2015 BMW X5 M

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Some of the quickest cars on the road aren’t even cars – much less high-performance sports cars.'15 X5 M lead 2

This BMW X5 M, for instance.

Don’t let the four doors fool you. Let them fool the dude sitting next to you at the light in his 911.

With not-far-from 600 hp under its hood, the gag is on pretty much everyone  – in anything – who thinks they can outrun this thing. Because few are the contenders – two doors or four – capable of breaking into the high threes, zero to 60.

Which is what you’d need to beat the X5 M.

Which excludes the Porsche 911 Carrera. The Cayenne Turbo, too.

And the new Range Rover SVR. '15 X5 interior 1

The Benz ML63 AMG?

Easy meat.


The X5 M is – forget the preliminaries – the  strongest, quickest, baddest crossover SUV on the road.

Under – or over – $100k.

It outruns all its rivals, the Porsche Cayenne Turbo, the Range Rover Sport SVR and the AMG-amped Benz ML.

It’s also quicker (and not by a little bit) than a 911 Carrera coupe. And the 911 hasn’t got room in back for a wet labrador retriever. Nor can it cart around five people – or deal with snow.

The X5 can do all that.

What can’t it do? Go more than about 200 miles on a tankful.

Ah well. You can’t have everything.

Base price is $98,700.      

By no means cheap thrills. But cheaper – and more thrilling – than the Cayenne Turbo ($113,600) and the Range Rover Sport SVR ($110,475).

The Benz ML63 AMG’s base price of $98,400 is a few hundred bucks lower than the BMW’s.

But then, so is the Mercedes’ performance.

Look in vain for quicker – much less four-doored –  alternatives.

Better yet, go out and look for victims.

WHAT’S NEW'15 X5 M lead 1

The X5 M is the latest M-tweaked BMW – “M” being BMW-speak for sehr schnell (that’s really, really fast). In addition to another 100-plus horsepower vs. the non-M X5 xDrive50i – the X5 M receives the usual ensemble of complementary M upgrades, including high-performance (and driver-adjustable) calibrations for the eight-speed automatic and full-time xDrive all-wheel-drive system, much more sporting suspension settings , flying saucer-sized (and cross-drilled) brake rotors and massive powder-coated calipers peeking out from behind M-specific 21 inch light-alloy rims just barely skinned with ultra-ultra low-profile “summer” tires.

Plus true dual exhaust ending in quad splitters out back, an M-specific gauge cluster with a 200 MPH speedo (you’ll need it) and subtle tweaks to the bodywork such as functional front fender air vents to put some visual distance between it and run-of-the-mill X5s.


911 acceleration – with foor doors and room for five.

Costs $10-$13k less than not-as-quick Porsche Cayenne Turbo and Range Rover Sport SVR.

Discreet like an Ashley Madison hook-up.

No one needs to know.

WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD    '15 M seat detail

Hasn’t got the Cayenne’s ability to turn heads.

Not as potentially off-road-adroit as the Range Rover, which offers more ground clearance, 4WD Low range gearing and a higher tow rating (6,600 vs. 6,000 pounds.)

Tighter back seats (and less cargo capacity) than the Benz ML63 AMG.

Frequent stops for fill -’em ups.


There may indeed be a replacement for displacement.

Despite having the smallest V8 of the bunch – 4.4 liters vs. the ML63 AMG’s hunky 5.5 liter, the Range Rover’ SVR’s 5.0 and the Porsche Cayenne Turbo’s 4.8 – the X5 M’s is the strongest: 567 hp (and 553 ft.-lbs. of torque) vs. a somewhat puny 518 (and 516 ft.-lbs.) for the Mercedes, the RR’s 550 (and 502 ft.-lbs.) and 520 (and 553 ft.-lbs.) for the turbo Porsche.'15 BMW X5 engine 2

The BMW is  – not surprisingly – the quickest, too.

Zero to 60 in four seconds flat – vs. the second-place Cayenne (4.2 seconds), third place Range Rover (4.4 seconds) and – way back there in fourth – the almost slow-pokey 4.8 second to 60 Mercedes ML63 AMG.

Benz does offer a little blue pill in the form of an optional $6,550 AMG Performance Package (on top of all the AMG stuff you already bought) that tightens up the race, increasing the 5.5 V8’s output to 550 hp and 560 ft.-lbs. of torque – but even with the additional AMG Viagra, the Benz’s acceleration (4.5 seconds to 60) still doesn’t quite match the BMW’s.

