On more than one of my previous “Old Man Yells at Cloud” moments, I’ve opined rather loudly that performance SUVs don’t make sense and I don’t like them. I’ve also bemoaned the diminished meaning of BMW’s M badge, bitterly chirping that what used to stand for Motorsport now stands for Marketing. After sampling the 2024 BMW X5 M Competition, the latest and greatest in stupidly fast SUVs, I’ve decided maybe I should just shut up.
I’d like to point out that BMW has seemingly agreed that the M badge has been a tiny bit watered down, as they’ve done away with the “regular” M vehicles. What used to be the spicy M-car is now the M Competition across the board, but a troubling thought came up while I was thinking about the reckless M-ification of BMW’s entire lineup: they’ve been going against the grain with what they slap the Motorsport badge on since the beginning.
Think about it: the first M was the M1, a purpose-built mid-engine supercar designed to go racing. Then came the M635csi — just called M6 over here — which took the literal race engine from the M1 and stuffed it in BMW’s big coupe, itself definitely more of a grand-tourer, but also had legitimate success in racing. Then, just five years into business, came what is perhaps the most famous M of all: the M5. It was Earth-shattering back then; a luxurious, tech-laden executive sedan that could keep pace with a Porsche 911 Turbo. It was heresy.
This was before sports sedans were a thing. It made them a thing.
This defiance of conventional wisdom made the M badge the institution that it is now. With this in mind, it stands to reason that BMW would continue along that path; this spicy X5, a luxurious, tech-laden executive SUV that can keep pace with a Porsche 911 Turbo, is the natural progression of that idea, although I’m still not over the performative sacrilege that is the XM. All of a sudden, this ridiculous engineering exercise makes sense. The X5 M Competition works in my head now, and I can enjoy it for the brilliant driving machine that it is.
The recently updated X5 and X6 M60i models are incredibly fast, competent, and comfortable. What more could a Competition-spec SUV possibly offer? Obviously more power, yes, and a firmer ride for sure, but to what end? The formers are already so good. Where else do you go from there? Who gets into a 523-horsepower X5 or X6 and thinks, ‘I want more. I want something harder, tighter, faster, louder, and more focused … but definitely still an SUV, and I don’t care what it costs to make it happen.’
I had tepid expectations about what else you can possibly do with that SUV platform, and I’ve been proven wrong yet again, as it’s a significant leap over its “lesser” counterparts. It’s bewildering how well BMW managed to make this massive monstrosity manoeuvre. Of course it was going to be quick — the M60i models are already quick — and the X5 M Competition’s 617 horsepower, plus approximately 5 million foot-pounds of twist with its mild hybrid system, makes it even more manically motivated than the last one. But the real revelation here is the chassis — it’s incredible.
It’s been a common knock against modern M cars that, fast as they may be, they feel numb; a hollow shell of what the lively M cars used to be not that long ago. This big bad X5 does not suffer that slight, as the Competition badge now denotes what M once did. The steering is sharp and well gauged, with a surprising amount of heft to make for more deliberate movements. Move it into a corner and it’ll turn in with zealous fervour, staying eerily flat throughout with remarkable balance, and even — this shocked me — a bit of an inkling to rotate on a hard exit.
With the myriad of driver settings set to maximum attack, the X5 M Competition becomes a surprisingly satisfying thing to hustle. More than just being ridiculously fast, it’s playful and encourages you to play with it, which is hard to find in any modern car, let alone a big SUV. Monstrous 395-millimetre brakes reign in the breakneck pace this is capable of via a firm, linear brake pedal. This is reassuring, given that it’s one of the fastest SUVs in the world, and faster than the XM.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the X5 M Competition is that when you’re not driving it like a hooligan, it’s pretty much a normal X5, which itself is a really nice, practical vehicle. All Competition models come fairly well equipped, and our tester came with the $16,000 Ultimate package, which includes but is not limited to everything: Bowers & Wilkins audio, the fancy illuminated Sky Lounge glass roof, heated, ventilated, and massaging seats, heated and cooled cupholders, automatic parking, and BMW’s new hands-free Drive Assist Pro, which joins the ultrawide iDrive 8 display as being new for 2024.
Also new for 2024 is a mild facelift, which gets the slightly more angular fascia and hexagonal halos we saw on the X6 M60i earlier this year. Also like that X6, this muy-picante X5 sports the same stunning Isle of Man Green paintwork, which compliments the black wheels and accents nicely. Our X5’s interior is similar to that X6, too, with the same carbon fibre trim and Alcantara headliner, but differs in the form of Adelaide Grey Merino leather rather than the usual black or red that’s become de rigueur. I’m quite taken with it, as it’s a warm, Earthy shade of gray that plays off the striking green paint well.
Once you’re settled in and on your way, it’s mostly a normal X5. The M is decidedly sharper in ride and road feel than the less-aggressively-spicy M60i models, with more road noise and some slight flintiness and secondary vibrations coming through the very big-and-tall wheels and meaty, stiff-sidewalled Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires. BMW’s done a pretty good job at tuning out most of the harshness that comes with this performance envelope, and the revised adaptive air suspension soaks up imperfections in the road well, but there’s no denying the X5 M Competition feels noticeably edgier than its less aggressively athletic siblings.
It also sounds edgier, as the Competition spec vehicle gets a significantly more free-flowing exhaust system with a selectable volume button set to surly by default. If you don’t (un)press this button before firing it up, you will piss off your neighbours if you leave early in the morning, as the ferocious V8 awakens with a theatrical commotion which persists on the road, angrily grumbling and crackling until you tell it to shut up.
What doesn’t shut up is its fuel use. I observed 15.6 L/100 km in our time with the X5 M Competition. I tried to stay off the throttle and regularly saw it dip down to 8 L/100 km on the highway, but these silly-spec Competition engines really tend to sneak quite a bit more to drink when you’re not looking. Other than that, it’s an X5 on the road: quiet, comfortable, practical, safe, easy to live with. It never quite feels entirely normal with its extra degree of Competition edge, but it does give a convincing impression of a normal family hauler, which is all the more bewildering for the level of performance available.
The 2024 BMW X5 M Competition is absurd. There is no reason for something like this to exist, but I’m glad it does. It’s the sort of ridiculous, unhinged deviant of a vehicle that makes no sense, and maybe isn’t even widely liked, but will be looked back at fondly for the eccentricity that it is. It’s a 5,500-pound hulk of a thing that accelerates harder, turns in sharper, and corners flatter than nearly anything else I’ve driven this year, all while being impeccably well appointed, impressively practical, and thoroughly comfortable. Call me M-pressed.