The BMW XM Is An Abomination And A Betrayal

Opinion / 52 Comments

And I'm not just talking about its design.

BMW unveiled the XM Concept late last year. At the time, I had some pretty harsh words for it. This was only the second car ever to be fully engineered and built by BMW's M division - the division that was started as a means of building the best motorsports cars around - and somehow, the brand had gone from the M1 to an SUV, even tarting it up with twin roundels on the ass as a throwback to that original car.

The production version has now been revealed, and I'm no less frustrated. Forget frustrated, I'm pissed off. There will be those who pander to BMW and proclaim that this is a masterpiece or that it "doesn't look that bad from some angles." Hell, I've even seen some say the Angry Birds' pig face has grown on them. I say the BMW XM is an abomination, and I'm not just talking about the way it looks.

BMW M has gone full Amber Heard and crapped the bed on this one.


An SUV Where The ‘S’ Stands For Sacrilege

I want to make something clear - I have no problem with the fact that the XM exists. Despite my personal wishes that the automotive world still centered around sports cars, hatchbacks, and station wagons as volume sellers, the world has moved on, and the times with it. SUVs have become a fact of life we can't ignore; whether by coincidence or design, they outsell everything except full-size trucks in America by a considerable margin. People want SUVs, and manufacturers want to make money. After all, you can't build sports cars if your business is bankrupt.

We've seen this time and time again. The Porsche Cayenne and Macan saved Porsche from ruin, providing a steady income stream from which the brand could draw funds to develop and build the new Porsche 911 GT3 RS, which is, quite frankly, an engineering masterpiece.

Such cars couldn't exist if the Cayenne didn't.

CarBuzz / Ian Wright
CarBuzz / Ian Wright
Driving Front Angle Porsche
Rearward Vision Porsche

Likewise, Lamborghini sells Urus SUVs as fast as it can build them, and that lets the Raging Bull build all-new V8s to go racing with - and then potentially put them into the forthcoming Huracan successor. Aston Martin would be bankrupt - even more bankrupt than it already is - if it weren't for the DBX. Hell, even Ferrari had to build something akin to an SUV. But at least Ferrari built one on its terms.

I acknowledge that SUVs are necessary if enthusiast cars are to continue being developed and built, so I have made peace with the fact that every automaker will build one, or seven, to satiate demand. They are a necessary evil. That isn't my problem with the BMW XM.

BMW has SUVs aplenty. It even has M variants of each and every one of them bar the X7 and the iX. And yet BMW M - makers of iconic sports cars like the M1, the 3.0 CSL, the E26 M6, the M3, the M5, the 1M Coupe, and even the more recent M2 - has chosen to make the XM its halo car. That's what upsets me the most.


Halo Cars Should Be The Distilled Essence Of A Brand

Halo cars, by definition, are meant to be unobtanium for all but the one-percenters. With the exception of cars like the MX-5 Miata within the Mazda lineup, these are meant to be aspirational vehicles that we all want to own one day, but since we can't right now, we'll settle for something else from the same brand. They are not meant to be moneymakers; they are not meant to be volume sellers.

That's why Audi has the R8, and Mercedes-AMG stuck a freaking Formula 1 engine in a roadgoing car. It's why Aston Martin builds crazy V12-powered speedsters with no roof and why McLaren built a bespoke single-seat video game car with a V10 not shared with any other car it makes. It's why Alfa Romeo stuck a gargantuan carbon fiber wing on the back of a family sedan with no rear seats and why Lexus, to this day, won't let you forget that it built the LFA, even if it went out of production nearly a decade ago.

Toyota will sell you an all-wheel drive Corolla with no rear seats and a drift mode, and Acura a hybrid supercar that has NOTHING to do with its bread-and-butter models.

Driving Front Angle Acura

What do all of these cars have in common? They're extreme. They are the distilled essence of automotive enthusiasm, the result of skunkworks development teams or motorsport enthusiast CEOs.

It's not just luxury brands, either. Ram has the 1500 TRX and Ford, one of the most blue-collar brands in the world, has the Mustang, the GT, and the F-150 and Bronco Raptors. These are halos that appeal to a wide range of audiences, but they are the purest distillation of the brand's most passionate voices.

A halo is meant to be a particular car that embodies the core tenets of an automaker, the ideals that are foundational to a brand. Halo models are, to coin a phrase most apt: Petrolhedonism - the pursuit of automotive pleasure and self-indulgence.

