BMW X5M: Proof the Germans Have a Sense of Humor


Germany has a reputation for not having a sense of humor. That’s an unfair judgement. There is a sense of humor there, but it is very dry. Not British dry, but saltine cracker dry. Death Valley dry. Leslie Nielsen dry. “Oh god, that’s not real, right?” dry. When you combine that tongue parching humor with the legendary technical prowess, you get some fairly interesting results. The BMW X5M is a prime example of that. There is no reason to have a vehicle this size, with this propensity for speed. No reason, yet every reason.


The X5M could not come from any other nation. It is a car of hilarious oxymorons. Luxury SUV in and of itself is an odd juxtaposition. We are used to it now, but it is still a contradictory concept. Then once you have that combination, make it a sport luxury SUV, with a 567 horsepower twin turbocharged V8. Because you deserve it and obeying the laws of physics is for peasants.

This level of performance in that type of suburbanite package is a bit jarring. It is unexpected, every single time. Not physically jarring, but mentally. Every sensory input you have tells your brain that you’re in a comfortable mall crawler. You can just turn on the seat heaters, crank up the Bang & Olufsen stereo, blare some 80’s jams, and then annoy some Corvettes. Just roll into the throttle, and watch the speed climb on the HUD.


The power is expected, yet unexpected at the same time. You’ve seen the spec sheet. You’ve read the numbers. But the numbers don’t tell the story. It comes on utterly without drama. Some cars under full throttle feel like they are right on that edge. They squat under acceleration, the back end squirms around hunting for grip, the exhaust howls, and you try to keep it out of the ditch. The X5M does none of those things.

There is no drama. No muss, no fuss. Without looking at the instruments, there is very little in the sensation of speed. I would regularly glance down, and be startled at the speed we were carrying along narrow, winding country lanes. Eventually, you have to lift. Not because you’re out of power, but because you’re out of space. Because that’s when you need to ease up. When you’re out of room, or you’re verging on “arrest me now” limits. So then you need to haul that big girl down.


That was the first time I got nervous. The X5M is not a light car. You sit very high, and you suddenly remember that you are hurtling towards a ninety degree corner at high speed, while hauling 5,300 pounds along with you. When you see the skid marks some other poor sap left where they locked up the brakes and overshot into the field, it’s time to get serious. Sure, it pulls in a straight line, but it’s got to tip and roll whenever anything is less than runway perfect. Right?

Not really. The BMW corners and brakes better than something that size should. Of course, it never feels as nimble or precise as a 911, but that is not the point. They have different purposes. The X5M is built to be first and foremost a comfortable everyday driver, that then has absurd performance capabilities. Because of that, even in sport mode, the inputs are a bit soft. So you give up a bit of precision in handling gain a bit of compliance for commuting.


The X5M is capable in the bends, but is never the most communicative. While the mammoth tires provide an impressive amount of lateral grip, and the suspension tames any body roll, there is never a lot of feedback. So the machine is capable, but not necessarily the most confidence inspiring. The chassis is better than it lets on. You eventually just learn to trust in the engineering. Your brain says you’re going to slide, and fall over, and roll, and then catch fire. But then it stays flat and smooth. I’m not entirely sure how. I assume it’s some manner of Teutonic Sorcery.

But complaining about the lack of feedback in your luxury SUV is unbelievably pretentious. Oh, you want to have heated and cooled seats, premium sound, enough room to haul you and your 3.75 kids and their 84 cubic meters of crap, full leather, all wheel drive, run the quarter mile in the 12 second range, get roughly 20mpg on the highway, AND be racecar sharp in the corners? Does it also need to fetch you a warm towel and finish you off? I mean, the Germans are good, but there is a limit. Stop fretting about that stuff. If you want directness, they’ll sell you an M5. I promise. They’ve got them. Same basic engine, smaller vehicle. Small one corner good. Big one carry things. Pick one.


The joy of the X5M is the unassuming package. Yes, there is some sporty body cladding that the base X5 doesn’t get, but at the end of the day, it’s a full size SUV. Even when people see the badging, they underestimate the speed. Sure, a degree of competence is assumed when you see the kidney grills, but the sheer power is a surprise every time. So put some baby seats in it, crank up the Katy Perry, and go hustle some Mustangs. It is hilarious every time.

  1. When the original X5 came out I went to a BMW event promoting it. There was a lot of scepticism in 1999 that an SUV could handle and go around corners without going all Suzuki Samurai. They demonstrated it to us against a Lexus and Mercedes equipped with those outriggers they put on the Suzuki Samurai. They used, them, too, but the X5 did fine. BMW even provided a radar display to prove they weren’t sandbagging the X5.

    Then they divided us into teams for an autocross relay race. They put us in the driver’s seat and encouraged us to drive as fast as we could. It didn’t feel like the Jeep Cherokee I learned to drive in. It felt like a tall E39 wagon. This was revolutionary for a “truck” back then.

    And this was long before the X5M. Of course, they couldn’t call it the MX5 because a certain little roadster already had that name.

  2. If I could take back two of my nearly 30 vehicles, it would be the NSX and my ’01 X5 4.4i. A first generation X5 4.8i with the 8-Speed ZF transmission would be so good.

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