Chris Walton, Chief Road Test Editor
After driving the 2010 BMW X5 M, there were numerous subtitles for this story bouncing around in our head. Because it was only a handful of years ago, when BMW introduced the 2004 X5 4.8is, that it said, "There will never be an M version of the X5," we were tempted to write, "Never Say Never."
One blast down the drag strip in this 555-horsepower breadbox in Monte Carlo Blue had us shouting, "12-second SUV!" If we believed the rumor (and we don't) that one of the primary reasons for the X5 M's existence is to satisfy the conspicuously well-funded market among the mobsters in Russia, then we could've run with "From Russia With Love."
Finally, one serene drive home on L.A.'s notoriously poorly constructed freeways where we discovered this X5 M's ride was far better than that of our long-term 2008 BMW X5 4.8i almost compelled us to put down, "Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde."
A New M
It's not an accident that the newly M-bedazzled X5 has the ability to be both a remarkable performance machine and a completely livable grocery getter. If you had no knowledge of the record-breaking performance potential contained within the X5 M, you'd never know it had a dual personality.
Dr. Kay Segler, who recently took on the role of president of BMW M GmbH, said recently during the 2009 Frankfurt Auto Show that for a BMW vehicle to be an M, "It must be able to be two vehicles in one — on one hand a pure sporting machine with the highest levels of performance, and on the other, like any BMW it can be used for every daily need with the same comfort and capability of any vehicle in the range."
While our domestic automakers are busy pummeling one another with muscle cars, the Germans seem to have a fascination with overpowered SUVs, and who are we to complain? What's not to like about a twin-turbo V8 propelling a 2.5-ton vehicle to feats it never ought to reach?
That's why the X5 M is so damned mesmerizing. It shouldn't be able to do the things it clearly does, and it shouldn't be this easy to drive at the same time. It simply shouldn't exist at all. In fact, unless you spot the M badge, subtle fender flares and intercoolers in the front bumper, you'd never suspect this was anything more than an ordinary X5 with factory 20-inch wheels. We love that.
So when the VBox reported a 5.1-second time to 60 mph and quarter-mile effort of 13.2 seconds at 107.7 mph (before we'd even had a chance to optimize our launch protocol), we knew the X5 M wasn't just a rule breaker, but also a record breaker.
Let's Light This Candle Already
Pressing the M button on the steering wheel (assuming you've already programmed your M-menu for total annihilation) and manually selecting 1st gear enables launch mode. Then pressing the brake pedal as hard as is humanly possible while introducing the back of the throttle pedal to the floor will raise the engine rpm, and a checkered flag appears on the instrument cluster. This is when things go a little blurry.
The checkered flag illuminates just as the vehicle begins to creep forward a fraction of an inch because the giant disc brakes can barely hold back the 501 pound-feet of torque generated by the two twin-scroll turbochargers force-feeding the direct-injected 4.4-liter V8. At this very moment, the X5 M's driveline is literally trying to twist itself to pieces.
Releasing the reins at this point causes the X5 M to nearly wad up four 10-inch-wide pieces of pavement beneath its tire contact patches. The all-wheel-drive X5 M literally leaps off the line and shifts up (and belches, actually) exactly twice at the 7,000-rpm redline before reaching 60 mph in 4.5 seconds (4.2 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) and then once more before it crosses the finish line in the quarter-mile at 12.8 seconds at 108.5 mph. Holy smokes, that's a new record.
There was a time, not long ago, when people like us were swooning over an 8.0-liter V10 Dodge Viper running in the 12s, but an SUV? You've got to be kidding.
But that's over now. Unless Koenigsegg starts building 1,000-hp SUVs (and it could happen), you've got a new record-holder now, because the X5 M is the world's quickest and fastest SUV.
We've heard those who say that owning the fastest SUV is like being the skinniest contestant on TV's Biggest Loser. For the record, we think that's a terrible thing to say, and not at all fair to the X5 M.
The brilliant part is that the $86,225 X5 M is $40,000 less expensive than a $125,775 Cayenne Turbo S. True, a properly kitted (and even more expensive) Cayenne with variable ride height, skid plates, low-range gearing and decoupling antiroll bars would be able to leave the pavement-bound X5 M at the trailhead, but, really, who would ever take a Cayenne Turbo off-road — besides us ?
Still Not a Convert?
But drag strip performance only accounts for a fraction of why the X5 M is so remarkable. BMW has developed a new power-steering system for the X5 M with variable mapping that adapts effectively to both sporting occasions and parking lots. Unlike typical heavy-effort BMW steering (which appears to be on the road to extinction), the X5 M delivers unfettered feel and precision without syrupy heft and resistance.