It must be reiterated that the X5 delivers these goods for many thousands of dollars less than all three of its rivals. BMW is not usually the, uh, “value” choice. But in this case, you get really do get more for less.

An eight speed automatic is standard (the Cayenne and Range Rover also have eight-speeds; the Benz comes with a seven speed) as is a full-time all-wheel-drive system. The X5’s – like the systems you’ll find in the others – is there chiefly to modulate the power, which would otherwise be Too Much for the general public to deal with. Think about it. A 1970 Hemi  ‘Cuda – one of the brutal original-era muscle cars – was sporting a mere 426 hp. The X5 M has nearly 150 more hp than the legendary Street Hemi. You do not put that kind of power down using just two wheels.'15 X5 M engine 2

Michelin would have to keep the tire factory running double shifts to keep up with the demand for fresh Pilots – and the insurance mafia would stroke out. There would be congressional hearings, probably – and what about the children?

AWD is a way to keep a lid on things.

It helps keep these berserkers accelerating in a straight line rather than sideways. The original muscle car era was kiboshed in part because of the perceived run-amokness of rear-wheel-drive performance cars with maybe 350-400 or so honest hp under the hood. With AWD – and wrapped up in crossover SUV camouflage, BMW, et al, can get away with selling 500-plus hp rides and (so far) no squeals of outrage about “safety” from the usual quarter.

Plus it actually is safer.

That much power funneled through just two wheels (those wheels shod with “summer” ultra-performance tires) would be a disaster on anything but the driest of roads. In snow, you’d be as helpless as Ned Beatty by the side of the river on that ill-fated canoe trip.'15 X5 M console detail

The X5’s AWD/eight-speed automatic has (like the others) driver-programmable settings that can be tailored to suit your mood – from Comfort to Sport Plus. In addition to the transmission/AWD and suspension settings, you can also tailor steering feel and chassis damping to suit. Noteworthily, you can adjust these parameters individually and independently. So, for instance, you can leave the steering effort in Normal (a bit more assisted than it would be in Sport) with Sport Plus mode engaged for the drivetrain. Like memory seats, you can also program the settings you prefer into the system and engage them with the touch of a single button as opposed to having to punch up the settings you want each time you go for a drive – after your wife has gone for a drive.   


The four minute mile is considered pretty much the extreme limit of human performance.

The performance of cars seems to be nowhere close to the limit. They keep on getting stronger and stronger. Faster and faster. Here we have a 5,200 pound SUV that will run mid-high12 second quarter miles all day long (or as long as the tires and gas last) while idling as smoothly as a Bill Cosby denial – without overheating, either.   '15 X5 road 1

While carrying five people – with the AC humming and the tunes playing through the 16 speaker Bang & Olufsen ultra-premium audio rig.

It barks a little through the free-flowing dual exhaust and quad tips when you first fire it up – like the better-pay-attention-to-it guttural growl of a semi-sleeping Rottweiler.

But otherwise, it’s a pussycat.

Until you want battlecat.

There is so much torque – more than 500 ft.-lbs. of it available when the engine’s idling – that the X5 M is actually easier and more comfortable to drive in stop-and-go traffic than most economy cars. Because the least touch of the accelerator results in near-teleportation. Supposedly, Elvis wore that cape on stage because it made him feel like a superhero – which helped him overcome stage fright. The X5 M will make you feel like a superhero, too. The moment you first give it full pedal, you will know the feeling of stepping into that phone booth and ripping off your Clark Kent sunglasses.'15 X5 M road 2

Some perspective:  The X5 M’s engine produces about 70-75 percent of the output of a current Nextel Cup stocker’s all-out race V8 – but without the race car’s shake/rattle n’ roll.

It’ll hit almost 190 MPH on top.

Which is about 75 percent of the top-end of a Nextel Cup car geared for the Daytona 500.

But unlike a Nextel Cup stocker, the X5 M is street legal, emissions-compliant and will definitely last longer than a 200 mile race (though maybe it won’t make it 200 miles on a single tank; read on).

Even more jaw-drop-worthy, it corners.

The sensation of being that high up – while going this fast through an apex – is a sensation your body and mind will initially have trouble reconciling. Like a too-good-looking blind date, you wonder – What’s the catch? When is the other shoe is going to drop?

It never does.

