Plato, the famous Greek philosopher, once said “The excessive increase of anything causes a reaction in the opposite direction”. The BMW X5 M wasn’t around in 400 B.C., but if it was, it surely would have been the muse upon which Plato would have based his quote.
In fact, in order to make sense of the BMW X5 M one has to take a philosophical approach to it.
The BMW X5 M is unquestionably excessive. An aggressively styled front bumper and bodykit, enormous 20-inch wheels and the most powerful engine currently in BMW’s range, give the X5 M its head turning presence. Interesting then that this can all be summed up in one compact symbol, ‘M’ – hmm, maybe Plato was onto something. BMW’s range-topping Sports Activity Vehicle (SAV) is 4.8 meters long, 2.1 meters wide and 1.9 meters high. Thankfully then, it comes with park distance control and a reversing camera, complete with a bird’s eye view function, because every parking spot suddenly looks anorexic when piloting this behemoth.
The interior is typical BMW – minimalist in its design and precise in its execution. The only hints that you are piloting one of the most powerful BMW’s ever produced, are the subtle ‘M’ badges on the gear selector, at the base of the steering wheel and within the rev counter on the dashboard. Oh yes, and that tiny ‘M’ button on the steering wheel, which is responsible for ‘popping the cork’ on the V8 every time you activate it. The interior also features carbon fibre inserts on the doors and across the dashboard, but for us the interior is not as special as one may expect in the flagship X5 model.
As expected, the ride is firm, but nevertheless a number of luxuries ensure you are comfortable, including electrically adjustable and heated front seats, an infotainment system accessible via the easy-to-use iDrive controller, excellent sound quality from the radio/CD/MP3-player and loads of space for you and friends or family, plus all their luggage. There is also a head-up display (HUD) that, when in M-mode, displays speed, gear and engine revs in one concise display in the driver’s field of vision. The height to which the tailgate opens can also be set for instances where it may knock against a garage door or low roof. Roaming the urban jungle then, the X5 M makes light work of the daily grind. The school run, business meetings and weekly shopping at the mall, are all in a day’s work for the ‘big M’.
You may have noticed, however, that we haven’t referenced the X5 M’s awesome power in the above context. This is because, despite the 408 kW and 680 N.m of head bobbing power available to you, it’s well and truly irrelevant around town. The X5 M is in fact so bloody quick off the line, and at any point in the rev range, that unless you’ve got enough clear tarmac ahead, which isn’t very often these days, enjoying the explosive power is nigh on impossible. To add to the frustrated M driver in you, while you study the traffic ahead like a hawk, waiting patiently for a gap in which to revel in the ‘gloriousness’ of your chariot, your wallet will be experiencing cold sweats as the fuel gauge drops ever closer to empty.
But before we wax lyrical about the effects of the ‘M’agical button on the steering wheel, we must mention that it is programmable via the iDrive controller between the front seats. A combination of settings can be chosen to suit your preference for the electronic damping control (EDC), the dynamic stability control (DSC) and the engine’s ‘Power Mode’.
The X5 M comes standard with self-levelling air suspension on the rear axle, as well as EDC and active anti-roll control. It also rides 10 mm lower to the ground than a standard X5. For performance driving, the ‘Sport’ EDC setting provides stiffer suspension damping and sharpens steering response. The DSC can be left in its fully activated default setting, turned off completely, or set to M Dynamic Mode (MDM) where the wheels will be allowed some slipping and sliding, but the system will still step in to save your bacon should you run out of talent. Finally, changing the Power Mode from its default ‘Efficiency’ setting – relaxed throttle response and early gear changes to save fuel – to the ‘Power’ setting, livens up the throttle while opening flaps in the exhaust system to let everyone know you’re about to get a move on.
And move the X5 M does. The figures are quite astounding on paper and, on the road, translate to a laugh from the driver that is excited, evil and slightly nervous all at the same time. From a standing start the ‘M’ean machine reaches 100 km/h in a claimed 4.7 seconds. This is quite amazing when you realise the V8 has 2.3 tonnes to motivate. In-gear acceleration is equally as impressive, with the 80 – 120 km/h sprint requiring just 4.3 seconds in fourth gear. As a benchmark, the BMW M3 Coupe achieves the same 0 – 100 km/h sprint time, but is 0.6 seconds slower from 80 – 120 km/h despite a 725 kg weight advantage!
