The ultra-luxury SUV is a relatively new phenomenon. Lamborghini, Bentley, Aston-Martin, Rolls-Royce, and even Mercedes-Benz have developed offerings that start no lower than $150,000 and can reach $200,000 or even more. Now, BMW is getting into the game with its first standalone BMW M model since the M1 mid-engine supercar of 1978.

The 2023 BMW XM is an ultra-luxury SUV that aims high. With outrageous styling, a powerful plug-in hybrid powertrain, the M-brand’s handling hardware, a cosseting cabin, and a boatload of features, it attempts to do everything for every luxury buyer.

How well does it succeed? I spent a week with the XM to find out.

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BMW XM: An electrified beast

Under the XM’s intricately sculpted hood lurks a twin-turbo 4.4-liter V-8 that can make up to 617 hp in other applications, but here it’s tuned to produce 483 hp and 479 lb-ft of torque. It’s mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission with an integrated 194-hp electric motor that delivers 207 lb-ft of its own. The power flows to all four wheels via a rear-biased all-wheel-drive system, and total system output is 644 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque.

An M Hybrid button on the center console lets drivers pick from Hybrid, Electric, and eControl powertrain modes. Hybrid provides access to full power, while Electric runs only on the 29.3-kwh battery (mounted in the floor), of which 19.2 kwh is usable and provides 31 miles of electric range, according to the EPA. The eControl mode maintains the battery’s state of charge, saving it for when electric power might be especially wanted or needed, such as for city centers with internal-combustion restrictions.

The powertrain doles out lots of power and can vault the XM from 0-60 mph in just 4.1 seconds, but it has some tuning quirks you wouldn’t expect in a BMW, let alone a vehicle that costs well into six figures. The Electric mode’s throttle has an itchy trigger finger, which makes it hard to accelerate smoothly from a stop. Thankfully, it has enough power to get out ahead of traffic and accelerate to highway speed, but it will turn on the engine if you dig too deep into the throttle or exceed 87 mph. On gas, it tops out at 155 mph, or 168 mph with the optional M Driver’s Package.

On two occasions, I was able to keep the engine from turning on until the battery ran out of range after about 30 miles. In between, I charged on a Level 2 home charger, which can refill the battery in 3.3 hours at a rate of 7.4 kw.

The XM’s powertrain has an issue in its highest performance mode as well. When I programmed an M button on the steering wheel (you can set both the M1 and M2 buttons) to run with the drivetrain in Sport Plus and the transmission at its most aggressive D3 setting, I experienced horrible rubber banding—inconsistent surging—through the powertrain when accelerating. Previously, I’d only ever experienced that in a car with an aggressively programmed manual transmission.

I initially programmed the M1 button to also turn on the M Sound, but the low-register synthetic drone it created wore thin after just a few miles and I found myself turning it off. Electric mode is accompanied by a synthetic whirring sound, but it remains mostly in the background and doesn’t annoy. BMW turned to noted film score composer Hans Zimmer for the XM’s soundtrack.

While the XM does let owners drive on electricity, it’s not efficient running on carbon molecules. I went from averaging 93 mpg—in the trip computer’s calculation and not including the cost or impact of electricity generation—after about 25 miles of mostly electric driving down to 20 mpg after 65 miles of driving, the rest split between going hard on country roads and cruising on the freeway. At the end of 250 miles of driving, I averaged a mediocre 22.3 mpg according to the trip computer, including 60 or so miles without drinking a drop of gas. The EPA rates the XM at 73 MPGe when using both the motor and engine, but only 14 mpg when using just the engine.

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BMW XM: A dancing rhino

The XM is a heavyweight. At 201.2 inches long on a 122.2-inch wheelbase, it’s 2.4 inches shorter than the three-row X7 on the same wheelbase. It’s also 6.4 inches longer than the X5, with a 5.2-inch longer wheelbase. It weighs in at a hefty 6,062 pounds, more than some heavy-duty pickups and 600 pounds more than the X5 M. BMW sets the XM 8.7 inches off the ground, too.

And yet the XM has sporty intentions, so BMW employs a lot of technology to wrangle its excessive mass. It rides on a double wishbone front suspension with a five-link independent rear suspension and adaptive dampers at all four corners. While an air suspension isn’t used like it is in the X7, active anti-roll bars front and rear do their yeoman’s best to flatten the ride through corners. Rear-wheel steering that can turn the rear wheels up to 2.5 degrees opposite the fronts at lower speeds to make the beast feel smaller in parking lots; turning the rears with the fronts makes the XM more stable at speed, such as in fast corners or lane changes.

