by electromagnetic dampers and electronic antiroll bars. BMW's road-holding technology constantly monitors speed, steering angle, and uses the suspension components to counteract movement that would put the vehicle out of control.
These wide tires offer tremendous grip, aided by the various suspension mechanisms.
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.
With an 80 gigabyte hard drive, the navigation system has room for these satellite maps.
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.
Cameras on the sides and rear look down, giving the appearance of a top-down look over the car.
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|