2023 BMW XM

The XM is a large, decidedly conspicuous, plug-in hybrid performance SUV, because that’s where we are now.
The XM is a large, decidedly conspicuous, plug-in hybrid performance SUV, because that’s where we are now.

by Nathan Leipsig | June 13, 2023

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The 2023 BMW XM has shown us that a lot has changed in fifty odd years over at what used to be BMW ///Motorsport. The legendary ///M badge dates back to 1972, birthed as a dedicated racing division with the express purpose of turning BMW’s winning street cars into winning racers. After several years of unmitigated success (brought about by clever engineering and some selective talent poaching from Ford), BMW decided they there was probably a solid business case for their young Motorsport team to develop their own bespoke car, to be sold as an exotic supercar that would also homologate a race car for a new series. This car, logically, was named the M1.

Unfortunately, the development of the M1 was a bit of a disaster. A series of failed partnerships to develop and build the thing cost far too much money and took way too long, and by the time it was ready to roll, the rules for the racing series they were targeting had changed, making it non-starter. BMW M’s first car was brilliant, but there’s no denying it was also a miserable failure from a business perspective. So, while BMW M has had tremendous success modifying BMW’s cars over the years, you can see why they’d be apprehensive about developing another bespoke M vehicle. Now, decades later, in a very different market, they’re trying it again, with the BMW XM.

While the M1 was a low slung, purpose built, mid-engined sports car, the XM is a large, decidedly conspicuous, plug-in hybrid performance SUV, because that’s where we are now. Some enthusiasts (…namely me) have been bemoaning the watering-down of ///M for years, having arrived at the cynical conclusion that M stands for ///Marketing now. When was the last time you saw any new BMW without an M badge on it somewhere? It used to be reserved for a limited run of hand-built cars with mildly detuned race engines, now it’s on absolutely everything they make, so it’s not much of a surprise that a new bespoke M wouldn’t have anything to do with motorsport.

Also not much of a surprise is the XM’s styling, which takes BMW’s recent trend of… um… challenging… design, and doubles down on it. Its eye-watering $220,000 starting price places it squarely among the likes of other nouveau-riche luxe “trucks” like the Lamborghini Urus and Aston Martin DBX, so it makes sense that they’d dial the outrageous factor up to eleven just to stay relevant. Our tester’s Cape York green paint is beautiful, and I have to concede I don’t hate the gold trim, I just wish it weren’t framing such an obnoxious grille. 

Out back, there’s no BMW badge, replaced instead by a pair of laser-etched BMW logos in the upper corners of the rear hatch glass, a retro nod to the M1 – The jury’s still out on whether it’s a cool easter egg or sacrilege. Admittedly, the rear of the XM, with its frameless rear glass, hexagonal stacked exhaust tips, and muscular haunches, actually looks pretty good. People have cried that the contentiously styled XM has no good angles, but I’d counter the rear-three quarter is where it’s at.

The rear end is what most people will be seeing, as the XM, for all its heretical misgivings, is incredibly fast. A twin-turbocharged 4.4L V8 is borrowed from other big Bimmers and paired with an electric motor, combining to make a monstrous 644 horsepower. With everything switched on and set to kill, the XM will explode forward, violently banging off shifts through its ZF 8-speed automatic, rushing to highway speeds in 4.1 seconds. It bears mentioning that for as fast as it is, the added heft of its hybrid battery pack and motor hurts its raw performance ability, lagging behind BMW’s own X5 M.

That 19.2 kWh battery is good for fifty kilometers of pure EV range, and enables this behemoth to qualify for a Green Vehicle plate, a spectacular oxymoron if I ever saw one. I’m sorry, the only thing green about this 6,000 pound, 600 horsepower mammoth is the color scheme. With the battery depleted and the twin turbo engine left to its own devices, we observed an average fuel use of 15.4L/100km. This number does drop considerably with the battery topped up, but then you have to deal with the awkward way the XM goes about transitioning from EV mode to gas power; it takes a beat to gather itself, and isn’t exactly slick. 

The transmission in our tester didn’t always feel slick, either, which was more than a little confusing, as the ZF8 is a brilliant gearbox, and BMW knows better than anyone how to make it sing. A few of us thought it was some sort of new DCT type unit, and I’m personally still not entirely convinced it isn’t, it really feels like one, especially at low speeds, with unnatural and jerky throttle responses. It felt fine once on the move for the most part, save for a tendency to hold a low gear for far too long after a burst of power is summoned. I struggled to get in harmony with it,  like it only understands “cruise” and “maximum attack” with nothing in between.

