PHOENIX, AZ – The 2023 BMW XM is packed full of firsts and new concepts from BMW. Since the iconic M1 45 years ago, it’s the first pure-M production BMW model without a smaller variant. Not only that, but it’s the first fully fledged M product plug-in hybrid. Its design, both inside and out, features all sorts of new highlights like stacked quad exhaust tips, look-at-me exterior lighting, wild geometric headliner and stunning Natural leather. You can go ahead and dismiss it as not being a pure BMW M car, but you’re also missing out on the best-performing SUV BMW has ever built.
After browsing the spec sheet, comparisons to the X5 M Competition were inevitable — it uses the modular CLAR platform BMW shares with the brand’s other rear-wheel-drive vehicles — but those thoughts were dismissed a few minutes behind the wheel. To the great benefit of the XM, being a PHEV greatly improves the experience, giving it its own identity.
A massive 29.5-kilowatt-hour battery pack — close to that of some low-range EVs, and larger than the i3 when it first launched — sits under the body, giving each BMW about 30 miles of all-electric range. The electric motor integrated into the eight-speed automatic transmission can get you out of a parking spot with blazing speed as it makes 194 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque. Similar to the sound played through the speakers in EV mode in electric cars like the i4 M50 and iX M60, they blend seamlessly into the noise of the 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8, making you question if you’re even in EV mode. It’s smooth and Subtle, but the V8 can still behave like the animal we’ve grown accustomed to in other M cars.
Because the electric motor is so powerful, the combustion engine’s output is low for a V8-powered M vehicle, producing 483 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque. For comparison’s sake, the X5 M Competition pushes 617 horsepower and 553 lb-ft to all four wheels of its V8. The XM’s combined output exceeds those numbers, though, and clocks in at a stout 644 horsepower and 590 lb-ft of torque, allowing for a 0-60 mph sprint in a claimed 4.1 seconds.
Hitting the gas pedal from a standstill makes you question the XM’s 6,052-pound curb weight. When the XM slams off the line, the headrest-savage instant acceleration exhibited by high-powered EVs is on display here. Before any electric momentum is lost, the twin-turbo boost is ready to keep the party rocking. XM has better acceleration feel and throttle response because It’s a PHEV, which is exactly what we’ve come to expect from an electric M car.
BMW has a whole bunch of tricks to make sure this big, heavy SUV handles like something from the M division. Front and rear active anti-roll bars, rear-wheel steering, a unique chassis design, and huge wheels and tires all play a part in making the XM a joy to drive. The stiff chassis mounts can be felt through the steering wheel and the seat of the trousers, an immediate indication that this BMW means business. On Arizona’s winding mountain roads, the XM was at home bouncing from corner to corner without the road feeling too cumbersome. Its massive brakes never break a sweat, even downhill. Point the wheel, and the XM immediately maintains the same level of precision we’re used to in the M3. Its Comfort steering setting is surprisingly the best, as this XM’s steering effort is heavy in its Sport mode. Still, the disappearance of all that weight is admirable, and BMW has done it without resorting to bone-crunching ride quality.
The forgivingness of the XM suspension is a new quality for BMW M SUVs, as the X5 M and X3 M beat you no matter what the road, and don’t respond well when the chassis shakes. Adaptive dampers and steel springs — linear at the front and progressive at the rear — dial in just the way we like them. You can drive the XM for miles on end as a grand tourer and enjoy its controlled, comfortable highway driving. Even at that comfortable damper setting, the XM doesn’t slouch in corners. You can spice it up with the full Sport Plus damper setup, and while this adds confidence in less body-moving forms, the excellent ride quality remains. Big mid-corner undulations don’t rattle the chassis or set off alarms. Instead, the XM immediately shrugged and carried on, offering the confidence to keep pushing it in and out of corners.
Accelerating out of pinches and tight corners gives the M xDrive all-wheel-drive system a chance to shine, and that’s just after the subtle four-wheel steering is already surprising with quick and stable tight turns. The XM has a new, model-specific M Sport differential that enables it to harness its abundance of electric torque while achieving the same goal of fully variable torque distribution between the left and right rear wheels. The extra electric thrust that comes instantly when you dig deep into the throttle is tangible. Slip on the right foot for lateral fun in M Dynamic Mode (MDM), which relaxes traction and stability control. If you’re driving on ultra-low-traction surfaces, the XM has a unique 4WD Sand mode that changes the AWD system’s programming and enables the rear differential’s locking function.
The sum of the XM’s parts does make it the most interesting M SUV, but there are still some shortcomings. Its biggest problem is shifting gears in the most aggressive manual mode. The BMW tunes the harsh bumps with each upshift, and they’re hard enough to throw you out of a cadence you’re stuck on good mountain trails. Turn it back to the middle Sport (not Sport Plus) and the jerk goes away, but the shift isn’t as instant as a paddle pull. The solution is to simply keep it in smart autoshift mode, but it’s a shame to lose engagement.
As it appears, there is a a lot of It’s done inside XM, but it’s certainly not that controversial, and I think it’s really attractive. Upholstered seats, M-themed lighting and genuinely luxurious elements like ‘Vintage Merino’ leather (pictured above) immediately set the tone. The XM blends high luxury with traditional M design in the best possible way, far exceeding any specification you’ll find on a lesser M SUV. The sculptural headliner, using a 3D prismatic structure covered in Alcantara and backlit by 100 LED lights, is the crown jewel—it’s far cooler than any glass roof.
As you’d expect from a base price of $159,995, there’s no shortage of tech features on hand. We’ve already expressed a lot of displeasure with BMW’s curved display and iDrive 8 software, but the XM is one of the models eligible for the new iDrive 8.5 over-the-air update, so we’re still hoping things will indeed improve by the time it launches this summer. A physical button on the center console provides shortcuts to quickly toggle the XM between electric-only, hybrid and “eCONTROL” modes, which either retain the current battery charge or increase it through energy recuperation. As always, the very handy custom M1 and M2 steering wheel toggles make ideal setup a breeze, and since the XM is a PHEV, there’s more customization on offer here than usual. The suite of driver assistance systems is very easy to use with steering wheel commands, and they further contribute to the XM being a great grand tourer.
All of these more mundane advantages are crucial, as the XMs will surely spend more time driving the kids to school or valeting them at fancy hotels than they do on the track, or even on winding back roads. Thankfully, the rear bench is roomy. For longer journeys, the soft rear seats — they’re softer than the more performance-oriented front seats — will be nice for lounging. Despite the sloping roofline, headroom for taller adults isn’t an issue. The cargo area is limited by that huge battery, as it has a relatively high load floor with no underfloor storage space. The X5 or iX wins over the XM here, but don’t think space is useless because this is still a large SUV.
But is it the big performance SUV that beats all other performance SUVs? That’s no good; from a purely driving standpoint, the Porsche Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid will still win fans over. What the XM represents, however, is that BMW M can successfully foray into electrification and end up with a more engaging and better-driving end product than its combustion-only performance SUV offerings. People who can afford an XM may not be too worried about saving some extra money while driving to work and back on power, but the performance boost you get with said power will certainly be appreciated. Furthermore, if the US decides to adopt Europe’s urban low emission zone policy, the XM will be well-suited for the task.
You may love or hate the extroverted exterior design, but the XM’s performance is undeniable and enjoyable.It may be an SUV, but it looks unique and makes giggles and sounds Wow From behind the steering wheel. What’s not to like, especially when M is still giving us cars like the M2, M4 CSL and M8?