What's New for 2011
Now in its second year, the BMW X5 M is unchanged for 2011.
BMW's M division said it would never apply its badge to an SUV. Such a vehicle could never meet the exacting performance and handling standards of a proper M car. Even BMW's sport-tuned SUVs were deemed too big, tall and heavy. M didn't quite say "read my lips," but the declaration was mighty definitive.
As Bush the Elder discovered, though, such declarations are just begging to be broken if there's good enough reason. The 2011 BMW X5 M is indeed an SUV that wears an M badge. Purists may view it as sacrilege, but the X5 M is certainly capable of meeting those exacting standards rather than simply bowing to a corporate demand.
As with all M vehicles, the X5 M gets a special engine. Its twin-turbo V8 cranks out 555 horsepower and 501 pound-feet of torque, which is enough to launch all 5,300 of its pounds from zero to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds. That's 0.1 second quicker than the quickest BMW M3 we've tested and 0.2 second quicker than the quickest M5. More importantly, it's a half-second quicker than the previous-generation Porsche Cayenne Turbo S -- a vehicle that costs $40,000 more. Among SUVs, only the related X6 M is quicker, but it's far less practical than the X5.
At the same time, BMW made a number of modifications to make the X5 M handle more like a sport sedan. Standard 20-inch wheels and performance tires help, but it's the special sport-tuned suspension with adaptive dampers that delivers amazing handling prowess while at the same time maintaining a livable ride. Its power steering system adapts effectively to both sporting occasions and parking lots -- we actually prefer it to the communicative but heavy steering found on the standard X5. The result is an SUV that delivers better handling numbers than the last M5 we tested.
Unfortunately, the 2011 BMW X5 M doesn't feel as agile in the real world because there's just no escaping its sizable footprint. A big vehicle on a tight road will always feel confined no matter how astonishingly capable it is. Even so, the X5 M has raised the bar for a performance crossover SUV. Models like the Land Rover Range Rover Sport and Mercedes ML63 AMG certainly have their own appeal, but only the new 2011 Cayenne will be able to match what BMW has done with the X5 M. Its M badge might indeed be sacrilege, but you certainly can't argue about the results.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 BMW X5 M is available in a lone trim level. Standard equipment includes 20-inch wheels, summer tires, a self-leveling electronically adjustable active suspension with M-specific sport tuning, M customized driving settings, automatic and adaptive bi-xenon headlights, automatic wipers, front and rear parking sensors, auto-dimming mirrors, a panoramic sunroof and rear privacy glass. Also standard are heated 10-way power sport seats with driver memory functions, leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, BMW Assist emergency telematics, Bluetooth, the iDrive electronics interface, a navigation system with real-time traffic and a 16-speaker sound system with an auxiliary audio jack, CD player and HD radio.
The optional Premium Sound package adds a more powerful 16-speaker sound system, an iPod/USB audio interface, satellite radio and a six-CD/DVD changer. The Active Ventilated Seat package adds automatically adjusting driver seat bolsters, front ventilated seats and 14-way "multicontour" front seat adjustment. The Cold Weather package adds a heated steering wheel, heated rear seats and a ski bag for the backseat pass-through. Going with the Driver Assistance package gets you automatic high beams, a head-up display and a multiview parking camera. The Rear Climate package adds manual rear side window shades and four-zone climate control.
Several of the above features are available as stand-alone options along with a power tailgate, keyless ignition/entry, a sideview camera, soft-close automatic doors, roof rails, a leather dashboard and a rear seat entertainment system.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2011 BMW X5 M is powered by a twin-turbo 4.4-liter V8 that sends 555 hp and 501 lb-ft of torque to all four wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. In Edmunds acceleration testing, the X5 M went from zero to 60 mph in a staggering 4.5 seconds. That's quicker than an M3. Fuel economy, should you care, is an estimated 12 mpg city/17 mpg highway and 14 mpg combined.
The 2011 X5 M comes standard with ABS with brake assist, stability control, front side airbags, rear side curtain airbags and front active head restraints. Crash tests have not been conducted, but the structurally identical BMW X5 scored a perfect five stars in government crash tests for frontal-impact driver protection, four stars for frontal-impact passenger protection and five stars for front and rear side protection. Also, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the X5 the highest rating of "Good" in its frontal-offset and side-impact crash tests.
In Edmunds brake testing, the X5 M came to a stop from 60 mph in a very short 116 feet.
Interior Design and Special Features
Take away the "M" badges sprinkled liberally throughout the X5 M's interior, as well as the special M sport seats, and you've got the same basic interior we've seen in the current X5. Fortunately, this is one of the most elegant cabins BMW has ever built. The construction is precise, the materials are high-quality and the instrumentation is crystal-clear. As expected, those M sport seats provide superb support and comfort.
The X5 M has BMW's latest iDrive interface, which includes more user-friendly physical buttons next to the control knob and a more sensible menu structure. It also has the X5's familiar joystick-like gear selector, which drivers may find confusing at first due to its separate "Park" button and odd reverse-drive layout. With the rear seatbacks folded, the X5 M offers 75 cubic feet of cargo space. Unlike other X5s there is no available third-row seat.
BMW's M-badged SUVs (X5 and X6) are astonishingly quick, and laying into the X5 M's accelerator will have you at extralegal speeds in no time. Thanks to a bevy of high-tech mechanical bits, the X5 M also handles better than any midsize crossover SUV has a right to (and doesn't suffer a choppy ride because of it). There's "Active" this and "Dynamic" that in just about every area of the X5 M's operation, a battalion of high-tech aids designed to hold the laws of physics at bay. The results are truly astonishing: Even seasoned professional drivers will be amazed at this BMW's prodigious grip and athletic character.
That doesn't make the 2011 BMW X5 M a sports car, however. Despite its impressive ability to shrink around the driver in an open environment, a tight, twisty road will make it balloon right back up again. That canyon wall or country ditch will suddenly seem way too close for comfort -- you may know the X5 M can technically take that corner, but you'll be apprehensive about doing so without scraping the paint. There's a reason sports cars aren't typically put in the body of a 5,300-pound SUV.