2020 BMW X5 M and X6 M: Sweet Monsters

Strong points
  • Ferocious V8 engine
  • Amazing handling given the size
  • Sharp, precise steering
  • Superbly finished interior
Weak points
  • Excessive road noise
  • Firm seats
  • Infotainment system could be simpler
Full report

PHOENIX, Arizona—The 2020 BMW X5 M’s specs are just as intimidating as its flared fenders, massive bumpers and oversized wheels. Simply put, this high-performance midsize SUV is a monster.

Under the hood is a twin-turbocharged 4.4-litre V8 engine that produces 600 horsepower and 553 pound-feet of torque. We tested the X5 M in Competition trim, which is boosted to 617 horsepower.

Acceleration times are 3.9 and 3.8 seconds, respectively, which is barely half a second slower than a Ferrari Enzo—one of the fastest supercars in the world back in 2002. That speaks volumes about the capabilities of today’s juiced-up SUVs.

And you know what’s really amazing? We expected this big brute to require extreme finesse and caution behind the wheel, but the truth is that it’s the complete opposite.

Monstrously Docile

Upon leaving the parking lot, all the vehicle settings were in Normal mode. The V8’s rumble could barely be heard as we effortlessly merged into traffic. On the fast lanes, a slight pressure on the throttle forced the eight-speed transmission to downshift, producing an immediate surge and making a mockery of slower cars as we flew past them. Without being too aggressive, we managed to achieve 12.7 L/100 km on average, which is reasonable for this type of SUV.

The ride is firm but not uncomfortable. It’s actually quite tolerable in typical daily driving conditions. However, keep in mind that the streets of Phoenix are in much better shape than those in Canada.

Photo: BMW

The refined drive of the BMW X5 M is only marred by excessive road noise generated by the huge 295/35R21 front and 315/30R22 rear tires, which gets worse as you pick up speed, naturally. On the highway, it becomes a real irritant after a while, as we found out during a stretch of more than 300 kilometres with no interruption.

Gravel roads are a nightmare, as well, because you can clearly hear the rocks hit the wheel wells. If you live anywhere near the country, this will be a problem, for sure.

And while we’re at it, the heavily bolstered seats in the X5 M lack padding in the seat cushions. On short trips, it’s no big deal. However, after two straight hours of driving your butt will need to take a break.

Photo: BMW

One more irritant and then we’re done, I promised. BMW’s iDrive infotainment system is not the most intuitive and requires some getting used to. Even worse, we ran into a few issues with the GPS, which is unacceptable in a vehicle starting at $119,000.

“M” Stands for Mad

Customers who pay that much money must really love performance. The BMW X5 M is a beast that makes its presence felt in a big way. Through the centre display, you can adjust various settings including throttle response, suspension, steering and more to make the most of the outrageous capabilities at your disposal. Of course, you can also deactivate the electronic nannies to enjoy absolute control behind the wheel.

The ferocious V8’s power delivery is linear from the lower rev range all the way to redline. In manual mode, the rev limiter will kick in when you get a bit too carried away. Speaking of which, the transmission delivers smooth, quick shifts both on its own and when prompted via the paddle shifters.

The throatier exhaust note fills the cabin as acceleration becomes more intense. And thanks to the stiffer suspension, the X5 M can pull off some pretty amazing feats on twisty roads.

The M-specific xDrive all-wheel drive system at work here has a rear-wheel bias in normal driving conditions. Unlike the M5 sedan, however, this mad SUV is unable to send 100 percent of the engine’s torque to the rear axle.

Photo: BMW

In the sportiest configuration, the ride is firm (arguably too firm for Canadian roads), but handling is spectacular. Despite its substantial size and weight of 2,310 kilograms, the X5 M proves quite nimble—not as much as an M3, but agile enough to have a blast in corners.

The tires never lack grip even when you unleash those hundreds of ponies. What’s even more surprising is the complete absence of undesirable body movements, including when the safety systems are turned off. It’s still a hefty vehicle, though, so you have to keep that in mind when launching into a sharp bend or slamming on the brakes.

The huge discs and callipers are powerful and have enough endurance for daily driving duties. Interestingly, the electronic assist is calibrated in such a way that if you depress the pedal halfway down in Sport mode, the resulting brake force will be stronger than in Normal mode.  

Sharp Interior

Another reason why the 2020 BMW X5 M is so expensive is the superbly appointed cabin. Whether you’re talking about design, technology or material selection, this is one cool place to spend time in, with just enough sporty touches to make you feel like in a race car.

Photo: BMW

Our Competition tester had a few noteworthy features, such as carbon fibre inserts and seat belts with the M brand’s signature colours.

Legroom and headroom is very generous up front and in the rear, which comes at the expense of cargo capacity. Despite the boxy exterior, the trunk can only pack 650 litres, or 1,870 litres with the rear seats folded. By comparison, the much smaller Honda CR-V has a 1,110-litre trunk.

And on that subject, it’s time for us to tell you the main differences between the X5 M and X6 M.

Photo: BMW

What About the X6 M?

If you hesitate between the two models, you should know that they’re awfully similar. The powertrain, chassis and interior are all identical. Same thing for the driving experience, although visibility is reduced in the X6 M.

The latter has a coupe-like profile that affects rear-seat access and headroom, as well as trunk capacity (-70 litres). As such, it’s not the most family-friendly option. You need to compare both vehicles at the dealership before making a decision.

By the way, the X6 M is roughly $3,700 more expensive than the X5 M. When you spend six-figure money on an SUV, it’s not a deal-breaker, but you must still ask yourself if it’s worth it considering how similar the two products are.

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