When the BMW XM SUV hits the market in 2023, it will be the largest and heaviest car of the M brand. It will also have a standard plug-in hybrid powertrain and a greater focus on comfort and luxury than any M. For a performance division that has built its reputation with great driver cars, this sounds like a bunch of blasphemy. But I just got back from driving an XM prototype on the Alpine roads near Salzburg, Austria and, well… damn hot.
Do you hear that sound? It’s a million purists holding their pearls.
Unique to M
It was initially expected to be some sort of X7 ‘coupe’, possibly even called X8, but the XM is something very special. (BMW and Citroën have agreed on) that nameby the way.) The SUV rides on a platform exclusive to M, the second car in the brand’s history to do so (the first being the M1 supercar† BMW won’t reveal the exact dimensions of the XM until its official debut in September, but it’s somewhere between a and in length with a lower roofline than both.
As for what’s under the camouflage, well,† BMW assures me that the production SUV will be very close to the show car. No, the design isn’t for everyone, but it sure makes a statement. And since BMW expects the XM to attract the same people who would otherwise buy a car, or (yes, really), mega restraining – good or bad – is a must.
US-spec cars run on 22-inch wheels with summer tires; larger 23’s will be available. The XM prototype I drove has the same full-width tailgate glass as the concept, as well as stacked tailpipes, so look for those to go into production.
Strong hybrid power, with more on the go
The sound barking out of those pipes is unexpectedly bad, but frankly, so is the entire drivetrain. The plug-in hybrid setup combines BMW’s new 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 – the same one used in the— with a lithium-ion battery pack. BMW isn’t saying how big the package is yet, but it should have enough power capacity to provide about 30 miles of driving range on the US Environmental Protection Agency cycle, so think just under 20 kilowatt-hours. With its powers combined, the XM will produce 644 horsepower and 590 pound-feet of torque.
The XM’s electric motor is sandwiched between the engine and transmission, so it doesn’t drive one specific axle. That means the xDrive all-wheel drive system can send as much as 100% of the total power to the rear axle, and then an electronic differential lock can shift it back and forth as needed.
There’s more to come. When thedebuted, BMW said it had 750 horsepower and 737 lb-ft of torque, and that’s still very much true. Sven Ritter, the XM project manager, told me that there is a… † Ritter said he sees it as a kind of XM competition, in the same way that BMW de and more powerful † Ritter declined to provide details on this more powerful XM variant, but said he will not use the Competition name. Interesting.
Legitimately great to drive
The early XM prototype I drove has the tune of 644-horsepower, and trust me, it’s enough. With instant electric torque and powerful V8 power, this large SUV gets up to speed quickly. The mid-range acceleration is also excellent; you get the full power of the electric motor’s torque when you press the accelerator, giving the turbochargers time to spool up before delivering maximum boost. Repeated hard stomping on straight German country roads yields consistent results; it’s like hitting the throttle in an EV coupled with a true V8 soundtrack, followed by deep-seated claps in each gear. In other words, it’s great.
The standard driving mode puts the XM into hybrid operation, relying on the electric motors where possible and starting the gas engine when needed. The transitions between startup and shutdown are seamless, especially during braking when the engine is shut down before stopping. There’s also an all-electric driving mode, complete with magical space-age woo-ahh sounds created by Hans Zimmer. And luckily (for me at least), there’s also a fixed button on the XM’s center console that lets you turn off the Star Trek effect.
The XM has the usual pair of M riding modes in which you can change the parameters for the drivetrain, suspension, steering, etc. The XM also uses a brake-by-wire system, so you can increase or decrease the force of the brake pedal, and you can also change the intensity of the regenerative braking. (There’s no single-pedal riding here, though.) What’s really cool is that these settings also work when you’re riding in all-electric mode, so you can get the toughest steering and stiffest damper settings even when you’re not popping. are on full attack.
I initially found it odd that BMW chose not to use air suspension in the XM, as the company has adapted a new dual-axle system to suit the† But holy moly, this coil-spring setup is fantastic, with excellent damping properties that allow the XM to really soak up the bumps in the road. The standard 48-volt active anti-roll technology works a treat here too, allowing the XM to maintain those comfortable qualities while smoothing out body movements in corners. It really inspires confidence – with less body movements I want to carry more and more speed through hairpin bends.
BMW says the XM has a perfect 50/50 weight balance, and this SUV’s on-road composure is indeed one of its best attributes. Launch hard, stop harder (thanks, 20-inch steel brakes), throw it into tight corners—nothing can upset the XM’s balance. In addition, the XM has one of BMW’s best steering configurations in recent memory, with plenty of feedback and fast, accurate turn-in. The XM also comes standard with rear-axle steering, which can turn the rear wheels in or out 2.5 degrees depending on speed, giving this big boy an agile advantage.
Understeer? No. upset? New. Hardness? body roll? The weird feeling of dread that comes when you push an SUV super hard? Nothing. The XM just wants to drag an ass with the ferocity of an M5 and then waddle quietly through the subdivision on the way home.
More focus on luxury
Much less polarizing than the exterior of the XM is the interior. New,won’t make its way into reality, but high-quality leather, a geometric 3D headlining with mood lighting, natural wood and real metal inlays should all be in the cards. The XM gets BMW’s latest iDrive 8 multimedia technology, natch, housed on the same curved screen that first debuted in the and †
Despite the velvet sofa, I really want to talk about the XM’s back seat. Despite the sloping roofline, there’s a ton of headroom, plus stretched legroom to accommodate taller people. BMW deliberately placed the rear seats of the XM low so that the high beltline would better enclose the passenger compartment, and Ritter told me the rear windows are a 20% darker shade than other BMW cars to increase the privacy factor. But better than that, the edges of the rear seats are contoured and mold to the sides of the XM, so you can sit comfortably with your body facing the other passenger for easier conversation. This kind of wraparound reinforcement is usually reserved for Rolls-Royces; to see it in the XM is great.
One last fancy bit: each XM comes with a stylish pouch in the trunk that’s waterproof and sized to fit the Level 2 charging cable. It is also large enough to use it perfectly as a luggage bag for a weekend away.
After debuting in September, the XM will go into production in December at BMW’s Spartanburg, South Carolina plant. The first cars are expected to arrive at dealerships in March 2023, and BMW expects North America – particularly the US – to be the largest market for the XM, although China and the Middle East also account for a large share of the total. will make a sale.
I really expected the XM to ride like a bigger X5 M, or maybe a stiffer one, but it’s more exciting than that. This is one of the best driving modern M cars I’ve tasted, and none of this power and agility comes at the expense of serene passenger comfort. Believe it, friends: A large hybrid SUV is one of M’s most impressive endeavors in years.
Editor’s Note: Travel expenses related to this story were covered by the manufacturer, which is common in the automotive industry. The judgments and opinions of CNET staff are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.