A Porsche Cayenne Turbo rival - but far from the M division's finest effort

What is it?

This is the BMW M division’s take on an SUV, the X5 M, finally in the UK after an exhaustive build-up (releasing the X6 M at the same time probably didn’t help matters).

These models represent the M division’s first xDrive variants, and they both use the 4.4-litre twin-turbocharged V8 engine that could well form the basis of the next M5.

It’s a potent unit, sure enough, making the X5 M the most powerful M car to date. Its 547bhp sounds impressive enough; more startling is the 502lb ft of torque, which is available from just 1500rpm right up to 5650rpm. That’s enough for the X5 to crack 0-62mph in 4.7sec and reach a limited top speed of 155mph.

Other stats of note? It costs £76,110, returns a claimed 20.3mpg (combined) and emits 325g/gkm of CO2.

What’s it like?

Shockingly rapid, for starters. If the X5 M has an obvious rival it’s Porsche’s Cayenne Turbo, and it’s more than up to the task of taking it on. The BMW is considerably more powerful and while it’s slightly weaker in terms of torque, the spread at which its twist is available is a few thousand rpm wider. So in raw pace, there’s not much to choose between the two high-performance heavyweights.

The X5 M is 0.4sec quicker to 62mph, and while its limiter stops the fun 16mph before the Porsche maxes out, that’s unlikely to bother anyone in real-world conditions (and if you’re intending to try it out, can you let me know so I can be in a different county?).

Dynamics? Well, this is still an SUV – but as long as you keep that fact in the back of your mind, it’s reasonably effective. Body control has long been an X5 strength and the X5 M builds on this; it hangs on with admirable aplomb around corners, helped by steering that is a little on the heavy side, but impressively feelsome for something of this size. The six-speed automatic gearbox is quick enough, too; it’s rarely caught out.

There are downsides, though, and they do a disappointingly decent job of spoiling the party. First, the X5’s cabin – while acceptable at just north of £40k – falls short of the plushness required at almost double that figure. Truth is, the M’s cabin feels little different from that of a regular diesel X5.

More importantly, though, the quest to give the X5 the same cornering ability as an M5 has resulted in a ride that is borderline unacceptable. We could forgive some choppiness around the suburban rat-run, if that were the only gripe. But you’ll find yourself jiggling around in the seat on all but the smoothest motorways too, and hanging on for dear life on a bumpy B-road. The seats could use more lateral support, which would help with this, but you’ll still be sitting too high up to feel totally connected to the road beneath.

While we’ve little doubt that M division has sunk a commendable amount of resources into this project, it has ultimately failed to change the laws of physics, so while the X5 M has the raw pace of an M3, it lacks the poise, balance and finesse of that car. This car feels like it should have been called xDrive60i, or even xDrive60m, but it falls short of justifying its M status.

Worryingly, too, the engine plays its part in that failure. Its note is nowhere near as pleasant as the M3’s naturally aspirated V8, or the V10 unit in the outgoing M5.

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Should I buy one?

Enjoyable though the wall of torque is, we can’t quite bring ourselves to recommend a 2.4-tonne SUV that’ll struggle to break 20mpg in everyday use. The X5 M feels like a vehicle for another time – or at least, a country with lower fuel prices.

And while the M tuning has added a little extra capability in corners, too high a price has been paid in terms of ride quality. Harder still to forgive is the fact that it singularly fails to feel like an M car.

Doubtless this vehicle will draw a few buyers away from Porsche’s Cayenne Turbo; it is marginally softer on the soul, after all. They may even enjoy the launch control system, the undeniably strong surge of power, the harsh ride and heavy steering and consider themselves fortunate to have bought what is one of the best ‘high-performance SUVs’.

But if they think they’ve stumped up £76k for one of M division’s finest creations, they’ll be kidding themselves.

John McIlroy

Join the debate

Add a comment…
JacobE 13 December 2009

Re: BMW X5 M

Peter Cavellini wrote:
Wait till next year, say August and you'll pick up an M5 for £30K, a more heart sensible than head choice but a whole lot more fun!

There are already a number of M5s circulating at less than 30K, at which price with a low-ish mileage these cars are great value. Shame insurance companies hate them.

Peter Cavellini 10 December 2009

Re: BMW X5 M

Not so sure about an M5 leaving it for dead, Topgear chose an XKR, and over the first half mile the Beemer had the advantage, after that the Jag cruised by no problem,the Beemer maybe had more power but areodynamics stopped it from winning.Wait till next year, say August and you'll pick up an M5 for £30K, a more heart sensible than head choice but a whole lot more fun!

roadtester 9 December 2009

Re: BMW X5 M

Yes. But it's better.