It may not be your cup of tea, but the XM is objectively awesome.
The world took notice when the 2023 BMW XM made its debut; BMW's controversial styling finally reached a head with the XM, which instantly drew hard lines between people who hate it and others who admire the automaker for taking risks. But as the old adage goes, the proof is in the pudding, and a first drive would surely tell us whether the visuals could be overlooked for the XM's sheer prowess.
But before we delve into that, we might explain what exactly the BMW XM is since it breaks the naming convention set by other BMW X models.
The XM squeezes between the X5 and X7 in size, packing the two-row layout of the former with the wheelbase of the latter. There is no non-M version of the XM, meaning this is the first standalone M model since the M1. It's also the first full hybrid M model with a twin-turbocharged V8 under the hood, now paired with an electric motor mounted in the transmission. As the M division makes its inevitable push towards full electrification, the XM bridges the gap between the familiar and the future. This is a new kind of M car, and it signals a bold new direction for the performance sub-brand.
Much like the headlights, the XM's styling is bound to split opinions. Based on a not-at-all scientific straw poll amongst our friends and colleagues, car enthusiasts tend to hate it while the normal car-buying public tends to love it; you can take a guess which group's opinion BMW values more. On a side note, we received several thumbs up driving the XM around in Arizona traffic.
There's a lot going on in the design, no matter where you look at the car. Up front, it's got a similar split headlight design as the X7, but you almost won't even notice it because the grille draws so much attention. The kidneys are massive and are surrounded by LED rings as well as optional gold trim. The gold trim extends down the length of the vehicle if equipped, and there are even matching gold wheels available. This is easily the most bling BMW has ever applied to a car, which is precisely the point of a car that was meant to steal the spotlight from Lamborghinis and Bentleys at upmarket clubs.
The rear styling is no less controversial with some bold departures from BMW's classic design language. There's no BMW roundel on the tailgate; instead, there are two logos etched into the distinct outboard upturns on the rear glass - a clear nod to the M1. The taillights wrap around the body work in an almost alien way, creating a vastly different lighting signature than other BMW models. Then there are the quad tailpipes, which are stacked vertically almost like a Lexus F model.
The XM rides on 21-inch wheels as standard, but 22s and 23s are also available for max curb appeal. BMW's color pallet is a bit minimal here, but there are some Individual paint options to choose from. Our tester came in the boldest combination possible; Toronto Red with gold trim. Subtler hues are available, as are other brash colors like Marina Bay Blue Metallic and Cape York Green Metallic. Things won't get any less outrageous when the XM Label Red arrives, replacing the gold pieces with bright red.
The iX moved in a new direction for BMW interior design, and the XM takes what worked there, then applies it in a sportier manner. This cabin feels modern with retro design elements such as the Vintage Coffee leather dashboard on certain interior color options. Speaking of which, the XM is perhaps the most unique BMW on sale in terms of interior color schemes, with new possibilities like Blue Lagoon and returning hues such as Silverstone and Sakhir Orange. An all-black interior is available, too, if you want to be downright boring.
There's nothing too different on the dash, including BMW's generally excellent iDrive 8 infotainment system that we wish had a few more physical buttons for the climate control. The back seat is excellent thanks to the X7's wheelbase combined with no third row. There's more rear legroom than an X7, meaning you can cross your legs and relax on one of the XM-branded leather pillows. Like the iX, the leather wraps around onto the door, giving a premium cocoon effect. Heated rear seats are standard, but BMW still hasn't figured out second-row ventilated seats, even though Hyundai, Kia, and now Mazda offer them at a fraction of the price.
The sculptural headliner is the piece de resistance, though, with over 100 LED lights nestled around the edges. It looks beautiful at night and even flashes the M stripes on startup.
The sole letdown for us is the M steering wheel, which looks way out of place in a cabin that's otherwise extremely upmarket.
The XM is the most powerful M car ever put into production, and it's only going to get faster from here. At launch, the core model packs a 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 producing 483 horsepower on its own. A 194-hp electric motor is nestled within the eight-speed automatic transmission, bringing the total output to 644 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque. BMW claims a 4.1-second 0-60 mph time, four-tenths slower than the X5 M and X6 M due to the XM's 6,063-pound curb weight (a 600-lb disadvantage).
