It’s July 2020 and the world seems to be getting crazier everyday, having us adopt new norms at a much more urgent pace. Not wanting to disrupt the trend at all, I figured I’d spend the week with one of the least sensible vehicles available; the new 2020 BMW X5 M Competition. This is the third generation of BMW’s track-capable family SUV. Its twin-turbo V8 generates up to 617 horsepower, BMW claims 0-100km/h in under four seconds, but it’ll also comfortably haul both kids, the family dog and enough cargo for a week away at the cottage. This is the latest entry into the growing ultra-high performance SUV category, a segment that’s just as wild as watching an hour or two of CNN.
The standard BMW X5 is a highly regarded family SUV and not something that most folks would take notice of, but the X5 M throws that anonymity out the window. Featuring an aggressive front bumper with massive intake grilles to feed air into the multiple coolers, there is no mistaking the front of the X5 M for anything less than a proper ‘M car’. This is backed up by M-gills on the front fenders, flared wheel arches, rear diffuser, quad exhaust tips and M-style side mirrors with carbon fiber caps. This top-of-the-line Competition came with all of the trim blacked out for an even more menacing look complimenting the Black Sapphire Metallic paint and gorgeous wheels in a staggered 21/22-inch fitment with monstrous 315/30/R22 ultra performance tires out back.
The interior in the X5 M is just as functional and practical as the regular X5 (reviewed here), which favors smaller families given that there is no third row, but rather a luxurious second row with excessive head and legroom. There’s plenty of cargo space behind the folding second row seats as well in the plush, well appointed cargo area. The split rear hatch with its mini-tailgate is very handy for just about any loading situation – it’s just a bit odd that only the upper hatch can be opened remotely.
The dashboard and controls are what you’d expect from BMW with a clean design and fairly intuitive ergonomics, with only a few exceptions when you start working within the ConnectedDrive system. The system includes some unique features such as BMW’s Intelligent Personal Assistant, sort of an in-car Siri character that will respond to a range of voice commands. Another interesting little feature is Extended Traffic Jam Assistant, this Level 3 autonomous system is designed to take over control while creeping along in traffic to take some of the pressure off the driver.
Being the top-tier X5 M competition, our tester got the best interior finishes available. Just about every surface is leather wrapped, and there’s lots of glossy real carbon fiber trim. The M interior uses color coding to remind you that you’re not in any ordinary BMW with big red buttons on the steering wheel to control the drive modes, splashes of red on the console, and red, white and blue stitching. The ventilated sport seats up front are supremely comfortable with adjustable bolstering and buttery soft leather, though the Adelaide grey color choice in our tester felt a bit out of place. Another interesting feature of the X5 M is the full length panoramic sunroof which lights up with a blue dot-matrix style pattern at night.
The real essence of this SUV is all about the experience from behind the wheel. It’s capable of performance feats reserved for high-performance sports cars; one heck of a performance machine. Powered by a beastly 4.4-liter twin turbocharged V8 making 600 horsepower and 553 lb-ft. of torque at 1,800RPM; the horsepower gets boosted to 617 in the Competition model here. The monstrous amount of power flows through a ZF built eight-speed M Steptronic transmission out to all four wheels via a rear-biased all-wheel-drive system that launches the SUV with the utmost of authority. BMW claims it will go 0-100km/h in 3.7 seconds, just shy of the Jeep Trackhawk’s ridiculous 3.5-second claim. Acceleration is addictive thanks to lightning quick shifts, whether you’re using the paddles or letting the transmission do its own thing. Combined with the roar of the M-sport exhaust, it’s difficult to keep one’s right foot under control.
Really though, anyone can stick a huge powerhouse motor in an SUV and call it a day. What’s most impressive about the X5 M is how well the chassis handles the combination of crazy power and the weight of a full-sized luxury SUV. Steering is tight, agile and tactile feeling, without being harsh. It corners damn-near flat and stops like a sports car. It handles spirited driving with surprising grace, composure and grip, almost defying the physics of the 6,600-pound curb weight. This is thanks in part to the X5 M’s dynamic front anti-roll bar, adaptive dampers and sticky Michelin Pilot Sport 4S summer rubber.
However, switch it into “Road” mode and it settles down into a reasonably comfortable cruiser, the suspension softens, the exhaust note dims, and the cabin becomes quite a calm relaxed space. I have read some criticisms of the X5 M’s suspension being a bit too harsh for daily duty, but we found it to be the complete opposite and remain impressed with how well it settles into a normal city driver despite the tiny tire sidewalls and sport suspension.
The worst part of the experience of the 2020 BMW X5 M Competition for me is the M Steptronic transmission. It’s fantastic when you’re bombing along at a good clip and enjoying the BMW’s liberating dynamics, but when you’re navigating jammed city streets, inching along in traffic, or looking for a spot in a crowded parking lot, the transmission is very choppy. It behaves like a dual clutch system so when you’re stopped or barely stopped, it disengages gear and locks the wheels – to move again you have to tip into the throttle. This takes a lot of getting used to in situations where you’re trying to delicately park up close to an object.
I wouldn’t expect anyone in the market for one of these to think much about fuel economy, but since we’re here, our average for a week of mixed driving and a right foot on the heavy side resulted in average consumption of 16.3L/100km on 91-octane premium fuel. It’s not exactly commuter friendly, but I do believe that keeping the X5 M in road mode and using a light right foot would yield more favorable results.
As expected, the X5 M is not cheap. The base price rings in at $124,500 and adding the Competition Package for $17,000 and the M-Enhanced Package for another $1,850 brought our total as tested price to $143,350. The M-Enhanced package is really an appearance package that adds carbon fiber mirror caps and engine cover. The Competition Package unlocks the extra 17 horsepower, blacked out trim, and a long list of luxury features including Sky Lounge panoramic sunroof, ventilated and massage seats, carbon fiber interior trim, heated and cooled cupholders, and all the tech BMW has to offer.
The 2020 BMW X5 M Competition is a vehicle that’s as unique as its buyers will be. I’d personally rather keep my sports car and family hauler separate, but if you must blend the two, the X5 M makes a pretty compelling case. It’s infinitely more refined than the brutish Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, and significantly cheaper than the even wilder Lamborghini Urus (reviewed here). If that’s the justification you need, then why not. Gas-swelling twin-turbo V8 SUVs may not be here forever, so make hay while the sun shines.