I struggled to wrap my head around the way it drove, too; it’s not what I want from a BMW. Aside from the aforementioned issues with the transmission’s mood swings and clunky gas/electric handover, it seemed like it didn’t know whether it wanted to be an opulent luxury-liner or a hooligan’s weapon. The steering is direct, if a little over-boosted, and totally bereft of feel, which used to be a BMW hallmark. You can’t blame electric power steering or luxurious intentions; Porsche has had it figured out for a while.

What you can feel is every single little imperfection and ripple in the road through the absolutely ginormous 23-inch two-tone wheels, wrapped in Pirelli rubber band tires. To be abundantly clear, BMW has worked some incredible wizardry with the adaptive shocks – something this heavy, trying to control body motions through a wheel that huge with that little tire on it should ride and drive terribly, and that’s far from the case here. Over larger bumps and railway tracks, the XM is impressively smooth, and the body is well controlled when pushed, but there’s no getting over the dull resonance and little jitters from that wheel and tire package. It’s bizarre.  

The interior of our XM tester is also bizarre, but in the best way. Our tester was decked with a combo of two-tone green and brown leathers, that BMW calls Deep Lagoon and Vintage Coffee. It’s gorgeous, with the green making up the floors, seats, and console, intersecting with the rich brown on the upper dash, doors, and headliner, all accentented with a generous amount of metallic trim and carbon fiber. There is no third row, with BMW opting instead for an opulent “M Lounge,” complete with quilted pillows. Motorsport pillows, of course.

Say what you will about a dedicated M product being this decadent and luxurious, we all loved it. It’s an immaculately crafted, beautifully styled place to sit. BMW’s been on a roll with their Bowers & Wilkins sound systems lately, and the XM is similarly blessed with one of (if not the) best sound systems available today. The Alcantara headliner features a large geometric patterned roof panel in lieu of a panoramic roof, which not only looks cool, but also aids in noise reduction and helps the already fantastic acoustics be that much better.

The only thing we didn’t love about the XM’s cabin is BMW’s newest iDrive system. The single, curved hyper-wide screen looks good, and is swift, snappy and all that jazz, but there were a lot of mixed feelings about its ease of use. While some of us think it’s better than some of its competitors, I think it’s a significant step backwards and found it more than a little confusing to navigate, and I loathe the iPhone style app drawer, which itself has far, far too many “apps.” Speaking of apps, I couldn’t get around the iDrive headaches by using CarPlay/Auto, because it refused to recognize my phone’s version of Bluetooth. I’ve been told I should shut up and get with the times.

I’m not sure if I want to get with the times if this is where things are going. To be frank, I think that choosing to make the first bespoke ///M product of this millennium an ostentatious, three-ton, ultra-luxury “Sports Activity Vehicle” masquerading as a planet-saver is one of the most cynical marketing exercises ever. After having spent some time with it, I still don’t like it, but I have to admit there are a lot of things it’s really good at, and I kind of get it now. BMW wants to break into the mega-luxe segment, using the ///M brand to ///Market the 2023 BMW XM is how they’ve chosen to do it, and the resultant vehicle is, if nothing else, like nothing else on the road.

See Also:

2023 Aston Martin DBX707

2022 BMW Alpina B8 Gran Coupe

2022 Lexus LX 600 F-Sport

Vehicle Specs
Segment
Midsize Luxury Crossover
Engine Size
4.4L twin-turbocharged V8 mild hybrid
Horsepower (at RPM)
644
Torque (lb-ft.)
590
Fuel Efficiency (L/100km, City/Highway/Combined)
19.9/13.9/17.2
Observed Fuel Efficiency (L/100km)
15.4
Cargo Capacity (in L)
526
Base Price (CAD)
$220,000
As-Tested Price (CAD)
$226,900
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About Nathan Leipsig

Deputy Editor Nathan is a passionate enthusiast with a penchant for finding 80s and 90s European vehicles. He can typically be found messing about on his E28 5-series or on Kijiji looking for the next project. Current Toys: '78 928, '23 MX-5 GS-P, '95 XJR, '86 535i, '99 New Beetle GLS 5MT
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