Buyers who care about stopwatch acceleration times might wait for the Label Red, which raises the output from the V8, totaling 735 hp and 735 lb-ft of torque when combined with the electric motor.
BMW hasn't released EPA fuel economy figures for the XM, but the car can drive 30 miles on electric power alone courtesy of a 25.7 kWh battery pack. Charging the battery takes around 3.5 hours at 7.4 kW. Acceleration isn't as rapid in electric mode, but it's enough to get around town and maintain speeds of up to 87 mph. With the engine kicked in, the XM can reach a 155 mph electronically limited top speed or 168 mph if equipped with the M Driver's Package.
Looking at the specs, we thought the XM would feel like an X5 M, just with a different drivetrain. Boy, were we wrong. BMW went to great lengths to create a new character for the XM that feels like a cross between the comfortable iX M60 and the X5 M. Even on 23-inch wheels, the standard Adaptive M Suspension Professional keeps occupants comfortable, though we imagine the 21-inch wheels are less susceptible to road imperfections.
BMW borrowed active roll stabilization technology from Rolls-Royce, meaning this 6,000-pound behemoth stays flat on curvy roads. Combined with rear-wheel steering and a tighter on-center feel than we can recall from the X5 M and X6 M, the XM is a luxury thrill ride through the mountains.
The numbers suggest the XM is slower than its non-hybrid siblings, but the butt dynamometer tells a different story. Launching the XM combines the best of both worlds with EVs and gasoline performance cars. Instant electric torque jolts the car off the line, and the V8 quickly kicks in with the full brunt of its fully spooled turbochargers. We've driven performance hybrids like the Acura NSX, where the electric motors handle the initial acceleration, followed by a smooth lean-in from the gasoline engine. In the XM, it like a seamless gut punch. Don't let the stat sheet fool you; this car is a rocket ship.
Driving around normally, there are three modes to choose from: Hybrid, Electric, and eControl. Hybrid Mode uses a combination of gas and electricity, only kicking the engine on where necessary. Electric keeps the engine off unless you trigger the kick-down on the throttle, and eSave runs the engine to keep the state of charge steady. Unlike other plug-in hybrids, there is no mode to charge the battery on the go since it would hurt fuel economy, but BMW says you can recover energy from the brakes in eSave mode for later use.
The 2023 XM is BMW's most expensive Sports Activity Vehicle, starting at $159,000. This car is pretty much loaded from the word go, only offering a $3,400 Bowers & Wilkins audio system, $2,500 M Driver's Package, and $2,500 leather interior as available options, while everything else is no-cost. The Label Red will step things up another notch, with BMW estimating an MSRP of over $185,000 when it enters production in the summer.
Comparatively, an X6 M starts at $113,700, so there's a steep premium for the plug-in hybrid drivetrain and the more luxurious interior. If price and 0-60 times are more important, you can save a huge chunk of cash with the X5 M or X6 M, but buyers who value a 30-mile electric driving range, more eye-catching styling, a softer ride, and cushier cabin will find the XM well worth the asking price. This doesn't just feel like an X5 M with an electric motor; it's an entirely different product that now competes more with the Bentley Bentayga and less with the Mercedes-Benz GLE.
Love it or hate it, the XM signals a new direction for the BMW M Division, one that's focused on luxury, performance, and electrification. This drivetrain will likely find its way into other M models, with M boss Frank van Meel telling us last year it has the potential to ship in the next-gen M5, giving internal combustion lovers one final act before everything goes electric. In our brief time with the XM, we were pleasantly surprised by how different it feels from other M-branded SUVs. It not as comfortable as the electric iX, but it's more fun to drive. The X5 M and X6 M are more hardcore, but aren't as luxurious.
The XM bridges the gap between the comfort we love and the performance we crave, melding the two characters together. It feels like a BMW flagship, and we can't wait to see how it inspires future models.
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