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How many programming languages are you proficient in? What's your experience with machine learning? You practically need a master's degree in computer science to decode some of the 2020 BMW X5 M Competition's most advanced features. Its iDrive infotainment system has more going on than a Google data center. Yes, this ultrahigh-performance SUV can be incredibly complicated.
Or it can be dead simple. You can dive through dozens of different settings and menus to tailor its behavior exactly to your taste, or you can click its shifter into drive, stand on the accelerator pedal and hold on tight as it shoots you down the road like an armor-piercing shell fired from a battleship's main gun. The choice is yours.
Delivering the X5 M Competition's pavement-pounding performance is a noble powertrain. If you are familiar with modern BMWs, you're likely acquainted with the Bavarian firm's 4.4-liter twin-turbocharged V8, which is employed to great effect in a wide range of models. This delightfully smooth engine is equal parts beauty and beast, happy to trundle along in near silence or drop-kick you to the horizon.
In the standard X5 M, this V8 is good for 600 horsepower, but in the Competition version it offers even more, cranking out 617 hp. No matter the model, torque clocks in at the same prodigious 553 pound-feet.
With an eight-speed automatic transmission routing all that torque through a high-performance, rear-biased all-wheel-drive system, the X5 M Competition can hit 60 mph in as little as 3.7 seconds, one-tenth quicker than the non-Competition model. Top speed is limited to 155 mph -- or 177 mph with the available M Driver's Package, a $2,500 option.
As those numbers suggest, this Bimmer is stupid quick for something that weighs more than 5,400 pounds. It's like a leather-lined, roadgoing cruise missile. But driven in a sane manner, it's also perfectly docile and quiet. The transmission shifts smoothly, the interior remains hushed and when you turn the seat massager on and tune the satellite radio to Symphony Hall, it can be extremely serene as well.
Toss this family-hauler into a corner and it eagerly responds. The steering ratio is quick, giving it a nimbleness not typical of something this large, and the rim is reassuringly meaty. Still, like so many modern vehicles, there is a dearth of road feel. You can't really tell what those front tires are doing.
Ride quality is a bit on the prickly side and this machine's aggressive tires provide a bit of noise. No matter the chassis setting, you feel every crack and expansion joint.
On the street, braking performance is inexhaustible. Then again, with front discs clocking in at more than 15.5 inches in diameter and wrapped in six-piston calipers, it'd better be. Interestingly, BMW lets you adjust the feel of the brake-by-wire system. There's a Comfort and a Sport setting, and I found the former more agreeable as it makes the binders easier to modulate.
While not entirely deplorable, fuel economy is not one of this BMW's strong suits. It stickers at 13 miles per gallon city and 18 mpg highway. Combined, it's rated to return 15 mpg, which is about what I got in real-world driving when I wasn't burying the accelerator pedal at every stoplight.
Some of BMW's recent designs have generated quite a bit of controversy. That bucktooth grille motif found on the new 7 Series and X7 models is a bit much. Fortunately, the X5's front end hasn't been supersized to the same extreme, and overall, it's still a reasonably handsome vehicle and far more attractive than its partially deflated sibling, the X6.
Compared with regular X5s, M versions feature larger front bumper openings, special grille inserts and different fender vents. There are flared wheel arches, more-aerodynamic mirror housings and a unique rear diffuser, which surrounds some girthy quad exhaust tips.
Naturally, the Competition model sits at the pinnacle of the X5 range. Setting it apart from even the standard X5 M are a few black-finished components such as the grille surrounds and mirror caps. These vehicles also come with a staggered set of wheels, 21-inchers up front and 22s at the back. Of course, those rollers come wrapped in gummy-soft 295/35 Michelin Pilot Sport 4S high-performance tires for maximum grip, at least in favorable weather. I'd hate to navigate a blizzard with these things.
From an appearance standpoint, some parts of this machine's design work well. Others, not so much. I'm in love with this vehicle's stance and proportions. The black trimmings give it a sinister edge and those exhaust outlets command attention. But the overall look is still a bit too busy for my taste. It's like designers weren't sure when to wrap things up, and just kept adding more creases and accents to the X5's body.
That exterior may be something of a mixed bag, but inside, there's almost nothing to complain about. Competition models feature a cabin that's practically as luxurious as the Palace of Versailles. They come with full Merino leather trimmings that not only look and feel great but smell amazing, too. My tester is also dressed up with radiant carbon-fiber trim and beautiful contrast stitching, standard equipment on this model. The X5 M Competiton's cabin is simply superb, especially in the ivory and dark-blue color scheme.
