From the July/August 2023 issue of Car and Driver.
Let’s pretend the letter M doesn’t exist.
In some alternate universe, where the alphabet skips right from L to N, this confounding new SUV would simply be called the X. That would be a pretty good name. With X, you’ve got some intrigue: X-Men, X-Files, X Games. Whereas, for BMW, the letter M is freighted with expectation. When you see that rakish M flanked by tricolor stripes, you expect scalding performance, restrained but sporty styling, and visceral responses. You might not always get all of that, but it’s what the badge promises. So what do we make of an M-branded 6054-pound SUV with fat black billboard stripes and standard throw pillows on the rear seats? The last time we saw an XM this bizarre, it had hydropneumatic dampers and was a Citroën. The XM is BMW’s first M-exclusive model since the original M1, and for a moment, it held the title of most powerful production BMW ever (that superlative now belongs to its sibling, the 738-hp XM Label Red).
On the internal-combustion side, the XM gets a 483-hp twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V-8 with a cross-bank exhaust manifold that makes it sound like an off-world chain saw felling trees across the Kepler exoplanets. Downstream from that prime mover, the torque converter is replaced by a wet clutch and a 194-hp electric motor that is, like a Taylor Swift audience, permanently excited. The motor makes 207 pound-feet of torque but has its own gearing to multiply that number to 332 pound-feet at the input to the eight-speed automatic transmission. All told, the XM musters 644 horsepower and 590 pound-feet.
That would be more impressive if there weren’t 19 other companies offering vehicles with more horsepower than that. And even in terms of intramural bragging rights, the XM’s horsepower advantage over other BMWs is essentially canceled by its weight. The X7 M60i rides on the same 122.2-inch wheelbase as the XM but offers three rows of seating to the XM’s two rows and weighs 216 pounds less than the flashy hybrid. The XM will win a drag race, hitting 60 mph in 3.4 seconds, but the X7 is a mere 0.4 second behind. And the X7 M60i’s base price is just beyond $104,000, while the XM starts at $159,995. Order the Bowers & Wilkins sound system ($3400), Silverstone and Vintage Coffee leather interior ($2500), and the M Driver’s package ($2500), and you’ve pretty much run the table on options and arrived at our as-tested price of $168,395.
HIGHS: Useful EV range and power, decadent interior, 60 mph in 3.4 seconds.
We’re guessing that for the XM’s intended audience, that number isn’t shocking or dissuading—rather more like a financial moat ensuring exclusivity from the X5-driving hoi polloi. As much as it’s an SUV, the XM is a declaration of decadence. It’s Fashion Week in Milan and Art Basel in Miami, a piece of sculpture you’re not meant to understand right away or possibly ever. Consider the textured headliner flanked by fiber-optic light guides and 100 LEDs: It’s awash with softly pulsing blue light when the car is plugged in and sends the red and blue hues of the M logo streaking toward the back of the car on startup, a living organism riding along above you. The blocky 3-D BMW logo in the center of the 23-inch wheels looks like some kind of Lego piece, snapped on as the final step. The charging cable lives in a custom duffel bag—leather and quilted fabric with a gold-colored zipper. The “M Lounge” rear seats include those throw pillows, which you’ll want to store securely before any Nürburgring record attempts. The controversial grille is proudly outlined in LEDs, and the optional NightGold metallic trim seems inspired by the stripe on Starsky and Hutch’s Gran Torino. As you may have realized by now, the XM doesn’t do subtle.
Marc Urbano|Car and Driver
Marc Urbano|Car and Driver
Well, except maybe when it’s in electric mode. Thanks to its 19.2-kWh battery—which enables 29 miles of range at 75 mph—and relatively robust electric motor, the XM is perfectly capable of running around town as an EV. But it always feels a bit wretched to toggle into EV mode and know you’ve got a 483-hp V-8 that’s just catching a ride. Much more satisfying to push one of the red M buttons on the steering wheel and cue all the available horsepower. In EV mode, 87 mph constitutes top speed. With the V-8 joining the party, 90 mph is yours in 6.8 seconds. So yes, the XM is quick, but an 11.7-second quarter-mile at 119 mph places it in arrears of its electric counterpart, the iX M60, which dispatches that task in 11.5 seconds at 120 mph. And, should you neglect to charge the XM, its EPA-estimated 46 MPGe combined drops to a mere 14 mpg for gasoline only.
LOWS: Already ceded its title of most powerful BMW ever, polarizing style, disjointed driving experience.
