2023 BMW XM Review: No turning back
In Munich, “M” stands for “Motorsport.” Or it used to, anyway, back when the division’s racing expertise was the driving force behind BMW’s reputation as builder of the Ultimate Driving Machine. Times change, however, a fact reflected in the all-new XM. The XM is the first vehicle since the ’70s M1 supercar to be developed by M with no counterpart in the standard BMW lineup. This high-powered, hybrid SUV is the tip of the spear in BMW M’s new pursuit: the ultimate user experience.
Frank van Meel, CEO of BMW M GmbH, and Dirk Häcker, head of BMW M’s development division, are now training their sights more on tech and the interior than outright driving pleasure.
“With the way vehicles are evolving in the coming years, creating an emotional engagement with the interior, particularly through technology, is necessary to match the driving experience,” said Dr. Adrian Posselt, the engineer responsible for digital services on the XM.
We traveled to Scottsdale, Arizona, for the first media drive of the new XM. While there we met product planners and engineers who repeatedly stressed that performance did not take a back seat as part of this brand evolution. It was an additive approach, they said, incorporating elements that the M customers increasingly prioritize in a luxury automobile.
Did you catch that? BMW executives are, finally, saying the quiet part out loud.
Specs: 2023 BMW XM
- Price as tested: $167,395 (including destination)
- Powertrain: 4.4-liter, twin-turbo V-8 and synchronous electric motor; eight-speed torque-converter automatic
- Output: 483 hp @ 7200 rpm, 479 lb-ft @ 1600–5000 rpm (V-8); 194 hp @ 7000 rpm, 207 lb-ft @ 100–5500 rpm (electric motor); max combined output: 644 hp @ 5400 rpm, 590 lb-ft @ 1600–5000 rpm
- Layout: All-wheel-drive, five-seat sport utility
- Weight: 6062 pounds
- EPA-rated fuel economy: 14/46 (gas combined city and highway/MPGe)
- 0 to 60 mph: 4.1 seconds
- Top speed: 155 mph (limited); 168 mph (available)
Exterior: Not too extra
We get our first look at the XM in the hotel parking lot, amid many other luxury SUVs. It isn’t outright enormous, but there’s no denying the vehicle’s substance. At 201.2 inches long, the XM is 2.4 inches shorter than an X7, though it rides on the same 122.2-inch wheelbase. Given its hybrid motor and battery, the 6062-pound (!) XM outweighs the X7 M60i sibling by more than 200 pounds.
The XM is not as outlandish as it appears in photos. The aggressive differentiating cues common to modern M cars are absent. It’s a curious choice given that BMW cites the unmistakable Mercedes G-Wagen and Lamborghini Urus as chief competitors. Even the stocky X5M profile is more memorable and more easily recognizable as a BMW’s. It’s a notably different approach compared with the highly recognizable BMW M3 and M4.
Let’s talk grilles, shall we? Though large, the kidneys on the XM appear proportional to the car and are complemented by two bulges running the length of the hood. Design elements that seem to stand out awkwardly in photos don’t figure as strongly to the naked eye, especially in XMs finished with darker paint.
The typical, gaping lower openings up front to route fresh air into radiators and equipment coolers have made way for nose styling that’s more akin to that of the 7 Series and X7. When asked why the XM didn’t look more like the new X5M and X6M in this regard, van Meel explained that those two SUVs are more motorsport-driven, and that the XM’s design brief called for greater focus on luxury.
The XM differentiates itself from the X7 with a slightly sharper roof angle and thicker, more aggressive D-pillar. A subtle style line above the rear wheel gently mimics the flared arches of other M models and a strake follows the bottom of the window line. The rear’s otherwise clutter-free appearance is punctuated by four vertically oriented, hexagonal-shaped tailpipes. Aside from the M badge on the rear, you’d be forgiven for missing that this was an M product at all.
Our tester’s stormtrooper-spec Mineral White Metallic paint with black trim accentuated the XM’s details without overstatement. Seven paint colors are currently available; another fifty BMW Individual shades are planned for debut this summer. Should your tastes tend toward the ostentatious, you can opt for the Night Gold Metallic package to cover the XM’s grille surround, side strake, diffuser, and portions of the standard 23-inch wheels in satin gold. The package plainly targets the Dogecoin crowd rather than the house-in-the-Hamptons cadre.
Interior: “Rock Star”
“We call the XM ‘rock star’ internally,” said van Meel. “The front is the stage where you perform, while an opulent lounge awaits in the back.”
There’s truly opulence wherever you look inside the XM. The seas of leather that adorn the dash and seats can be had in five different shades, including “Vintage Coffee Merino,” a natural-looking hide with creases and scars. Alcantara, matte carbon fiber, and brushed metal adorn nearly every other surface. Plastic finishes are either metal-look or made to blend seamlessly into the overall design. Adjustable, color-keyed LED lighting trims portions of the dash, doors, and speaker grilles. The whole thing makes some M models, even current ones costing serious coin, feel downright utilitarian.
The front seats boast ample adjustment, including thigh extension, lumbar support, side bolsters, and two-axis headrests. Our 6′4″ driving companion and I both found comfortable positions without issue. We most welcomed the front-seat massage feature and its many variable settings during the highway leg of our journey. Curiously, the seats don’t have a cooling function, and second-row seat heaters are optional, rather than standard.
Still, you could do a lot worse than retiring to the XM’s generously sized second row. Softer padding coddles you more than the front buckets do, and the surface extends to the doors for a couch-like effect. The prismatic-shaped headliner with reflective ambient light is on full display from the back. The visual is true to van Meel’s description; bottle service feels like it should show up at any moment.
