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2020 BMW X5 M Review: As Impressive as It Is Unnecessary

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Auto123 reviews the 2020 BMW X5 M Competition.

The letter M made its first stand-alone appearance on a BMW back in 1978. That was when the Bavarian automaker gave birth to the M1, an exceptional car that was produced in very small quantities. The M1 was the result of hard work that began in the early 1970s with the BMW Turbo concept, first presented at the Geneva Motor Show in 1972. Although the production version was not a commercial success, it made its mark on the racetrack.

Today, collectors snap it up on the classic car market... when they can find one.

Nevertheless, this first creation from the M division is of crucial importance to understand what happened next, because as early as 1979, BMW presented the M535i. The M6 (1982-1989) followed, fitted with the famous M1’s inline 6-cylinder 3.5L, 272-hp engine. Then, in 1986 was born the M3. The myth was taking shape.

In the decades that followed, the M3 and M5 joined the lineup, as well as, at least periodically, the M6. These models offered an exclusivity that many folks aspired to. There was something magical about an M product from BMW.

Then came the 2010s, at which point things went a little haywire. As they continue to do today.

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2020 BMW X5 M, three-quarters rear
Photo: D.Rufiange
2020 BMW X5 M, three-quarters rear

M letters everywhere
Other M Division models have appeared, including the 1M coupe, a tribute to the original M1 that saw the light of day in 2011. Others bearing the M Sport signature have appeared by the truckload over the last 10 years, these are basically sportier versions of regular models but quite distant from the original concept of what an M product was. And of course, there are all the authentic M vehicles BMW has churned out. There are now nine of those, from the M2 to the X6 M SUV.

There are definitely compelling models in the bunch, in both the genuine M and M Sport categories. I'm thinking of the M2 Competition, for example. However, it's impossible not to feel a little sad about the diluted nature of the offering; an M designation is simply not as magical as it once was.  That's due to the sheer number of these models now on the market, of course, but also to the fact that the performance they deliver is no longer so exclusive.

2020 BMW X5 M, profile
Photo: BMW
2020 BMW X5 M, profile

The X5 M
Let's take the X5 M SUV we recently tried. Its 4.4L twin-turbo V8 engine delivers 617 hp and 553 lb-ft of torque, numbers that are mind-boggling when you stop and think about it. The powertrain delivers a 0-100 km/h time of 3.8 seconds, a capability that a mere dozen years ago belonged exclusively to the likes of the Porsche 911 Turbo.

That's certainly impressive, of course, but its feels less otherworldly when you consider that the X5 M50i version offers the same engine, but with only (!) 523 hp and 530 lb-ft of torque, which is good for a time of 4.3 seconds for the 0-100.

Even a regular X5 with the 3.0L twin-turbocharged 6-cylinder engine makes 340 hp and 330 lb-ft of torque and delivers a very fast 0-100 km/h time of 4.9 seconds.

So, what else does the X5 M really offer, beyond slightly superior straightaway speed? In terms of performance, the base X5’s 6-cylinder engine already delivers more than enough for Canadian roads. Need I remind you of our speed limits?

2020 BMW X5 M, logo
Photo: D.Rufiange
2020 BMW X5 M, logo

Frustration
In other words, at the wheel of an X5 M, you spend a lot of your time on the brakes, both literally and figuratively. The slightest touch on the gas pedal and all the internal organs of the model go crazy in a bid to catapult you to the Moon. It's impressive, I repeat, but you’ll find yourself constantly watching if your speed isn’t being caught by radar.

In other words, it is impossible to exploit the capabilities of this version without sticking it on a track... or on the Autobahn. Because even at 120 km/h, the engine is just dozing and waiting for a bit of stimulation.

The feeling
Now, being pressed against a seat when you hammer down on the gas pedal is an exhilarating feeling in any vehicle. I'm not talking about pure speed here, I'm talking about power, acceleration, thrust. In terms of acceleration, the X5 M delivers the goods, that's for sure. But when it comes to sensation, though....

That might seem an incongruent observation, but the fast is the electronic crutches are so present that the pleasure one expects to feel with such acceleration is diluted. Yes, I know, I'm being picky here, but for me, the essence of an M model is not this.

Even the M3 doesn't offer the same kind of fun as yesterday's version. If I had to lean towards an M model, it would definitely be the M2, the only one that still makes your guts vibrate like back in the day.

Call me nostalgic, but I hold my ground on this point: there are too many M models, with too much technology inside them and not enough sensation from them. BMW has moved away from its slogan, "the pleasure of driving". To be fair, I should note that the German automaker is not the only one whose current models offer driving experiences that are a little too "electronic".

A sign of the times, I guess.

2020 BMW X5 M, interior
Photo: D.Rufiange
2020 BMW X5 M, interior

That said, handling, driving and braking are all beyond reproach. In corners, the X5 M practically allows you to defy gravity. All that's missing is that little something that used to characterize yesterday's BMW Ms.

Quality
Despite my "disappointment", let's be clear about one thing. The BMW X5 M exudes quality and it’s a technological marvel. On board, the environment contains high-quality materials and the assembly is top-notch. The list of included equipment is comprehensive - fortunately, because with a base bill of $124,500, you expect not to have to go heavy into the options list.

Nevertheless, because this is a BMW after all and when it comes to BMW that options list is practically a sacred text, it’s hard not to send that asking price skyward with this or that “indispensable’ item.  our test model came with the Competition Package at $17,000 and the M Enhanced Package at $1,850. While the former includes a number of elements that actually add to the ownership experience, the latter delivers only an engine cover and carbon-fibre side-mirror covers. Perfect for those with too much money...

Note that in the Competition Package, ventilated seats are added. It’s frankly an insult that this feature is not included in the base asking price. At least the buyer knows what to expect, assuming they’re vigilant about what they’re getting.

2020 BMW X5 M, seats
Photo: D.Rufiange
2020 BMW X5 M, seats

Conclusion
An X5 M? No thanks. A regular X5 with 6-cylinder engine is the wiser choice in my book. Compare and you'll see, especially since the suspension settings of the M were not designed for rougher Canadian roads. I’m convinced that the optimal choice is the base version, or its plug-in hybrid variant. If the sound of a V8 matters to you, the M50i version could fit the bill.

If I were residing in Germany and had an unlimited budget to play with, well then the story would be different and I might just go for this X5 M speed demon.

One more thing: It’s wise to consider leasing before you buy. You don't want to incur the maintenance costs of a vehicle whose reputation for reliability has been, shall we say, questioned over the years.

We like

Stunning raw power and speed
Premium interior
Technologically sophisticated
Great handling

We like less

“Too electronic” a drive
Reliability an open question
Not compelling enough in comparison with the base X5

The competition

Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio
Audi RS Q8
Bentley Bentayga Speed
Jaguar F-Pace SVR
Lamborghini Urus
Maserati Levante Trofeo
Mercedes-Benz GLE 63 S
Porsche Cayenne Turbo

2020 BMW X5 M, rear
Photo: D.Rufiange
2020 BMW X5 M, rear

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Photos:D.Rufiange
2020 BMW X5 M Competition pictures