Moreover, the XM driving experience is discombobulated in a way peculiar to this particular hybrid architecture. “This reminds me of a Jeep Wrangler 4xe” is not something you want to think while helming a $160K BMW, but the XM suffers from the same flummoxed drivetrain behavior as the Jeep, as the two share a similar ZF electrified eight-speed transmission. There’s just too much going on. In this case, we have a V-8 with turbos that are on boost or not, a wet clutch, an electric motor with its own gearing, and then an eight-speed automatic transmission sending power onward to all four wheels—via another electronically controlled clutch to manage torque front to rear and an M Sport rear differential handling torque distribution side to side. There’s an abruptness to the shifts and throttle response that betrays the complexity of the setup, and sometimes it seems like there’s an estrangement between the computers running these disparate systems. For instance, we blundered into the rev limiter more than once when using the shift paddles because the XM took so long to consider the ramifications of an upshift. Other times, it would upshift promptly, so there’s no adjusting your timing. The transmission gives you fastballs and change-ups, and an occasional slider.
The XM’s suspension tuning is better, with the softest mode delivering a decent ride despite the steel springs and gigantic wheels. The 48-volt active anti-roll bars, which disconnect on straights, are likely a big boon to the ride, and rear-axle steering enables preternatural agility at parking speeds. Put the dampers in Sport or Sport Plus mode, though, and the suspension goes all brittle, certainly more than is warranted for a vehicle that posts a 0.92-g skidpad number with the available 22-inch Pirelli P Zero PZ4 summer rubber. It seems like the confusion over the XM’s mission extends to BMW itself. The company probably would’ve been better off embracing the rolling-lounge vibe and bolting in some cushy air springs. And if that seems anathema to the M division ethos, so are throw pillows and a 6054-pound curb weight.
VERDICT: An M car aimed at a very specific audience that is not us.
To make sense of the XM, you’ve got to understand that, despite its name, it’s not aimed at enthusiasts. It’s an art object with a respectable gauze of performance, Damien Hirst does launch control. BMW still makes M cars that will rearrange your internal organs on a racetrack and keep a low profile on the street, but this isn’t one of them. Thankfully, this isn’t a zero-sum game—the manual-transmission M3 didn’t need to die so that the XM could live. So maybe let’s appreciate the commitment to aggressive weirdness that results in a machine like this while simultaneously hoping it doesn’t represent a philosophical sea change. The world already has one Citroën, and that’s probably enough.
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2023 BMW XM
Vehicle Type: front-engine, front-motor, all-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door wagon
Base/As Tested: $159,995/$168,395
Options: Bowers & Wilkins stereo, $3400; M Driver’s package, $2500; Silverstone and Vintage Coffee leather interior, $2500
twin-turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 32-valve 4.4-liter V-8, 483 hp, 479 lb-ft + AC motor, 194 hp, 207 lb-ft (combined output: 644 hp, 590 lb-ft; 19.2-kWh lithium-ion; 7.4-kW onboard charger)
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Suspension, F/R: control arms/multilink
Brakes, F/R: 16.5-in vented disc/15.7-in vented disc
Tires: Pirelli P Zero PZ4 PNCS
F: 275/40R-22 107Y I ★
R: 315/35R-22 111Y I ★
Wheelbase: 122.2 in
Length: 201.2 in
Width: 78.9 in
Height: 69.1 in
Passenger Volume, F/R: 57/52 ft3
Cargo Volume, Behind F/R: 64/19 ft3
Curb Weight: 6054 lb
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 3.4 sec
100 mph: 8.2 sec
1/4-Mile: 11.7 sec @ 119 mph
160 mph: 25.4 sec
Results above omit 1-ft rollout of 0.3 sec.
Rolling Start, 5–60 mph: 3.9 sec
Top Gear, 30–50 mph: 2.6 sec
Top Gear, 50–70 mph: 3.0 sec
Top Speed (mfr’s claim): 168 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 153 ft
Braking, 100–0 mph: 303 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft Skidpad: 0.92 g
C/D FUEL ECONOMY
Observed: 16 MPGe
75-mph Highway Driving, EV/Hybrid Mode: 49 MPGe/20 mpg
75-mph Highway Range, EV/Hybrid mode: 29/360 mi
EPA FUEL ECONOMY
Combined/City/Highway: 14/12/17 mpg
Combined Gasoline + Electricity: 46 MPGe
EV Range: 31 mi
C/D TESTING EXPLAINED
Ezra Dyer is a Car and Driver senior editor and columnist. He’s now based in North Carolina but still remembers how to turn right. He owns a 2009 GEM e4 and once drove 206 mph. Those facts are mutually exclusive.