Despite BMW M division’s lofty standing, it has only ever made one truly stand-alone production model: the BMW M1. The low-slung 3.5-litre six-cylinder mid-engined supercar was built in a limited run of 453 between 1978 and 1981.
Over the years, many concepts have hinted at a modern-day resurrection of the M1. But in a sign of just how diversified the BMW M line-up has become, and perhaps an even more pointed indication of where its future focus lies, it has followed up its original supercar with the car you see here in prototype form ahead of a planned launch in March next year: the new XM.
Initially previewed in concept guise in November last year, the XM is based on the recently facelifted BMW X7, alongside which it is set to begin production at parent company BMW’s Spartanburg plant in the US state of South Carolina in December.
Unlike the X7, though, the XM is planned to be sold exclusively as an M model using the company’s first-ever petrol-electric plug-in hybrid unit delivering up to 740bhp.
“It is logical to do an SUV,” says Frank van Meel, CEO of BMW M. “The performance SUV segment is now the biggest globally, and it has lots of potential for further growth.”
The first surprise when we see it up close in the paddock of the Salzburgring in Austria for the first time is that it is actually smaller overall than the X7. Not by much, a centimetre or two at best in overall length and height, but those expecting it to trump BMW’s largest SUV on size need to think again.
That is not to say it lacks visual boldness in any way. The new SUV clearly sets the tone for a far more distinct styling lineage at BMW M.