Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: July 3, 2023
The first standalone M car since the BMW M1 from the 70s? Must be big news and the XM is precisely that. It’s the first electrified M car, the most powerful M car, the new flagship of the brand, and you can’t get a non-M version.
Oh, and it’s also the most expensive BMW on sale with a starting price of $220,000. That puts it right in the crosshairs of the other highly sought-after and well-established SUVs with year-long waitlists. Perhaps BMW had a bit of FOMO seeing what Porsche did with the equally and absurdly priced Cayenne Turbo GT, and Range Rover with their SV models, and Mercedes with their iconic G-Wagons. Without an asset in the $200k bracket, it only seems appropriate for a new halo product to move the brand upstream and to target the deeper wallets. But is the price of the XM justified? Does it really offer that much more over a BMW X6 M Competition ($145,000)? Don’t forget about Ontario’s new luxury tax too, which rings out to $23,000 for the XM, bringing the total cost to over a quarter of a million dollars.
We’ll start with the looks because it always seems to be the main talking point about the XM (and pretty much every current BMW like the 4 Series and 7 Series). If BMW’s mission was to capture everyone’s attention, consider the XM successful. Its impossibly large kidney grills turn heads as much as the i8 supercar when it first launched. They’re large enough to jam your forearm into and tickle the radiators, and the golden nostrils light up at night too, making it easily distinguishable in the midnight glow. Some might even see the resemblance to the BMW LMDh hypercar whose nasal inlets are even bigger.
The rear end isn’t any less controversal with wrap-around tail lights, an awkward receding hairline up top with a BMW roundel logo as a nod to the original M1, and vertically stacked rear exhausts that are unique, but the bottom pipe is oddly closed off and non-functional.
Does it look expensive? Absolutely, but it’s far from a timeless design. The looks are slowly growing on us though, and we might just look back in five years thinking ‘Wow, BMW was really ahead of its time’. Or maybe not. But what we can agree on is how beautifully spec’d this XM is, gift-wrapped in golden accents, gargantuan 23-inch wheels, and a layer of Cape York Green paint that comes off as a teal-ish bergamot hue with hints of green and yellow.
We are lukewarm about the interior as it doesn’t feel like an $80,000 upgrade over the X6 M but maybe that’s just a testament to how well-furnished their regular M models are. It’s still more upscale in feel and atmosphere than the rivalling Porsche but we think the BMW i7 cabin is more visually impressive and that they should have implemented more of that here.
Still, the Deep Lagoon blue leather looks mega when paired with the optional vintage leather ($4,900), and look up and you will find an even more daring design. The entire Alcantara roofliner is a paper-mache-like prism that mimics a mountain range with its peaks and troughs, all flanked by fibre optic lights with adjustable colours to give it a nightclub vibe. The drawback is the lack of an operable sunroof and the natural light that comes with it.
The driving position is excellent for an SUV but the steering wheel doesn’t tilt down enough, a complaint not exclusive to the XM. We’ve noted the same issue in the X6 and X7. But it’s an excellent wheel, sporting the same basic design as an X6 M but with glossy black accents with a bit of reflective tint to give it some differentiation. There are hard buttons to control the infotainment and driver assistance features too, and none of those fussy haptic touchpads found in rivalling Audis and Mercedes models. There are red M1 and M2 buttons as well so drivers can program their preferred drive settings and access them quickly.
Despite being a standalone M car, the XM shares much of the same equipment as the X6 M like the seats, gear shifter, touchscreen display and center console layout. The rear cabin is significantly more spacious though thanks to its lengthier wheelbase, and offers more room than an X7’s second row. The contoured seats come with their own throw pillows and while it lacks the first-class features of an i7 with its reclinable massage seats, the XM prioritizes legroom and trunk space. There’s no optional third row of seats.
But what you’re really paying for is the powertrain. Did we mention that the XM is a plug-in hybrid capable of 50 km of electric-only driving? BMW took the powertrain concept from their M Hybrid V8 LMDh that they race with in the IMSA Series, and have implemented it into their halo SUV.
The XM uses a proven 4.4-litre twin-turbocharged V8 and pairs it with a 29.5 kWh lithium-ion battery and an electric motor to produce a healthy 644 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque. An 8-speed automatic runs the show and sends the output to all four wheels via a rear-biased AWD system. When all is said and done, the XM will sprint from 0-100 km/h in 4.3 seconds, which is painfully slow compared to the Porsche Cayenne Turbo GT (3.3 seconds), Lamborghini Urus (3.6 s), and even the smaller BMW X3 M Competition (4.1 s) and BMW iX M60 (3.8 s). It’s not even terribly quicker than the heavier Mercedes-AMG G 63 (4.5 s) and Range Rover SV (4.6 s), both of which aren’t tuned for sporting duties to begin with.