Some more perspective: A Porsche 911 is just 51.3 inches high at the roofline and has about 5.5 inches of ground clearance. The X5 M stands 67.6 inches high and its skirts are 8.1 inches off the pavement.'15 X5 M Sport displays

Yet the X5 can trace a 911-esque line through the esses. It is like watching a five-foot-five guy score 20 points in an NBA championship.

The Cayenne Turbo is comparably adroit in the curves – but can’t keep up with the M in a straight up drag race. Plus it costs more.

A lot more.

The Benz ML63 and Range Rover Sport, meanwhile, are much more “trucky” than either the M or the Cayenne – both featuring more in the way off-road capability (including Low range gearing and more ground clearance). But this inevitably compromises what they’re capable of laterally, on road. They both have higher-than-you’d expect capabilities in that respect.

But neither of them feel remotely 911-esque.

The X5 M does.

AT THE CURB'15 X5 M curb 1

The X5 is the biggest of the four, but a bit less space efficient than some of its rivals. The BMW’s back seats, for instance, have less legroom (36.6 inches) than in the Benz (38.4inches ) despite the X5 M’s  being 3.6 inches longer overall (192.7 inches vs. 189.1 for the ML63 AMG).

On the other hand, the BMW has significantly more cargo capacity (76.7 cubic feet in total) than either the Cayenne (62.2 cubic feet) or the Range Rover Sport (62.9 cubic feet) and only a little bit less than the ML63 AMG (80.3 cubes) and is the only one of the four with a standard two-piece tailgate. The lower section folds out and down while the upper section opens – conventionally – up. When the lower section is folded down, you get what amounts to a bed extender –  about a foot more load floor. This is handy whether to sit on during a tailgate party or for hauling stuff home. With the lower section locked in the up position – and the upper section open – you have a handy little dam to keep cargo in the X5 that might tend to slide out if not tied down adequately in other SUVs.2016 BMW X5M

Car People can spot the M version of the X5 at a glance. It is the only X5 with four exhaust tips, a pair of front fender air extractors (functional, not cosmetic) and subtle wheelwell extenders (necessary to keep the 21 inch wheels/tires scooched within the bodywork). But to most people, it’s just another – yawn – crossover SUV. A clearly expensive one, without doubt. But few among the uninitiated are remotely conscious of the 911-thrashing capabilities discreetly tucked within that unassuming shell.

This is a beautiful thing – because it makes it much more feasible to thrash 911s. Or rather to drive regularly on public roads as if you were in a 911… and get away with it.

Out in the wild, effective predators are ambush predators. They make use of camouflage. You do not see them coming … until you feel the fangs sinking deep into the back of your neck. And by then of course it is much too late to do anything about it. You are doomed. 

The X5 M fits that bill. The 911 – magnificent though it may be – does not.'15 X5 cargo area

Neither does the Cayenne Turbo, for that matter. Because it looks like a 911 fattened up. The Porsche profile is unmistakable and when another driver sees that face in the rearview, he knows what to expect – and that puts you at a disadvantage, even against much lesser machinery. That Prius up ahead? He can simply block you in, out of spite. Then, all the horsepower in the world  is as useful as a thong at the Vatican.

It’s a never-ending treat to drive the X5 in heavy traffic – to thread the needle in heavy traffic – which you can do much more easily, with near-impunity, not just because of all that power but also because you can use all that power.    

They almost never see you coming.

Same goes for The Law.


The M gets a different shifter than regular X5s. It’s a little stubby toggle thing that’s fully drive-by-wire and so lacks tactile feedback. It’s functionally faultless but something more mechanically engaging would be more appropriate here, probably.'15 X5 M exhaust 1

On the other hand, the M’s exhaust system – which features a pressure release system under wide-open-throttle – makes up for that. It’s similar to the set-up that’s available optionally in the AMG-tuned version of the Benz GLA (reviewed here). It works like the old-school exhaust cut-outs that muscle cars back in the late ’60s sometimes had – but it’s fully automated. No need to pull a cable to bypass the mufflers. Under WOT, pressure is released via vacuum-actuated flapper doors – accompanied by a sound that rips the air like a mini sonic boom. This happens at the crescendo of each WOT upshift, so as many as eight times in sequence. Your neighbors will feel like the sky boss in Top Gun when Maverick’s Tomcat did an unauthorized flyby, both afterburners lit. There goes the coffee…

The M’s traction/stability control also has more libertine programming. While straight-line burnouts are not allowed, you can smoke ’em sideways a bit, if you like.