But you can only teach a rhino a few dance moves and it’s not always nimble on its feet. With its off-roader ride height and cruiserweight mass, the XM still leans noticeably in turns. The damper firmness can be adjusted three ways, and the Sport+ setting does the best job of gathering the XM’s weight to send it in the next direction, but that makes the ride busy. I softened the dampers to the Comfort setting for a more tranquil ride. Even at that, though, the ride is merely good, never great, and not close to the X7’s. Firm springs team with the high ride height and chunky 23-inch wheels and tires to transmit bumps into the cabin and create notable head bob for occupants over wavy roads. I’m interested in trying the available 22s to see if they improve the ride quality.

Other programmable M button parameters include the steering weight, brake pedal feel, stability control (which can be turned off), energy recovery, and the all-wheel-drive system. No matter the steering setting, the XM has BMW’s typical quick, light steering feel, so I recommend Sport over Comfort for some useful weight on the freeway.

The brakes have a natural, progressive pedal no matter their setting, and I detected no greater drag whether the Energy Recovery setting was set to Max or Min. Those brakes are massive 16.5-inch front rotors clamped down upon by 6-piston calipers and 15.7-inch rear rotors with single-piston calipers.

The all-wheel-drive settings are 4WD, 4WD Sport, and 4WD Sand. The system always has a rear bias, and 4WD sends even more power to the rear, where it can be apportioned between the wheels via an electronic locking differential. 4WD Sand, which is only available with the stability control shut off, locks the differential for low-traction situations where maintaining speed is a priority. I’d guess the typical XM off-road experience will be on a well-maintained private dirt road at a winery.

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BMW XM: The elephant in the room

The XM’s elephant in the room is its looks. It kind of looks like an elephant in the room.

With the biggest, boldest, most controversial take on the BMW twin-kidney grille to date, the XM sports in-your-face looks. It has a high-set, upright snout set in a darkened fascia like the face of a pug. At night, contour lighting rings the grille to let other drivers know the XM is lurking in their rearview mirrors. From the nose out, the design plays out in a series of sharp angles that makes me think BMW designers styled it in a Minecraft development tool.

It’s part of a recent trend by BMW to be bold and add flourishes that sometimes work and sometimes don’t. My tester came with the optional (and free) NightGold metallic trim that outlines the grille and the tops of the side windows in gold, and sends streaks of gold trim from the rear quarter windows, down the doors, to butt into the front fenders. This trim creates a strange, small pencil-thin mustache below the dark side windows. Sure, you can separate that trim piece from the window trim and then make it gold, but should you?

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BMW XM: Cosseting cabin

The XM’s interior is its greatest strength, but like the exterior it can suffer from excess. It also only seats five in two rows despite its three-row size. The second row comes with a pair of soft pillows and is sculpted better for two than three as the center position has a protruding seatback and a shorter seat bottom.

It’s all built to the highest standards with fine materials, including carbon-fiber trim, pearl-affect chrome on the air vents, Alcantara on the headliner and pillars, and standard leather upholstery. The sheer number of different materials and the diamond design flourishes can overwhelm.

An available Vintage Coffee Merino leather has a natural look, like on a saddle. Other leather options include straight black, an orange and black combination, and a dark blue and coffee brown combo. My tester looked good in Silverstone (gray) and Coffee, but I thought the faceted look of the headliner was over the top, especially with the fiber-optic lighting that rings the headliner to highlight it at night.

BMW also equips the XM well. Standard features include heated and cooled and massaging front seats, heated front armests, a heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, and heated and cooled cupholders. Tech and entertainment features include the eighth generation of BMW’s excellent iDrive infotainment system with a large screen, gesture control, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, wireless smartphone charging, and a Harman Kardon audio system.

The list of standard safety equipment consists of adaptive cruise control, active lane control, automatic emergency braking, a surround-view camera system, front and rear parking sensors with brake support, blind-spot monitors with steering support, adaptive headlights, and a driver-attention monitor.

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BMW XM: Capable but compromised

The BMW XM tries to be all things to all luxury buyers but compromises many of its purported strengths in doing so.

It aims to be fast and powerful, and while it has slightly more power than the X5 M, it’s 0.4 second slower to 60 mph by BMW’s own reckoning. It aims to be efficient with its electric range, but running the engine even half the time will likely result in fuel economy in the 20s and fuel economy drops to 14 mpg, despite the hybrid tech, when running only on gas.

It aims to be sporty, but the XM’s massive size, tall ground clearance, and the outlandish weight created by plug-in hybrid powertrain mean it can’t match BMW real SUV track star: the X5 M. It aims for a smooth ride, but non-M versions of the X5 and X7 are far more forgiving, and none of the BMWs touch the silky smooth ride of a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 7-Series, or even a Range Rover.

The XM also aims to separate buyers from a lot of money, and that it does quite well. Priced at $159,995, the XM is the most expensive BMW on the market, which is appropriate for the first standalone M vehicle in 45 years. However, while the M1 supercar showed the full extent of what BMW could do in terms of performance, the XM shows BMW M can make one vehicle do a lot of things, but not all of them well.

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