The 2023 BMW XM is good to drive, but a confusing proposition

The 2023 BMW XM Is Nice to Drive, But Confusing Brian Silvestro

From a certain perspective, the 2023 BMW XM it’s the most important M car in over 40 years. It is M’s only vehicle, except the M1 mid-engine, not to be based on a more pedestrian offer from BMW. The XM is also the first M car to incorporate hybrid technology into its drivetrain. It’s a purebred performance machine, through and through… at least that’s what BMW would have you believe.

The reality is a little different. With a declared weight of 6,026 pounds, the XM’s speed and lateral grip could never match true super SUVs like the Porsche Cayenne GT. Rather, the M SUV proves itself to be the flagship of flagships in different ways.

The interior is a step up from every modern BMW I’ve driven, including the high-end Alpina models. The first thing you see is the playful headliner that BMW describes as a “three-dimensional prism structure”. Alcantara-covered backlit fabric covers the entire length of the roof. Further down, you’re greeted by two-tone vintage leather upholstery that, at least in the case of my test car, was a striking color combination of Deep Lagoon and Coffee. The front seats look great and feel amazing, with a standard massage function and plenty of adjustability. There’s also a giant curved screen on the dash that encapsulates a cluster of digital gauges and the infotainment screen. Chic.

2023 bmw xm

Brian Silvestro

The XM is even more fascinating from the rear. This thing has the exact same wheelbase as the X7, but comes without a third row. That means engineers could give rear occupants an attractive place to spend time. BMW calls the rear seats the “M Lounge”, but instead of putting a few heavy seats like in the M5 CS, the designers took an entirely different approach. The backseat feels more like a couch, with little to no bolstering and acres of soft leather. You sit back, tucked north of the XM’s D-pillar. This makes for an extremely stylish experience, although seat adjustments, massage functions and seat ventilation are noticeably lacking. Another disappointment: some of the dashboard’s interior parts, including sections of the dash, steering wheel and a handful of climate control knobs, appear to be parts bin items lifted straight from the much cheaper M2 – something I wasn’t expecting in a vehicle that starts at $159,995.

The hybrid drivetrain makes that price a little easier to swallow. Up front you’ll find the latest version of BMW’s 4.4-liter V-8, internally dubbed the S68 if you’re interested in BMW codes. It uses two twin-scroll turbos and a host of other improvements for cooling and lubrication to produce 483 hp on its own. Sandwiched between it and the eight-speed ZF automatic is BMW’s fifth-generation electric motor, with a maximum capacity of 194 hp. Combined, BMW says the powertrain produces 644 hp at 5400 rpm and 590 lb-ft of torque between 1600 and 5000 rpm.

As with most M cars, the XM’s power feels understated. If I had to guess, this thing is getting close to 700 horsepower at the crank. Put the drive mode on its most aggressive setting and torque kicks in instantly, the electric motor filling as the turbos idle. The XM looks at least as fast in a straight line as a M3, no small feat considering the XM weighs a ton more. BMW claims a 0-60 time of 4.1 seconds, but mid-to-high 3s feels more realistic. Top speed is electronically limited to 155mph, which arrives quickly and doesn’t require a lot of space to reach. Opt for the M Driver package and that speed jumps to a slightly more thrilling 168mph.

Thankfully, the XM’s pure electric mode is more than just a gimmick. The 29.5 kWh battery cluster sits on the ground and contains enough power to provide around 30 miles of all-electric range. The e-motor turns through the transmission, which sends power to all four wheels. Strangely, you can feel the car rowing through each gear while accelerating in electric mode. It’s a funny feeling. And it’s not like the XM is fully neutralized when the engine is off; it can still accelerate well enough to keep up with traffic in a busy urban environment. BMW says top speed in electric mode is 87 mph.

2023 bmw xm

Brian Silvestro

BMW SUVs with the M badge tend to have that always-on, out-of-the-box attitude. The steering is immediate and crisp, the suspension is teachable, and the brakes feel like they’re capable of stopping a planet in the microsecond you press the pedal. The XM is O M SUV, so expected more of the same. Not so. This leviathan of a vehicle feels refreshingly non-M with its inputs, and for this application I think that’s a good thing. The steering isn’t hyperactive, but smooth and progressive, although the feel is absent. The brakes are also not tuned to bite the rotors if you breathe on them. The pedal has a long stroke and takes considerable effort to slow the XM down. In some ways, this thing drives more like an Alpina than an M car.

The tour is the exception. BMW opted to stick with traditional coil springs over the air ride, giving the XM a wired road feel. I wouldn’t say it’s uncomfortable, but it’s not particularly pleasant, unless the tarmac is ultra-smooth, with more bumps than you might expect entering the experience. This helps make the XM impressive on twisty sections of road, especially when you mix the standard four-wheel steering and 48-volt active sway bars. With the right driver, this behemoth can keep up with most sports cars.

2023 bmw xm

Brian Silvestro

But the XM is an SUV with an ultra-luxurious interior that the vast majority of buyers will never really rush down a back road. So why make it so rigid? It’s an odd juxtaposition, considering the XM’s main competitors like the Bentley Bentayga and Mercedes G-Class aren’t quite as tough on broken asphalt. There’s certainly a better way to the XM’s ride to make it more attractive to live with. A spokesperson later explained to me that the XM is BMW’s interpretation of what the ultimate SUV should be, rather than a copy of anything else currently on the market. With that thought process, it starts to make a little sense. After all, this is still an M car, so it should feel at least a little bit like one when you corner.

I’m not going to sit here and trash the XM’s appearance. It’s different, interesting and daring. It’s nearly impossible to get a sleek SUV into production with today’s safety regulations, so BMW has written something that stands out. The obnoxious front end does its best to convince you that yes, this is a BMW and it is angry. The optional gold trim, which wraps around the kidney grilles and runs the length of both sides, is swanky and fun. Those 23-inch chrome wheels are standard. The rear end is concept-like in its departure from your average BMW, with three-dimensional taillights, vertically stacked quad exhaust pipes, and no trunk-centered badging (there are two roundels in the rear window on each top edge, a nod to the placement of the M1’s dual emblem).

You can opt for the cool paint job and gold accents, and BMW even offers smaller 22-inch wheels as a free option. But what’s the point? Like every other vehicle in this segment, the XM was created to make a statement. Choosing a stealthy spec dampens the excitement – the opposite of what buyers want, we bet.

2023 bmw xm

Brian Silvestro

While the XM is certainly capable and generally enjoyable to drive, its approach is confusing at times. It might look special, but it also feels like a committee car made to check a bunch of predetermined boxes rather than something designed by one person’s vision. There is no standout fantastic aspect of XM, no revolutionary thing to pique the public’s interest. And it doesn’t lean enough towards being sporty or luxurious to be classified one way or another. This makes the sale difficult, especially when the target buyer is buying influence. And the pointlessly stiff ride and a selection of parts cabin compromises do the XM no favors, considering it’s approaching Bentley levels of expensive.

That said, I don’t think BMW will have a problem selling every XM it makes. The modern styling and spacious backseat feel like it was tailor-made for buyers who want to be a little different. And there will always be a steady stream of people who don’t want to blend in with the G-Wagen crowd. Keep production low to up the uniqueness factor and the XM will undoubtedly be a hit. But for my money, you’ll get me on a G63.

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