Gas mileage is about as relevant a consideration here as the fertility of nursing home residents. When you are interested in 500-plus hp twice-turbo’d V8s and top speeds approaching 200 MPH you are not, by definition, much interested in how much it costs to feed it.'15 X5 M exhaust 2

However, you might be interested in how often you’ll need to feed it. Even with a pretty large (22.4 gallon) fuel tank, the X5 M can drain it dry in 200 miles. Less, if you’re really working at it. EPA rates the BMW as being capable of 14 city, 19 highway (vs. 14/21 for the Cayenne Turbo, 13/17 for the ML63 AMG and 17/23 for the “class best” RR Sport SVR) which maybe it is.

If that’s what you’re trying for.

But isn’t that like trying to keep an ice cream cone from melting as opposed to just eating the thing?

EP (me) rates it at about 8 MPG.

A larger tank would be great.


I’m always looking for a way to end-run the system, to get away with everything they’re trying to shut down and suck the life out of. The X5 M is like one of those horse needle things they use to revive someone technically dead with a shot of epinephrine straight into the heart. If you haven’t got a pulse, this will restore it.

If you want to feel alive again, this will do it.

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  1. I’m currently driving the slight step-down model in the form of the X5 xDrive50i. It’s basically the same 4.4L twin-turbo V8 engine, only tuned to 445hp or so with 480 lb-ft. The odd thing is that this model is actually faster than the last generation X5 M was.

    The official BMW quoted 0-60 is 4.9 sec, but the actual magazine tests rate it consistently around 4.3 sec. This seems to be a theme with BMW. Many of their vehicles turn out to be much faster than their factory quoted 0-60 times would indicate. Which makes me suspect that as fast as the quoted 0-60 of this X5 M is, in reality it is likely a bit faster still.

    I like the fact that I can tow 6,000 lbs (I’ve already towed a 4-wheeler behind it down into the woods), haul mulch and other crap in the back end, go bounding down muddy dirt roads as if they were smooth pavement (this thing rides pretty nicely on corrugated, ungraded gravel/dirt), yet walk away from Camaros and Mustangs at almost any speed within the speed limit range.

    As for styling, it’s the first X5 that looks halfway decent in my opinion. However, as with everything else, all styling has started to drift towards the middle because of aerodynamic needs. All SUVs are starting to look alike, especially those based on unibody designs, because they all have to assume the same basic two-box shape to begin with then have to be as aerodynamic as possible to save on gas. This, of course, is the same problem that minivans have had for decades, but we also are seeing it in sedans and economy cars, where they all look almost identical. Even sports cars are drifting towards a common shape. Everything is taking on that “melted crayon” look.

    Incidentally, I spotted the coefficient of drag of the regular X5 somewhere online recently. It was very low. Around 0.27. That’s the same or better than most sports cars of a decade ago.

    With all this focus from the government on fuel economy numbers, lots of premature technologies and designs are creeping into the cars. One of the biggest, with the least bang for the buck, is the engine start-stop technology, which most recent BMWs have (including this one). There are no formally quoted numbers on how much improvement you will gain by leaving the system active, but informally, from what I’ve observed myself as well as what others have seen on the internet in their experience, you’ll gain perhaps 1mpg improvement if you do a lot of stop-and-go driving. So essentially, on a 22 gallon tank, you’ll gain an additional 22 miles or so, or basically you’ll save one gallon. You’ll save progressively less the more highway and less city driving you do on that tank. One must ask, though, at what cost? If you can afford this car, you can afford another $3 for an additional gallon of gas, and you won’t notice an additional 22 miles of range. It serves no real purpose on a case by case basis for the owner to get this incremental improvement.

    So one thing I came across in my wanderings, related to this, is the so-called “BMW N63 Customer Care Package” which is a recall on the 4.4L twin-turbo V8s up to about 2013 year of manufacture, but they aren’t calling it a recall because recalls are not good words in the car biz.


    Turns out that many newer BMWs don’t have alternators to recharge their batteries. Too much parasitic drain on the engine. So instead they use things like braking to recharge the batteries, sort of like how hybrids do that, and will use the same tech when you are “coasting” downhill. This is undoubtedly a much more complex and expensive technology than the alternator yet provides miniscule advantages in efficiency. Add to this the fact that us Americans don’t do a lot of coasting or long braking and the batteries were not getting topped off. Also, add to this the constant start-stop system use to save a little gasoline but that is hell on batteries and you get dead batteries left and right. And the start-stop system requires a much more expensive, and heavier-duty, starter motor not to mention the wear and tear on the engine from constantly stopping and starting.