Yes, there’s a more powerful version coming called the XM Label Red with 735 hp, but it still begs the question - why so slow? Weight. All the electrical wiring and battery paraphernalia make the XM a bit of porker but its electric capabilities add a fourth dimension to its driving experience, with a keen blend of instant torque off the line and V8 persistence in the top end.
We did notice that acceleration was slightly more tepid when the battery was drained, though. Still, the mechanical choreography that goes on behind the scenes is incredible, with brake energy recuperation, battery charging and deployment, and the fact that you can manage all these settings in the drive menu. We wouldn’t call it as complicated as a Formula 1 car but to the casual driver, the sheer amount of settings can be overwhelming.
Sadly, the marriage between electricity and combustion is rocky - both are excellent when operating on their own but when asking them to work together, they don’t gel very well. Throttle and brake inputs are difficult to modulate smoothly, and gear transitions are rough in both low and high RPMs. Like the M3 and M4, the XM doesn’t enjoy being driven slowly unless its in electric-only mode. It’s much more compliant in its lax driving modes but it’s not seamless, and just doesn’t convey a sense of polish through driver interaction.
Furthermore, the ride is flimsy, brittle, and not at all what we expected from a flagship SUV. Performance might be its mantra but the lack of an air suspension and impossibly thin 23-inch wheels wrapped in Pirelli P Zero rubber significantly hamper its road compliance. Constant vibrations upset the chassis, and large potholes will wake and punish every occupant as it crashes and gets unsettled. We would highly recommend getting the 22-inch wheels instead but they admittedly don’t look as good. Best not to expect the same kind of cossetting ride as a Range Rover either.
The XM is a remarkably fun driver’s SUV with a tenacious front end and playful rear, and you can feel the torque vectoring hard at work when flogging it around corners at higher speeds, shuffling power to the optimum rear wheel, but there’s no hiding its 2,750 kg of mechanical mass. The battery is mounted on the floorbed for a low center of gravity, the steering is wonderfully light and precise, and directional changes and minor adjustments are met with zero resistance but take too many liberties with corner-entry speed and the XM’s unwieldy side becomes a handful. Rear-wheel steering adds an extra layer of maneuverability and greatly reduces its turning circle at low speeds, but its movements are far from surgical, and it lacks the clarity and consistency that we expected from this calibre of an SUV.
But then we get to the noise. Have you ever heard the current crop of hypercars bump start at Le Mans, where they take off from the pit box in silence using only electricity, only for their V8 engines to emphatically roar into life just a moment later, and fill the stadiums with sound of rolling thunder? The XM does the exact same thing, whirring in silence like a Chevrolet Bolt until you hit that red M button and let the antagonistic roar of a V8 dragon wake up the neighbours. It’s no Cadillac V-Series.R pushrod V8 but it’s close enough, and downright addicting. While it’s not any louder than the X6 M, it reverberates with slightly more bass without any of those excessive burbles and pops on throttle overrun.
BMW has built a flagship SUV that costs significantly more than its regular M stablemates, yet we still have yet to find a convincing reason to recommend one. The XM’s sheetmetal is undeniably captivating and it demonstrates riveting hybrid performance and a trick exhaust soundtrack that we want to play on repeat, but it also shows that achieving both mechanical and electronic brilliance is difficult to achieve and in its current form, the XM lacks polish, and its taxing ride is further proof. The X6 M is a more focused and cohesive SUV, and those yearning for zero-emission mobility will find solace in the even quicker iX M60. The XM on the other hand still has some ways to find its footing, but we think it’s on the right track.
Model: 2023 BMW XM
Paint Type: Cape York Green Metallic
Base Price: $220,000
Price as Tested: $226,900
Length/Width/Height (mm): 5,110 / 2,005 / 1,755
Curb weight (kg): 2,750
Engine: 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8, 29.5 kWh lithium-ion battery, synchronous electric motor
Horsepower: 644 hp @ 5,400 rpm
Torque: 590 lb-ft @ 1,600 - 5,000 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Electric-only Range: 50 km
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 16.2
Tires: Pirelli P Zero; 23-inch