Yes. Another SUV review. Sorry, but couples, families, singles, alt-lifestylers, outdoor-seekers, bankers, lawyers, doctors, musicians, actors, and even website developers are continuing to drive the SUV segment into utter dominance. And it doesn’t matter where you live: the sales figures in Europe are accelerating more swiftly to the SUV camp than in North America, where it’s dominated for many years already. This is not a value judgment on the goodness or evil of SUVs. It just is. And consider this: of BMW’s 15 different lines of automobiles, seven of them are SUVs. Mercedes has a staggering eight lines of SUVs.
But BMW is nothing if not a company aware of and amenable to splitting niches, be they product lines (like all those hatchback variations on sedans) or ultra-high-performance flavors of big SUVs. That’s where we pick up this particular train coming into the station: the 2020 X5 M and the related X6 M. These two add the engine and legs of a thoroughbred sports sedan to the sport-utility, resulting in SUVs with not just room and girth but also abilities in the twisties and the vast open road on the order of a top sports sedan.
The new Ms snarl with 600hp (447kW) from their twin-turbo, 4.4L V8 engines, though that figure can be boosted even more to 617hp (460kW) with the lily-gilding optional Competition Package. (We can’t help thinking that any 5,200-plus-pound SUV wearing a badge that reads “Competition” is just a trifle incongruous, unless it’s an eating competition.) And yes, that’s damn near twice the output of the base X5 and X6 powertrain (in the US market), which puffs out a comparatively paltry 335hp (250kW), though no one would could legitimately call that engine deficient.
And all that power is nothing without the ability to harness it, so active anti-roll bars, adjustable damping, and enormous brakes come along for the ride. Both M models also have a full helping of active safety features like automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning, and lane-keeping assist, plus conveniences like Wi-Fi, making the Ms an overflowing river of various technologies.
Not the best SUVs for crossing continents in a day
But starting at $106,095 for the X5 M and $109,595 for the X6 M, they are financial mountains to climb. And with combined city-highway fuel-economy figures of just 15mpg (15.7l/100km) for both, they’re thirsty ones, too. These new Ms save fuel by using a start/stop system that shuts down the engine when reaching a full stop. However, when engaged, it creates an abrupt stop, even when you feather the brake pedal. You can disable the start/stop system, but by doing so, you’re surely not going to improve on that 15mpg combined economy rating.
As you get underway, the Ms start off as taut, high-precision, supportive driving partners replete with advanced technology and hi-res graphics from both the instrument cluster directly in front of you and the large center dash display. Once you’re comfortable and adjusted to driving them, the Ms reveal that they are dragsters under the skin. And with both weighing over 5,200 pounds (2,358kg), they also stupefy you with how capable they are around curves.
Also, you’d think they’d be pleasant perches from which to whittle away the hours and reel in hundreds of miles of interstate. However, after the first hour, your enthusiasm for the agility of the suspensions wanes while both M models’ harsh ride quality starts to grate. Any vehicle that weighs this much, grips the road this tenaciously, corners this flat, and rockets down the open highway usually has several cars hitched together, goes upside-down at an amusement park, comes with screaming teenagers, and is only available for passengering one lap at a time.
What’s the difference?
The differentiator between the two models is that the X6 M is more style-forward, with a sporty-looking profile due to the raffishly sloped rear roofline and backlight. It’s a bit more exciting to view on the outside, though it relinquishes some rear headroom and cargo room for the style, so you pay both a literal and figurative price for the looks. Other than body style, interior space, some minor detailing, and a one-piece rear tailgate, the two Ms are essentially the same vehicle.
Yes, the X5 and X6 Ms occupy unique niches in the ever-expanding SUV universe: A) drastic high-performance SUV; and B) drastic high-performance SUV with compromised room inside. But if drastic high performance just isn’t your thing, skip the M models’ festival of speed. Any of the lesser-powered X5 and X6 models are quick enough for daily chores and even the occasional solo romp over sporty-car roads. They also have the added benefit of costing far less and riding the interstate far more smoothly, And you can even get a plug-in hybrid.
But consider this: even if you seek the utmost in performance, the X5 and X6 M never evoke the communicative nature or natural flow and rhythm over fun roads like a sports car or sports sedan that weighs a whopping 1,500 to 2,000 pounds less (700-900kg less). BMW claims the X5 M SUV will run to 62mph (100km/h) in just 3.8 seconds (3.9 for the X6 M), thanks to their all-wheel-drive. (And strike a tenth of a second off those figures for the Competition versions of each.)
The X5 and X6 M Competition models we tested here with 617hp also come with more standard equipment and features than other X5s and X6s. These include less-restrictive and slightly louder exhausts, M-specific Track driving modes, split-sized wheels with 21-inch alloys up front wearing 295/35 Michelins, and 22-inch alloys in the rear wrapped in 315/30 Michelins, plus exclusive leather upholstery.
The new X5 and X6 Ms face a few direct competitors. The Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 and its “Coupe” variant crank out 550 horsepower, while Porsche sells a 541-horsepower Cayenne Turbo (it has a “Coupe” brother, too). The X5 M begins at $106,095, with the Competition version tested here adding $9,000 to the total bill. With those numbers, it’s no cheap grocery-getter, but neither are the $127,850 Porsche Cayenne Turbo and the $104,045 Mercedes-AMG GLE 63. (All pricing includes the manufacturers’ destination charges.) And all the “Coupe” versions are $3,000-$7,000 more dear, which makes this stratum of high-performance SUV driving a high commitment.
Listing image by BMW