BMW has made numerous M cars since 1971, but none of them have been fully developed and built by BMW Motorsport GmbH, the brand’s subsidiary that focuses on high-performance vehicles. The exception, of course, was for legendary M1 in 1978. The M1 was also the first BMW with a mid-mounted engine. Birthed out of racing, the M1 had 277 horsepower, rear-wheel drive, and a five-speed manual transmission. While that was a healthy output for that era, even a family car like the current Toyota Camry V6’s 301 horses eclipse the M1 by a good margin. How times have changed.
Fast forward to today, and BMW has delivered its second M-only developed vehicle. This time, it’s not a sports car. It’s a big, boisterous, and bold high-performance luxury SUV known simply as the XM. No, not XM Satellite Radio. It’s X designation comes from BMW’s SUVs (SAVs, or Sport Activity Vehicle, in BMW-speak), and M stands for Motorsport. Unlike the M1, which only seats two people, the XM can easily accommodate a family of five in stratospheric levels of luxury. Also, unlike the low-key and vintage M1, the XM has a dizzying level of technology, high-end materials, and styling that’s on par with a fully-bejeweled Infinity Gauntlet. Comparing the two vehicles’ looks and specifications, separated by almost half a century, is tantamount to pitting Gordon Gekko’s Motorola DynaTac 8000X against an iPhone 15 Pro Max. But unlike the iPhone 15 Pro Max, the BMW XM showed up for me to test first hand.
The XM is an unequivocal eyeful
The XM’s imposing size is outdone by styling cues that are never subtle. No one will accuse the XM of being beautiful, but it has serious street presence. The XM is big and brash in just about every way. It measures almost 17 feet in length by over six-and-a-half feet wide. That’s almost as big as a Chevy Tahoe. It weighs more, too, to the tune of over three tons.
The front end showcases overly busy styling with numerous angles, thin lighting elements, and more creases than origami. The kidney grilles aren’t just colossal, but also illuminated for effect. The gold framed grilles match the huge swoosh on the body, as well as the color of the intricate 23″ wheels. The back end isn’t as dramatic as the front fascia, but the huge rear glass is flush with the liftgate frame, something I’ve never seen before. The protruding LED taillights jut out well into the rear haunches, and those hexagonal stacked quad tailpipes flank gold outlines on the rear diffuser. It’s the kind of vehicle you see coming and going a quarter of a mile away, and you can’t stop looking. Paint colors like neon yellow, purple, and teal are cries for attention. The model I took for a test was painted in bright Marina Bay Blue, and with the gold trim it looked like a Los Angeles Rams team shuttle. Subtle, the XM is not.
In my eyes, the XM certainly doesn’t qualify as beautiful like the scissor-door electric BMW i8 was. You can blame that on the current in-your-face design language that has made modern Bimmers look like victims of gang beatings. But they’re getting noticed, as a result. Industrial HVAC vent-sized grilles, eye-searing colors, and headlight clusters that look like Optimus Prime’s prescription eyewear are the order of the day for the German automaker. The XM doesn’t even qualify as ugly beautiful like the iconic 2000 BMW M Coupe. It’s pretty much just ugly, but that seems to get you far these days just like a pair of Balenciaga Triple S sneakers paired with bleached bell-bottom jeans.
A cabin fit for a modern king
Once you step inside, you’re treated to a cabin rife with top-tier materials like Nappa leather, Alcantara suede, brushed aluminum, and real carbon fiber. The big and accommodating sport seats might just be my favorite buckets this year thanks to soft leather and synthetic suede, huge seatbacks, and tremendous adjustability. Everything you touch feels amazing. Reach up to the headliner, and you’ll find something truly special. It’s a sculptural surface with a three-dimensional prism, topographic map-like layout that’s even better to touch than it is to look at. And if that’s not enough detail, a trio of BMW Motorsport hued LEDs dance along the edges of the headliner when you first fire up the XM. Sure, it’s excessive, but not much on the XM isn’t.
Shockingly, the second row has nearly the identical legroom as the front row seats have: 40.3 inches versus 40.4. That’s even more than the BMW X7, with which the XM shares its chassis. Combined with wonderfully contoured and cushioned outboard seats, the second row is an utter delight to sit in, except for the fact that there are only two BMW XM pillows for three passengers to fight over. The lush quilted leather and Alcantara suede seats are good for hours on end, and there’s plenty of cushioning for everyone. Even the center position is supportive and spacious, and there’s almost as much shoulder room as in the bigger Lexus LX600, so some very pleased life-sized adults can sit in the back seat of the XM (if they’re ok with not driving, that is).
In terms of tech, the XM has some of the best in-car technology found in any vehicle today. The original iDrive 1.0 infotainment system was Marquis du Sade painful, but the M-specific iDrive 8.0 is a marvel to use, as well as to look at. The expansive 14.9″ touchscreen infotainment system gets paired with a 12.3″ digital instrument cluster. Graphics are special to this vehicle, and the look matches the special interior. Most of the car’s controls are relegated to the touchscreen, which is the way of the world these days. But it’s all well-done, despite the fact that there are layers for access that take some getting used to. The optional Bowers and Wilkins premium sound system is unlike any car audio system I’ve listened to in a very long time. It’s just that good, and it’s potent enough to drown out that roaring V8 (which, admittedly, isn’t necessarily something I’ve ever really want to do). The $3,400 price tag for the sound system seems steep, but it really is commensurate with the studio-level sound quality.
The XM is astounding to drive
I’d equate the XM’s astounding power and agility to Killa in the John Wick 4 movie. Nothing that corpulent should be able to do the things he does. In order for a 6,036-pound SUV to hurtle to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds, there has to be a significant a amount of power. The gas engine, a twin-turbo V8, actually moves the XM’s sibling X7 to 60 mph in a scant 4.5 seconds, quicker than any three-row SUV has a right to be. For most earthlings, that should be more than enough, but when an SUV gets built by BMW’s Motorsport division for only the second time in history, it has to get more. That “more” is the 194-horspower, 206 lb-ft electric motor that bumps the total output to 644 horses and 479 lb-ft of torque. The difference is palpable, and the torque feels almost immediate, not unlike a high-powered electric SUV but with the benefit of a more analog experience coupled with the throaty roar of the twin-turbo V8.
The XM hits 60 mph in a shocking 3.5 seconds, and the thrust feels virtually endless. Highway acceleration is almost more alarming because when you mash the gas, you’re at three-digit speeds almost before you can anxiety fart. Keep in mind that the XM isn’t quite as quick or as tossable as the M5 sedan. But the M5 doesn’t have as much space, nor does it have the benefit of electric power. That’s for the next-gen M5. The XM can go battery only for a whopping 30 miles, which means you can get to work and back without the use of gas. A nearly $170k luxury SUV trying to be miserly? Emphasis on try, and that’s only in EV mode. In gas only mode, the XM nets a low 14 mpg, but no one will be surprised considering what you get in return. Make no mistake that this monster is the master of irony in a way that no BMW has done to this degree. Drivers can choose between pure electric, hybrid, or sporty hybrid-assisted performance modes that should please just about anyone who can afford the XM.
For 2024, BMW brings an even more powerful version known as the XM Label Red, which churns out a nutty 738 horsepower and gets dressed in gobs of red trim inside and out, perhaps symbolic of its vehicular victims that will get obliterated in its wake. The good news is you can bring the whole family along to witness the experience.