BMW XM: Crass or just controversial?

Massive, and massively fast, this divisive SUV is BMW’s M-Sport birthday present


There’s always one. Always one present in the pile under the Christmas tree, or that arrives in the post on your birthday. One present bought for you by a distant relative, a relative who doesn’t really know, understand, nor like you but who nonetheless feels duty bound to buy you something. Anything.

Occasionally, for a “big” birthday, they might push the boat out and buy you something really big, really expensive, but really inappropriate. A garden ornament made of stag antlers. A week’s hunting lions in the African veldt. A life-size nude sculpture of your spouse, carved from cheese.


That’s how this BMW XM kinda feels. With last year having been the 50th anniversary of BMW’s justifiably-legendary M-Sport division, the company was clearly going to mark that big birthday. But with what? A light and lithe coupe? A new mid-engined sports car? A brawny high-performance saloon? No – clearly, BMW’s M-Sport equivalent of Auntie Rita who sends the bad presents was chairing the meeting that day, and so it was decided that M-Sports birthday present to itself was going to be this elephantine SUV.

Okay, so that’s the purist’s view. Show the XM to someone whose idea of a BMW M car is still the beyond-brilliant 1980s “E30″ M3 saloon and they’ll probably start foaming at the mouth. However, you can mount something of a defence for it. Allow me to play, for a moment, the counsel for the XM’s defence.


The XM is only the second car to be built only and solely by BMW’s M-Division. All the others – M3, M4, M5, M8 etc – have been modified and tuned versions of other BMW models. Sot the XM sits alongside one other car in the BMW firmament, and it’s the original, shark-nosed, mid-engined BMW M1. Now, you might recoil in horror, thinking of these two cars sitting alongside one another, but in the 1970s, when the M1 was designed, the car that everyone wanted was a mid-engined coupe, so that’s what BMW based its ultimate driving machine upon.

Spool forward to 2023, and everyone wants an SUV, so BMW – as keen as turning a profit on this car as on any other – naturally based its new high-performance special on the body shape everyone wants to own.


And it really is high in performance. Up front is the same 4.4-litre, twin-turbo V8 engine that you’d find in the M5, and which will be further ramped up in power for the forthcoming all-new M5. Here in the XM, it develops 489hp, which doesn’t sound all that special. But the XM is a plug-in hybrid, and that V8 is working oily hand in electric glove with a 197hp electric motor, fed by a 25.7kWh battery, and when you combine the two halves of the powertrain, you get an explosive 653hp. Not only is that impressive, it’s not a million miles away from the powerplant that will be used in BMW’s 2024 Le Mans racer.

So it shifts. This behemoth – its kerb weight of 2.7 tonnes matches that of a 2003 Land Rover Discovery diesel – can hit 100km/h from rest in 4.3 seconds, and it sounds like an overhead thunderstorm as it does so, especially if you’ve remembered to press the button that ramps up the exhaust noise.

It’s also not the planet-destroyer that you might be thinking it is. Plug in and charge up and you can get surprisingly close to BMW’s claimed 88km range on electric power, so shorter journeys actually roll by in silence. Equally, on longer runs, it averages a stiff, but not impossibly so, 9.6 litres per 100km. That’s only slightly worse than a Nissan X-Trail. . .

The interior is also a thing of genuine beauty. Sure, there are plenty of switches, buttons, panels and parts recognisable from a mid-spec 3 Series, but they’re incorporated into a gorgeous cabin, slathered in a mixture (in our test car) of soft saddle-brown leather, with contrasting pine green panels. Instead of a glass roof, there’s a textured suede panel, which looks and feels like a relief map of an alien planet, and which is backlit by LEDs. In the back, there’s a stupendously comfy wraparound rear seat which, in place of adjustable lumbar support, comes with a pair of XM-branded cushions.


Is it good to drive? Well, here’s where things become a bit more mixed. Yes, up to a point, it’s quite brilliant to drive. Hit the bright red “M2″ button behind the steering wheel, which switches all of the electronic control systems to “Maximum Everything” and the XM can defy physics for a few blistering minutes. It accelerates hard, corners briskly, and has brilliant steering. The combo of the car’s width and narrow Irish backroads, with encroaching hedgerows, isn’t a great one but you can have fun hustling the XM along. Especially with that soundtrack.

However, after a few moments, certain flaws become apparent. The initial performance hit is brilliant, but after a while you just start to notice how much the gargantuan kerb weight dulls the speed. You also notice the ride quality, which isn’t the worst imaginable, but is certainly constantly fidgeting and fussing over anything but the smoothest tarmac.

Then there’s the styling. Oh dear, the styling. For a brief period, it kind of grew on me, and I was starting to appreciate the “gigantic Hot Wheels toy” vibe. But then you look closer and it just starts to seem clumsy, over-blown, gauche and frankly just a bit daft. The grilles are awful enough and then someone added backlighting. The gold trim that sweeps around the windows reminds me of that villain from the Muppets movie – he’s so rich he gold-plates his gold. The massive gold-and-black 23-inch wheels look utterly ridiculous.


Of course, the XM isn’t really made for me. Or for you. Or for anyone in Europe. It’s for Dubai. It’s for Shanghai. It’s for Palm Springs. It’s for places with wide-open spaces, cheap petrol and the kind of customers who appreciate a car with the aesthetics of a cash-in-transit van. These are the sort of people who might otherwise buy a Rezvani (google it…) and why should BMW turn down their cash? They’ll need lots of it. The list price of our test car was €211,262. Yikes. For that cash you could walk into a BMW dealer and get a long-range all-electric iX and an M340i with the change, which sounds like a much better deal to me.

There’s a final kicker. Look at the big screen on the dashboard and call up the tyre pressure monitor. In that display, BMW has included a little digital representation of the original M1. That’s, clearly, meant to draw a line of connection between the two cars, but it basically just makes you pine for that simple joy of the original. Maybe the next time the postman shows up with one of these presents, just pretend you’re not home. . .

BMW XM: the lowdown

Power: 4.4-litre V8 turbo petrol engine + electric motor developing 653hp and 800Nm powering all four wheels via an eight speed automatic transmission.

CO2 emissions (annual motor tax) 46g/km (€140).

Electric consumption: 28.9kWh/100km (WLTP).

Fuel consumption: 1.6l/100km (WLTP)

Electric range: 88km (WLTP)

0-100km/h: 4.3 seconds.

Price: €211,262 as tested, XM starts from €191,645.

Verdict: Glorious engine and interior, but everything else just makes you pine for M-cars as they were.

Neil Briscoe

Neil Briscoe

Neil Briscoe, a contributor to The Irish Times, specialises in motoring