    Now, consider the fact that had car companies been permitted to develop the technology at a normal, market-driven pace rather than an unrealistic government-mandated pace, we would still eventually have seen fuel saving technologies, only they’d be more effective, less expensive, and more reliable. But no, Big Brother knows best.

    I’m predicting that this is but one example of what we will likely start to see as widespread failures in new fuel-saving tech that will not make the news and will be swept under the rug because it doesn’t fit with the approved narrative.

  2. “so as many as eight times in sequence” – but an 8 speed trans will only shift 7 times. Minor nitpick.

  3. My boss says his wife is having transmission issues with her Passport. I said, “Have I got the car for you!”

    • Just kidding. He sold his Miata because the wife wouldn’t let him take their (9yo) son anywhere in it. A few years ago he had a Z3 M. Now his dd is a plug-in Prius. Works out well for his current situation/location, NoVA commuting to Gaithersburg, MD.

  4. So you’re saying this SUV can probably idle it’s way to 30 mph faster than a Prius can accelerate to the same speed?

    • Hi Chip,


      By 2,500 RPM, the M’s engine is making more hp and torque than probably two-thirds of the cars on the road.

      • Admit it. You drove this SUV cackling with glee the whole time. Well, maybe not during the gas station visits. But otherwise?

  5. I got stuck behind one of these (likely an older model) coming out of Aspen last week. Something with that much oomph and stealth and the driver was running it 5 MPH under the posted limit. such a waste. Almost felt bad passing her in an F-150.

    Hey Eric, who scratched the hood on the tester?

    • Hi Eric,

      Isn’t it bizarre that some people will buy a vehicle like this and then drive it like a Prius with a weak battery pack?

      I keen like C Low Green… whhhhhhy?

  6. Not to change the subject cause I haven’t looked for an article but did anyone see Honda’s announcement of awaiting the FAA approval of their new 7 person $4.5M personal jet? Built in NC. We must be on the cusp of the Jetsons…….even though everyone but the top 10% is broker than a stepped on cookie.

  7. What a dirty joke to pull on a tuned Cyclone. And that guy with the 1200 hp twin turbo ‘Vette with DD 16 torque would be ruining a perfectly good set of rear tires watching this thing disappear.

    What year was that Olds made the little AWD

    SUV with the Turbo’d V-6? And what if that turbo ”Vette V-8 was stuck in it. Cars like this make my blood boil……and I can get one inspected in Tx. too. …..and it’s legal to run that hungous amount of power in that karman Ghia a buddy of mine has.

      • It was a great write-up. Woulda been better if the car had looked as good as its performance. Had to go to the city today, time for a new lawnmower….and they look the same too. But all the SUV’s and crossovers I saw were one in the same, ugly suckers every one.

        Mang, can’t any manufacturer break out of current mold? Well, except Lincoln and they simply broke the mold, maybe heated it up a bit and threw some old lines at it.

        Think I’ll start looking for either a ’67(one style) or ’68(completely other style) ‘Vette. Like JC said, “you’ll know it’s me when I come through your town”.

        • Hi Eight,

          The various federal requirements have imposed a sort-of design template that’s homogenized the appearance of vehicles. It’s not in your head that they all look just the same. They do look just the same – with a different grille here and a different headlight shape there.

          “Crossover” is the new “in” thing, too.

          Minivans are most definitely out – and so are truck-based SUVs.

          Sport sedans and sports cars, too – methinks.

  8. Hi Gents, funny timing. I just picked up the more useless version of this, the X6M. 😉 I’m a manual tranny, sports car kind of guy but this thing is a monster. I cut the exhaust out(mufflers) and went with 3 inch straight pipe and saved about 60 pounds and it sounds great. The turbo’s are nestled in between the “v’s” of the engine and suck up lots of otherwise great noise so this mod really helps. It’s almost as quick as my modded TTRS but it’s more friendly to use. BMW really stepped up it’s interior in this generation as well. I went with BLK/Red full leather interior. The tranny is an 8-spd but BMW tried to make it feel like a DCT which it partially gets right. AWD is cheating for making fast cars these days. 🙂 This thing is a keeper!


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