What core attributes of BMW M - which used to stand for Motorsport - does the XM embody?


Maybe The XM Will Be A True M Car…

… but I doubt it. Ignoring the styling, which is an atrocity on its own but arguably not the worst atrocity BMW has committed, let's look at what an M car should be.

M cars are meant to be driver's cars. M cars are meant to prioritize performance. Throughout its history, BMW's M cars have focused on removing excess unless it was necessary to improve how a car felt and behaved. It's why all-wheel drive was only added when power figures eclipsed 600 horsepower and why you can still get a manual gearbox on an M4. Typically, BMW M cars have been lighter than the competition, which gave them an edge when cornering, be that on a road or a race track.

Lightness, then, while perhaps not to the levels of Colin Chapman's Lotus, has always been an essential element of a true M car. The best M cars in recent years - the M2 CS, the M5 CS, etc - have been 'lightweight' per se.

Rearward Vision CarBuzz
Forward Vision CarBuzz

There have been a few small exceptions, and notice that not once did I say an M car couldn't be an SUV - I believe the X3 M defies physics, and there's a particular guilty pleasure I get from the concept of the X6 M. But those have never been the core of the brand's identity. Those have always been secondary cars for when family life dictates the M2 or M3 no longer suits your needs, or you want to stay within the brand for a family car in addition to your sports car. But even these have been on par with rivals and are almost never the biggest or heaviest lumbering giants among their peers.

The BMW XM weighs 6,062 lbs. Let that sink in. Six. Thousand. Pounds.

Do you know what weighs less? A Ford F-150 Raptor (5,886 lbs), a Bentley Bentayga EWB (5,542 lbs), and just about every other SUV this side of a Rolls-Royce Cullinan (6,069 lbs) which is a titanic tank of a machine that doesn't give a crap about performance so long as its occupants are coddled in absolute luxury.

2021-2022 Ford F-150 Raptor Fly Driving Ford
2019-2021 Rolls-Royce Cullinan Front View Driving Rolls-Royce

Yes, the XM is the most powerful BMW ever built, with up to 735 hp and 735 lb-ft of torque motivating it from a plug-in hybrid evolution of the 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8. And yes, it has all-wheel drive and all-wheel steering. But each horsepower and each lb-ft have to haul 8.24 lbs of metal. The M5 CS - BMW's previous power benchmark - by contrast, had 627 hp and 553 lb-ft, meaning each pony had to pull 6.56 lbs and each unit of torque only 7.44 lbs. On power to weight, the XM is 25% worse than the M5 CS. That power means nothing when it has that much weight behind it.

One might argue that the M2 Competition was worse on the power-to-weight scale, with 9.02 lbs for every horsepower, but the M2 Comp only had 3,655 lbs to haul, and once you get into a corner at speed, weight doesn't work linearly; it multiplies by the forward forces and becomes exponentially more challenging to contain. Momentum and weight do not work well together.

No matter how much electronic trickery it has, the XM will never handle the way an M car should, and anyone who says otherwise needs their head checked.

Forward Vision BMW

The Real Issue Is Betrayal

I don't care that the BMW XM exists. I care about the fact that this is the best M could do. When the chips were down and its back was against the wall, BMW's most hallowed division had to decide what it stood for at its very core, and this is what it gave us.

In a year when we're being given the M4 CSL and a return of the 3.0 CSL, when the brand has teased an all-wheel-drive sports EV with 1,300 hp, BMW M decided the purest distillation of itself was a 6,000-pound-plus SUV.

This is not a halo. Hell, this is not even a real M car as far as I'm concerned. BMW could've slapped an Alpina badge on this and called it a rival to the Bentley Bentayga, and I would have shrugged it off. Sure, it's not to my taste, but hey, it has a place, a purpose, and a badge that stands for luxury and refinement more than it does motorsport.


But come on, BMW! To call this the definitive M car is more than just sacrilege. It's treasonous. It is a complete betrayal of the millions-strong legions of gearheads that unite behind a single letter; M. This is a heinous cash grab. A selling out of ideals and integrity. I'd sooner forgive my spouse for cheating than BMW M for this atrocity.

In this, the 50th-anniversary year of the division that brought me some of the finest cars of my lifetime, that provided the basis on which my love for cars was founded, in a year in which we should be celebrating, I have two words for BMW M, and they aren't "happy birthday."


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