Appropriate to the lounge theme, our test XM came fitted with the optional $3400 Bowers & Wilkins sound system. It was brilliantly vibrant, with excellent separation, clarity, and staging. As is the trend these days with higher-end car audio, once the interior design was complete and surfaces were chosen, BMW worked directly with the supplier to place and tune the speakers to desired effect.
The XM-specific gauge cluster and infotainment utilize BMW’s 12.3- and 14.9-inch displays, respectively, both sitting behind a single curved glass panel. Posselt, the digital services lead, said that different markets and buyer demographics have varying preferences for how they prefer to interact with the car’s tech, so iDrive 8.0 allows for interaction via voice command, hand gestures, touch screen, or familiar iDrive toggle. The system performed quickly and was easy enough to discern, though taking the time to set up your preferences in detail ahead of time is a good idea.
Given the increasingly global automotive industry, it should come as no surprise that emerging markets like China play a big role in driving the objectives behind this new M. “The XM is likely to be sole car for many buyers in the Asian markets, and a tech-heavy, appealing interior is a priority,” said Posselt.
BMW M’s first plug-in hybrid
The XM bears the first electrified drivetrain in a full-beans M vehicle, and it’s tuned more for performance than efficiency. A pure-electric mode was essential, however, to allow for driving in the ever-increasing number of cities in Europe and China that enforce zero-emissions downtown zones.
The plug-in hybrid system combines a 483-hp twin-turbo 4.4-liter V-8 with an electric motor mounted within the bell housing of the ZF eight-speed transmission. Maximum system output totals 644 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque. Electric-only driving is available up to 87 mph and EV range is 30 miles. The XM returns 46 MPGe and 14 mpg (combined rating) in hybrid mode. The lithium-ion batteries are stored under the floor and have a maximum charging rate of 7.4 kW, taking 3.25 hours on a 220-volt plug to attain a 100 percent charge from “empty.” Control system logic for the hybrid integration is shared with BMW’s IMSA GTP car.
The electric motor doesn’t add any physical length to the V-8/eight-speed pairing, so we’d expect it to find a home in other BMW products. Although he wouldn’t confirm it, van Meel did say his team was not in the habit of making powertrains for only one vehicle.
The XM delivers thrust in an assertive rather than brutal fashion, despite the big numbers on paper. Shifts are smooth, and the electric motor’s supplementing means that the eight-speed doesn’t always have to kick down for part-throttle applications. Regenerative deceleration felt mildly stronger in EV-only mode, necessitating slightly different pedal application, but the force of regen is one of many characteristics that can be changed via settings.
As in other M products to date, users can preselect drive modes and specific preferences and load them onto the steering wheel-mounted M1 and M2 buttons. Selections ranging from Comfort to Sport and Sport Plus can also be set ad hoc via the console’s Setup button.
One thing that cannot be changed, however, is physics. No amount of chassis and drivetrain adjustability makes the XM feel small, nimble, or light. That’s not necessarily a bad thing given the XM’s obvious objectives, though, and the M chassis folks have worked their magic into what they were given. The wealth of technology and tuning at work in the XM enable an average driver to pilot this luxury ocean liner at orders of magnitude beyond their usual abilities.
“The key to these management systems,” said Dirk Häcker, head of development for BMW M, “is to provide confidence. You shouldn’t feel them working. Rather, they should be behind the scenes and support the driver’s efforts.”
It’s tempting to say that the XM drives smaller than it is, but that does not paint the full picture. Through a new rear-wheel steering system and active antiroll bars, the XM corners as if it had a shorter wheelbase than it really does. Body roll is incredibly controlled, even in side-to-side transitions. Front-end grip is higher and more reassuring than in most SUVs this size. The immense weight never disappears, but its impact is mitigated. What’s left is a capable, confidence-inspiring bruiser.
On the flip side, in more relaxed circumstances, the XM feels every bit the full-size SUV that it is—an advantage on open roads. The long wheelbase aids in tempering bumps and oscillations (of course, the relaxed antiroll bars help, too) and its heft contributes to the sense of luxury that BMW has made a defining characteristic.
Some elements of the XM’s driving behavior are less successful. The variable-ratio steering rack ramps up too quickly in tighter maneuvers at speed, and initial bite on the brake-by-wire system required an extra-attentive touch to be smooth regardless of setting. This is, however, not a long list of faults given M’s stated goals.
A new frontier
Where vaunted M cars like the E46- and E92-generation M3, M Coupe, and E60 M5 urged drivers to find their limits, the XM enables more customers to enter the performance fold. A vehicle like this is a logical waypoint on a path made possible by the march of technology and the growth of the M brand, which had unstoppable momentum once it started posting big profits. And if you want a more old-school M car with razor’s edge reflexes, BMW will happily usher you into a new M2.
The XM is indeed an indulgence, especially on the inside. It can comfortably cruise or explore impressive limits without much strain. It engages customers via the luxury of choice and personalization, which, along with electrification, is how luxury brands are hoping to secure their future and expand their audience. For better or worse, the XM is a turning point amid M’s five decades of success. And that part BMW isn’t afraid to say loud and proud.
2023 BMW XM
Price: $159,000 / $167,395 (base / as-tested)
Highs: Extravagant, comfortable interior. Effortless powertrain. Sophisticated, seamless chassis dynamics.
Lows: Lackluster visual presence, and tacked-on visual cues don’t help. No amount of tech or tuning can hide this kind of girth.
Takeaway: We all knew an M car like this was inevitable, but it has its merits, nonetheless.