Conclusion: The (unnecessary) purpose of the new BMW XM is to «spoil» it, and while it succeeds, it is more annoying than enjoyable. Trying to be both a performance and luxury SUV, it fails to achieve both goals, and its ride is uncomfortable for the everyday driver.
Compared to competitors Rival performance-oriented luxury SUVs may not be as fast and luxurious as the XM, but competitors like the Porsche Cayenne and Audi RS Q8 are more comfortable.
The 2023 BMW XM is a new SUV created by the mad scientists at BMW’s M Performance division, and the division’s first plug-in hybrid. With a maximum output of 644 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque, it debuts as the most powerful production car BMW has ever created. It was also the most confusing and frustrating car I have ever driven.
On the other hand, the XM is a competent car, fast and maneuverable despite its three-ton weight, and the XM’s interior is soft and comfortable, with rear seats worthy of a driver’s car. Unfortunately, the ride is very stiff, and the car never felt comfortable with a sporty ride, as if Dr. Jekyll was always Mr. Hyde in his lab coat and goggles.
Driving spoils it all
I usually try not to read or watch other people’s reviews before getting into a car. When I saw snippets criticizing the ride quality, I thought, «Surely it can’t be that bad,» and I couldn’t have been more wrong. It’s like the XM is made by people who believe all roads are smooth as glass because there’s no other excuse for ride quality.
The XM is shockingly stiff, amplifying the effect of potholes, compensators and everything else that seriously reduces passenger comfort BMW has equipped the XM with adaptive suspension with steel springs, but the ride is bumpy and even worse in comfort mode . At least the SUV’s engineers can take perverse pride in the fact that the sporty settings allow the driver to feel the increase in stiffness.
Standard 23-inch wheels have thin rubber band-like sidewalls that cover the tires and make the ride even worse. Smaller, lighter wheels are available for free and are probably the cheapest way to improve ride comfort by even an ounce.
However, body control in corners is impressive, especially with the active roll stabilization system that comes standard on the XM. The Porsche Cayenne is also stiff, though not to the same degree, and the optional air suspension controls body movement, as do the XM’s steel springs. At low speeds, the XM’s four-wheel steering system helps when maneuvering in tight spots.
Why does the BMW have 644 horsepower?
The XM’s interior is truly luxurious, with some of the finest materials I’ve encountered in a long time. Merino leather upholstery is standard, but the test car had the option of upholstering the dashboard and door panels in vintage brown leather. This option is only available with Silverstone or Dark Lagoon leather and looks great in a vacuum, but our Silverstone and Coffee combination did not match the blue-gold exterior trim. (The term «vintage» comes from the small imperfections found in the leather, ensuring its uniqueness). Condescending.
The all-glass panoramic roof was the height of luxury, open or not, and the lightweight carbon fiber roof was the height of performance, reducing the amount of oil on the car. The XM, however, uses a strange third option that annoys me. The roof is made of a suede material with a geometric texture that doesn’t match the car’s other trim materials, and it’s surrounded by LED lights. This makes the cabin feel less spacious, but that’s not even what’s annoying. What’s really annoying is that everyone who gets in the XM asks, «Is it on?» they ask. Even you, the driver, probably ask at least once every time you get behind the wheel. And the answer is, «No, it’s not on.» It just dangles in front of you.
The XM’s rear seats are equipped with what BMW calls M Lounge seats, where the upholstery extends all the way to the doors and wraps around the passengers. Ample cushions, adequate air conditioning, a charger, and ample legroom ensure that all passengers are happy while the XM is not moving. On the move, the cushion does not protect against harsh driving conditions. Besides, isn’t this a driver-oriented car? Why would you drive a supercar on the edge of your seat? And even if it were, wouldn’t we want a comfortable ride, and why would a car with nearly 650 hp need cushions? It doesn’t make any sense, it’s just a real luxury.
Aside from the plush interior, many of the XM’s ride quality issues can be forgiven given the rest of the driving experience: with launch control, BMW says the three-ton SUV can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 4.1 seconds (which BMW usually underestimates). The XM is fast, and when it does, there is some artificial noise, but for the most part it sounds good; the eight-speed automatic transmission also shifts nimbly, but can temporarily stall during aggressive starts or stall in higher gears before getting where it needs to go.
Two M-mode buttons on the steering wheel provide easy access. Each button allows the engine, brakes, transmission, suspension and exhaust system to behave differently. That’s what I like about M cars, but I’d be lying if I said I found a combination that really suited the XM. I ended up setting up both gears as aggressively as possible, with one shifted by the transmission and the other manually («sequentially» in BMW terminology) using the XM’s massive paddles. The paddles can also be operated via the gear selector, but I prefer to have everything at hand on the steering wheel.
Like most BMWs these days, the XM’s steering feels numb and disconnected at low speeds. When driving becomes more aggressive, the steering feel improves and it’s as if the car begins to wake up. To solve the low-speed problem, I usually choose the most aggressive steering setting so that the weight of the wheels is more in line with what I want.
Another option on the test car was the M Drive package. This package increases the top speed from the base 155 mph to 168 mph and includes a day of driver training at the BMW Performance Center.
But I still wonder why such a performance-oriented car needs lounge-style rear seats. The XM, for all its speed and maneuverability, is first, a £6,000 SUV, and second, a sports car (albeit by a small margin). Indeed, why turn it into an SUV (other than for profit), and perhaps more appropriate for the 50th anniversary of the founding of the M Division is a modern interpretation of the original M1, which served as the motif for the badge emblazoned on the XM’s rear window. Its silhouette is also depicted on the digital dashboard.
The perfect plug-in hybrid?
As a PHEV, the XM can run on electricity for short distances, with the EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) estimating a range of 44 miles on a full charge, compared to 31 miles on electricity alone. When running on gasoline, the XM — there’s that word again — is extremely inefficient, with an equivalent fuel economy of 46 miles per hour and an overall fuel economy of just 14 miles per hour.
The XM is more ascetic with its all-electric drive, but it’s very tempting to use all that power and forget about efficiency. Unfortunately, switching out of electric mode can also be clumsy and abrupt, and on at least one occasion I was surprised that the car broke down. I often put my SUV into hybrid or «eControl» mode. It is designed to maintain or increase the battery level.
Like most PHEVs, the XM does not offer fast constant current charging. The on-board charger’s power output is 7.4 kW, and BMW claims that when connected to a charging system capable of delivering that level of power, the battery charges from 0% to 100% in 3 hours and 15 minutes. This is broadly in line with the XM’s experience of charging with Level 2 public charging stations.
Who buys XM?
While the XM starts at $159,995, including destination, the test car cost $168,395; the M Driving Package and vintage brown leather seats cost $2,500 each, and the optional Bowers & Wilkins Premium Solo stereo system cost $3,400. The optional Bowers & Wilkins Premium Solo stereo cost $3,400.
When assembled, it was the most flashy and pretentious of all the test drives I’ve taken, and I didn’t like that pretentiousness. However, I did get a few unsolicited compliments from strangers, so I guess some people like the cut of the XM.
There are more comfortable SUVs out there, but if you’re willing to pay big money for something controversial and unique to satisfy yourself and put up with excruciating driving, the XM may be the car for you.