For those who may fondly remember the 1989 Citroën XM, let’s say up front: sorry, BMW’s XM mega-SUV has nothing to do with the French brand’s fashionable Bertone-designed sedan.
The new 2023 BMW XM is, instead, an attempt by the Bavarians to capture some of the vast sums of money sloshing around in the uppermost echelons of the SUV market these days.
“Within the SUV segment, we did not offer something like a G-Class Mercedes or a Lamborghini Urus, and there are a lot of customers out there asking us or even begging us to do something like that,” Franciscus van Meel, chief executive officer of BMW M, the automaker’s high-performance brand, said in an interview with The Globe and Mail.
The M division came up with a suitably colossal 644-horsepower plug-in hybrid SUV that looks as if it has a pathological need for attention. Note the oversized flared-nostril grille, gold XM badges and contrasting trim under the windows that highlight an aggressively angular design.
“It’s for very extroverted people. Looking at the cars I just mentioned [the Urus and G-Class], that is what you want – you want to be seen,” van Meel said.
And according to van Meel, there are customers begging to spend more than $200,000 on an SUV from BMW M. Looking at the competition, that’s not entirely surprising. Lamborghini sold a record-breaking 9,233 vehicles in 2022; the $270,000 Urus accounted for more than half of them. It’s a similar story at Rolls-Royce, Aston Martin and Bentley Motors, where the introduction of an SUV has sent sales through the roof. In 2021, Mercedes-Benz sold a record 41,174 units worldwide of the long-running G-Class, a $175,000 luxury truck.
At $220,000, 2023 BMW XM takes aim at all of them and attempts to push the brand into even richer territory.
Unlike the first car developed largely in-house by BMW’s M division back in 1978 – the BMW M1, a wedge-shaped shot at a supercar success – the new XM is not a clean-sheet design. It borrows heavily from BMW’s mid-size X5 M and the large X7 SUV. For example, much of the suspension is derived from the X5 M, while the XM’s wheelbase – the distance between front and rear wheels – is the same as the X7. Rear seat passengers have plenty of space to luxuriate, but this is a car meant for drivers.
Newly developed for the XM is a plug-in hybrid system that sandwiches an electric motor between the BMW’s familiar 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 and its eight-speed automatic gearbox.
It’s quick enough to press you into your seat with a total output of 644 horsepower, 194 of which come from the electric motor, but in the age of ever-more-ballistic EVs, the XM’s pace isn’t all that impressive. Getting to 100 kilometres an hour takes 4.5 seconds.
What is impressive is the way the chassis engineers at BMW M have managed to make this 2,750-kilogram behemoth carve down a twisty road. Far from being an embarrassment to the M badge, as I admittedly feared, the XM delivers tactile steering and a well-balanced, composed feeling, even when pushed to the limit of its tires’ grip. The usual caveat – it handles great for an SUV – applies, of course, but based on these limited first impressions, the XM is good enough to warrant consideration against the best-handling SUVs out there, including the Porsche Cayenne Turbo GT, and Aston Martin DBX.
The fact that the gargantuan V8-powered XM SUV is also a plug-in hybrid gives it the bare minimum of social acceptability in 2023. All-electric driving range of 50 kilometres (as estimated based on EPA testing methodology) is good enough to cover many drivers’ daily commutes, but don’t fool yourself: A 2.7-tonne V8 SUV is not eco-friendly in any way, shape or form.
The question is whether BMW’s XM is opulent and extroverted enough to tempt brand-conscious drivers away from Lamborghini and Bentley showrooms where – unlike at BMW shops – there isn’t a sea of relatively mundane sedans on the dealer forecourt. The fact that BMW has other opulent SUVs on offer, like the Alpina XB7 and the X7 M60 – which is $90,000 cheaper – means the new XM occupies an awkward space.
Value for money isn’t so critical in the rarified world of high-end SUVs, but we’ll find out soon enough if the XM’s handling and looks are enticing enough to find it an audience beyond the fans who’ve been begging for it.
2023 BMW XM
- Base price/as tested: $220,000/$240,000 (estimate)
- Engine: 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 plug-in hybrid
- Transmission/drive: Eight-speed automatic/all-wheel drive
- Fuel economy (litres per 100 kilometres): TBD
- Alternatives: Porsche Cayenne Turbo GT or Cayenne S E-Hybrid, Range Rover SV, Mercedes G-Class, Lamborghini Urus, Bentley Bentayga, Aston Martin DBX, Audi RS Q8, BMW iX M60 or X7 M60, Alpina XB7, Tesla Model X
“It’s not supposed to be for everyone,” said BMW M boss Frank van Meel. As if it’s not noticeable enough, the XM will be available in bright colours, including a green seemingly stolen from Kermit the Frog.
The dashboard and controls are similar to the X7 SUV, which costs less than half the price of the XM. The are some unusual (but interesting) details on the XM, though, including the optional aged brown-leather dashboard, and the 3-D textured headliner.
There’s a rear-wheel steering system – a first for BMW M – and an active anti-roll system that tries to keep the body level. Unusually, the latter is powered by a 48-volt supercapacitor, which is said to allow the anti-roll system to respond more quickly than if it were powered by a typical battery. A word of warning: the coil-sprung suspension likely won’t be as cushy at low speeds on bad city roads as rivals’ air-sprung suspenders.
The infotainment system is BMW’s latest dual-screen curved display, found on everything from the all-electric iX SUV to the new M2 coupe. But the implementation in the XM isn’t as elegant as in the iX, where the screen appears to float.
The trunk floor is high, something to keep in mind when heaving heavy bags up and in. A nice XM-branded duffle bag houses the charging cable. Rear-seat space is ample for adults, with no fear of knees grazing the front seats.
Impressive handling for a big machine, but its $220,000 price is difficult to justify.
The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.
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