This vehicle's front bucket seats are supportive and very adjustable, but that's not all. They're heated and ventilated, plus the steering wheel and front armrests are heated, too. If you can't get comfortable in one of these chairs, there's no hope for you.
The X5 M Competition's second-row seat is, regrettably, nowhere near as cushy as its front accommodations. Legroom is unexpectedly tight and it's hard to get into and out of that back bench because the door openings are narrow and the sills quite broad. At least my tester's optional $3,600 Executive Package provides heated outboard rear seats. That options group also gets you things like massaging front buckets, heated and cooled cupholders and soft-close doors, which gently motor shut so there's no need to slam them.
At the rear, this BMW has a traditional powered liftgate that opens upward, but it also has a vestigial tailgate, which sticks up about 8 inches. This is a surprisingly handy feature, preventing items from rolling out of the cargo area when the main hatch is open. It also folds up and down at the push of a button, and while it's in the lowered position, provides a nice place to sit and an even easier way to get heavy cargo inside.
Behind the X5's rear seat you'll find 33.9 cubic feet of luggage space, meaning it's quite capacious. Fold the 40:20:40 split backrest down and you get 72.3, figures that are pretty much in lockstep with competitors like the Mercedes-AMG GLE63 S and Audi's SQ7. There's also an underfloor storage cubby that's surprisingly roomy, a great place to stash sensitive items away from prying eyes.
Residing on a colorful and crisp 12.3-inch display, the iDrive 7 operating system is a prominent part of the X5's dashboard. This infotainment array is extremely responsive, booting up in an instant and with almost zero lag.
But as I mentioned, the usability of this technology is a concern. At first, it's like, whoa. There's so much going on, with menus and icons and submenus and more. Beyond that, you can interact with this system via the touchscreen, there's also a control dial and a touch pad, you can use voice commands and BMW even includes gesture capability. It's all overwhelming and, frankly, pretty unnecessary.
But poke around for a while and this system does start to make sense. It's not as convoluted as it initially seems, but be warned, there is a learning curve and there are settings for just about everything, from how the climate-control system preconditions the cabin to how the brake pedal feels to about 50,000 other things.
For a more streamlined experience, Apple CarPlay is included at no extra charge. It connects to the infotainment system wirelessly, which is an absolute gamechanger and something I wish every new vehicle had. For Google aficionados, Android Auto is not available, at least not yet. Luckily, it should arrive in July of this year, available on a variety of models fitted with the company's BMW Operating System 7.0. The optional Bowers & Wilkins sound system rocks and isn't too unreasonably priced at $3,400.
Naturally, my X5 M Competition tester comes with a huge range of driver aids. There's blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning and rear cross-traffic alert, the usual equipment found on many mass-market vehicles these days. It all works as advertised, though I did notice the steering assist is not quite as dialed in as I'd like, allowing the vehicle to wander left and right a bit too much. Automakers like Honda and Nissan seem to have an edge in this area.
Aside from the usual aids, my tester also features the $1,700 Driving Assistance Professional Package. BMW, and other German automakers, just love charging extra for features that should be standard, especially in a top-shelf model. This options group includes adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability as well as Extended Traffic Jam Assistant. That second item provides partially automated driving on limited-access highways at speeds less than 40 mph. Basically, in rush-hour conditions it allows this X5 to steer, stop and accelerate on its own, with the driver carefully monitoring, of course. This is useful for motorists with gnarly commutes.
The 2020 BMW X5 M Competition is lovely inside and feature-laden, but we've got to talk about the price. These things kick off at around $115,000, about $9,000 more than the non-Competition X5 M. My tester checks out for $128,245 including a small handful of options and $995 in delivery fees. Do you want a starter house in suburbia or a new BMW?
Still, if you're an orthopedic surgeon or a bank executive who will use this vehicle for commuting duty and know what you're getting into, you will love it. If you want a bit more driving fun or a slightly more versatile family hauler, you might look at other vehicle segments.
The X5 M Competition is also blazingly quick and suitably cushy and even has ample cargo space. But at the end of the day, it still feels like too much. The complexity can be overwhelming and beyond organ-bruising straight-line speed, the driving experience feels a little synthesized.