Like the steering, the computer-controlled suspension (self-leveling in the rear) goes about its business largely unnoticed — that is, until you notice that the X5 M is not beating your internal organs to a foamy froth. Working in concert with several systems, the X5 M's multimode dampers and active antiroll bars react to changing road conditions thanks to a new high-speed FlexRay data transmission protocol, first used fully on the 2008 BMW 7 Series. In other words, the X5 M can humiliate most sports cars on a canyon road, grip our skid pad with 0.91g and keep a case of champagne from erupting in the cargo bay. That's a neat trick, especially considering the tires it wears are run-flats with short sidewalls pumped up to 38 psi.
Luckily, the X5 M's tires and brakes are as monstrously sized as its appetite for premium fuel (we validated the EPA's 14 mpg combined figure). Up front, the tires are 10.8 inches wide and the brake discs are 15.6 inches in diameter and clamped by four-piston fixed calipers. In the rear, the tires are 12.4 inches wide with 15.2-inch discs and two-piston sliding calipers. Stopping from 60 mph requires just 116 feet, which is, again, remarkable considering our vehicle's 5,332-pound as-tested weight.
With a large frontal area of 11.7 square feet and an untidy 0.38 drag coefficient, the X5 M didn't really surprise us in the slalom when its air turbulence actually blew the cones over. We were a little more surprised that its stability control system can't be disengaged, and the combination of so much speed and so much weight really gave the system's algorithms a workout. The best we could manage while keeping cones in their painted boxes was 63.5 mph. There were a couple unofficial 65-mph runs, but the cones wouldn't stay put.
The long list of standard features on the X5 M is nearly as long as the options list on a Cayenne Turbo S, notably: iDrive (the new one), navigation system, bi-xenon adaptive headlights, panoramic sunroof, 16-speaker premium audio and premium leather, among others.
Unlike with a Porsche, even the few options on our X5 M seemed reasonably priced. We appreciate that a compact spare tire ($150) is even available because run-flats usually mean a can of goo and set of rosary beads are all you have to get you to a BMW service center.
For $600 you may opt for the Cold Weather package that includes a heated steering wheel, heated rear seats and a ski bag. The Driver Assistance package contains automatic high-beams, head-up windshield display and rearview camera plus several top-view cameras for $1,800. BMW's Comfort Access keyless entry/starting system is $1,000 as it is on all BMW vehicles. Finally, those black roof rails will run you $100 and the grand total for our X5 M was $89,875, or $2,050 under the base MSRP of a Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG.
The Complete Package
It's hard to imagine a more complete high-performance SUV package than the 2010 BMW X5 M. It set new records at the drag strip. It's as easy to drive as any normal X5, and steers and rides better than any previous example. Its 14 mpg average certainly will not earn you a medal for fuel efficiency, but it is the best figure in its immediate peer group. And while $86,000 is unquestionably a large sum of money, that price is at the very least "fair" when it's compared to those of its rivals — especially when you line up standard and optional equipment.
And if the X5 M is an example of what we can expect from Herr Dr. Segler and his cohorts, we can't wait to see the 2011 BMW M5 with the same twin-turbo V8. It's bound to be at least 1,000 pounds lighter, is said to be making close to 600 hp (possibly the result of a Formula One-derived KERS system and driven through a new eight-speed double-clutch automated manual transmission.
Why have they decided to make such a vehicle? Because they can.
Executive Editor Michael Jordan says:
There's something so right about pounding down the road in a 555-hp sport-utility vehicle. There is no more outrageous statement of what human beings can accomplish given enough money, enough time and a ready supply of gasoline. It is a crime against good sense, and yet also the very thing that made the first-generation X5 4.4i a favorite with anyone with a wallet full of gas credit cards.
But the 2010 BMW X5 M also has a real mission in life, and that is to introduce us to a vehicle from the M division that can be both an insult to every right-thinking human being on the planet and yet a perfectly comfortable and even practical device for everyday use. This X5 M rides far better than its more prosaic X5 counterparts, picking up its feet over the seams in the concrete freeway like a fine sedan. It really gestures at the future of M vehicles, especially its engine, which reportedly will replace the current 5.0-liter V10 for the next BMW M5.
Of course, we've debunked the rumors that this vehicle was largely designed to appeal to the newly rich class of Russian industrialists, who have more money than sense and fairly brutal sensibilities when it comes to automotive performance. And yet our John Adolph, Senior Video Specialist, took one turn behind the wheel of the X5 M and said, "Now if I was the president of Gazprom, had my own personal oilfield, and drove around at high speed in a city full of Russian thugs, I'd want to be driving this."
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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