The X5 M (and X6 M) are the first M cars to be launched exclusively with an automatic transmission. Purists may scoff, but trust us when we say the 6-Speed ‘M Sports Automatic’ transmission complements the driving experience of the ‘Super SAV’ far more than a manual ever would. You’ve got a number of options when working with the ‘box. Either from the electronic gear selector lever or, through aluminium shift paddles on the steering wheel (pull the right gearshift paddle to shift up and the left gearshift paddle to shift down).
Realistically though, you never really need to initiate a manual change, up or down, as the gearbox is so well behaved. Launching in manual mode proved a bit more ‘work’ than in the fully automatic sport setting. This is because with the revs climbing so fast in first gear, it proved slightly distracting to watch the road ahead and time the shift accurately before hitting the rev limiter, all while our heads were pinned to the headrest and fighting to stop our eyes rolling back in their sockets. Left to its own devices the gearbox will ensure blisteringly quick acceleration.
Barreling down the road, you are struck with the amazing turn of speed and true bulk of the X5 M right about the time you touch the brakes and begin to start thinking about turning into a corner. The brakes on our test unit lacked initial bite and required more pedal travel than we expected, but this didn’t hinder braking performance. Even when worked hard, the brakes (395 mm front and 385 mm rear) delivered consistent performance and never began to fade.
As you usher the big SAV into the turn, there is limited body roll for a vehicle of its size. The adaptive air suspension at the rear, coupled with the EDC and xDrive all-wheel-drive system equates to a flat cornering experience by SUV standards. Dynamic Performance Control, in addition to the xDrive system, allows torque to be distributed between the rear wheels and the result is strong drive out of turns. Grip is ultimately the responsibility of the enormous 275/40 R20 tyres at the front and 315/35 R20 at the rear, which elicit a squeal as they’re crushed between the road and take on the weight from the big M car.
There is no doubt that threading the X5 M through a set of corners can be done at an alarming rate. However, we never felt entirely comfortable doing so, as the M’s weight is ever present and can’t be hidden from the laws of physics. Performance driving in the X5 M is like playing with a pitbull, everyone’s having fun until something or someone goes a little too far and then you’d better have an escape route.
As Plato could have told you, the increased on-road agility has compromised the off-road agility in the case of the X5 M. With low profile tyres, damaging the sidewalls becomes a real threat and a potentially expensive one at that. Coupled with the stiffer than standard suspension, the wide surface area of the tyres, so welcomed on tar, becomes somewhat of a draw back on the dirt, as the SAV tends to float or wander over the lose surface. The 20-inch diameter tyres do however offer the benefit of ironing out potholes and corrugations, as they roll over rather than through them. Bottom line, the X5 M will do dirt, but we suggest being mindful of the routes you choose.
It should be quite clear then, that the increased performance of X5 M shrinks the time, distance and space through which it travels. It also evaporates premium unleaded at an astounding rate, while shrinking your wallet in direct proportion. The power from the almighty V8 will inflate your ego, but taming the beast at high speed may curb your confidence. Which ever way you look at it, the X5 M inspires dichotomous thinking that we’d have to say proves Plato right. However, there is still no logical argument for the X5 M. As the most powerful SAV/SUV of them all, whether you like it or not, it has to be admired for its brazen attitude, performance and the way in which it comes together so competently.
What We Like…
- Panoramic sunroof as standard.
- Awesome power and road presence.
- Space saver spare in the boot. (It’s actually bigger than most sedans).
What We Would Like…
- Improved fuel economy (Yes, we know it’s the price of power).
- More sound from the exhaust in M-mode.
|Base Price||R1 225 000|
|Warranty||2 year / Unlimited mileage|
|Service Plan||5 year / 100 000 km|
|Engine Capacity||4 395 cm³|
|No. Of Cylinders||8-cylinders, V-formation|
|Power||408 kW @ 6 000 rpm|
|Torque||680 N.m @ 1 500 – 5 650 rpm|
|Transmission||6-Speed automatic, with Steptronic|
|Drive type||All-Wheel Drive|
|Acceleration||0-100 km/h in 4.7 seconds (claimed)|
|Top Speed||250 km/h (275 km/h with optional M Driver’s Package)|
|Fuel Consumption||14.3 l/100km (claimed combined)|