2023 BMW XM Prototype First Drive: An M-Exclusive SUV

BMW’s been leaving money on the table. As the world’s filthy rich get filthy richer and seek to flaunt their filthy richness in high-riding status symbols, the BMW Group is shut out. Sure, the BMW X5 M and X6 M are fast and flashy, but those models top out in the bottom half of the $100K range, and if the valet can easily afford a used six-cylinder or diesel version of your car, it’s not getting parked up front. The XM aims to fill that rich green space between today’s top X utes and the mesospheric Rolls-Royce Cullinan—while serving as a 50th birthday present for BMW M.

The striking XM concept first shown in 2021 at Art Basel in Miami Beach, Florida, featured a hybrid powertrain rated at 750 hp and 738 lb-ft of torque, but the very early prototype XM we were invited to drive in Austria was rated at 644 hp and 590 lb-ft. Fear not, we were told, there will be two variants, the top of which could potentially wear the Competition moniker. Then again, maybe not …

The design brief for the XM was to make it drive better than the AMG G63 and be more comfortable than the Lamborghini Urus. That’s because its top three global markets will be North America, China, and the Middle East, which explains the M Lounge rear seat that will largely translate to production. All that comfort adds too much weight to make the XM a practical track rat. Rather, it’s configured to serve as the ideal rig for towing a proper race car to the track. This makes the “Competition” label an uncomfortable fit, so maybe CSL gets repurposed to mean coupe(like)/sport/luxury?

Will the XM Share Its Platform With the iX M60?

Being built upon the CLAR architecture, it’s designed to be assembled alongside its X3 through X7 stablemates at the Spartanburg, South Carolina, assembly plant, with a steel unibody and aluminum doors, hood, and hatch. The iX rides on a bespoke aluminum spaceframe topped by a multi-material monocoque, but it’s also designed to be produced alongside CLAR products in Dingolfing, Germany, so the two may indeed share some key hard points and suspension bits.

All XMs will get the latest S68-generation 4.4-liter twin-turbo V-8, paired with an electric motor mounted where the torque converter would otherwise go in a ZF eight-speed automatic (as in the 530e hybrid). The XM’s electric motor is not related to the new iX’s motors, which swap permanent magnets for a brushed electromagnet in the rotor. We expect it will share a lot with the 530e’s permanent-magnet machine, as simply bolting the engine from the 760i to the motor from the 530e should achieve output numbers in the ballpark of the lower-spec setup. And we’d bet that simply turning up the wick on the 4.4-liter so it matches the power density of the 4.0-liter Urus engine will achieve the higher output figures.

BMW is not yet saying how big the XM’s battery is, but it’s good for 48 miles of electric driving on the WLTP cycle, or an estimated 30 EPA-rated miles. A similarly zaftig Bentley Bentayga Hybrid’s 17.3-kWh battery takes it 18 miles, so the BMW’s is likely larger than that to deliver 30 miles.

Front-to-rear torque is delivered mechanically using the typical BMW system. There’s no torque vectoring, but there is an electronically controlled limited-slip differential in the rear. Front/rear torque-distribution strategy is programmable, as in other M products, except there is no forced rear-wheel-drive mode as in the M5 (though we’re assured drifting is possible even with some drive to the front wheels). BMW makes no pretense of any rock-crawling abilities, though there is a sand mode optimized for dune running.

Steel Springs, Not Air

What? How can steel springs achieve the XM’s lofty comfort targets? By judiciously integrating them with adaptive dampers and 48-volt hydraulic anti-roll bars front and rear. Air springs would struggle to achieve the XM’s dynamic performance targets because they can’t currently alter their pressure dynamically enough to achieve the progressiveness of steel springs. This causes air springs to “float” more over whoops and dips in the road. Having active anti-roll bars to manage body lean and very fast-acting adaptive dampers to manage impact harshness and control rebound allows the springs to be softened enough to meet the comfort target. Rear-wheel steering of up to 7 degrees (a first for a BMW X) also helps make this long-wheelbase vehicle feel more agile. XM-unique steel brakes include 20-inch rotors and six-piston calipers in front and 19-inch and four-piston pieces in back. The calipers can be ordered in blue, red, or black and framed by a choice of 22- or 23-inch wheels wrapped in performance Pirelli P Zero rubber.

Why XM, Sans Number?

Mercedes offers several AMG-exclusive products, and they sell at greater profit margins than those sharing bodywork with a Benz variant, and to date BMW’s only M-exclusive model was the E26 M1 supercar, of which only 453 were produced between 1978 and 1981. So the XM won’t share any panels with any other vehicle. Calling it X7 M or X8 M, as we’d predicted, risked making buyers think it did, so XM it is (after coming to an agreement with Citroën, who last used that moniker in 2000).

This is a big vehicle, but like most in its competitive set, driving shrinks it. With all the traditional M variable settings cranked to max sport, the acceleration feels impressive, attended as it is by sharp shifts and a blend of real and synthetic sounds (all the lift-throttle burbles and pops come from speakers in the cargo area). It feels G63 quick; the 750-horse model will take on the Lambo Uruses and Bentley Bentayga Speeds of the world. With electric torque filling any momentary turbo lag, throttle response is impressive at any speed. Of course, in pure electric mode, this is a big, luxurious golf cart that will accelerate up to highway speeds in relative silence (but for some electric propulsion sounds curated by Oscar-winning sound man Hans Zimmer), unless you depress the kick-down switch. This summons full V-8 thrust.

Can it outhandle a G63 and dice with an Urus, dynamically? After a 40-minute ride on damp alpine two-lane roads, the answers are yes and maybe. The combination of responsive low-profile tires, firm bushings, and quick-reacting active roll control means there’s so little slop in the steering there’s no need for a hyperquick ratio that can leave some vehicles feeling darty. Quick reactions and minimal roll greatly reduce the impression of size and heft, as well. The brakes are not by-wire, as on so many other CLAR vehicles, which lends them a refreshing directness, and you’re never aware of the handoff from regenerative to friction braking. And on what passes for uneven tarmac in this meticulously maintained country, the ride felt far more supple and compliant than on any Lamborghini or even most other M-tuned X products.

What Is the BMW XM’s Price and On-Sale Date?

The official press introduction and drive event isn’t until September, with sales beginning in March 2023, so no pricing or other spec details are available yet. When we gaze into our crystal balls, we see BMW aiming somewhere right between the Mercedes-AMG G63 ($157,500) and the similar but far less powerful Bentley Bentayga Hybrid ($162,725), with the even more exclusive 750-hp variant reaching for the middle ground between Aston Martin’s DBX ($179,986) and the Lambo and the Bentayga S (both at $220K and change).

Will the Ballers Go For an XM?

We’re told that under all this cladding, the XM faithfully translates the undeniably interesting, angular, and fashion-forward concept’s look inside and out, adopting the new 7 Series’ front lighting signature and few other simplifications. The interior will get exclusive touches, jewelry not yet present in this prototype. The unique looks, promised exclusivity, and uniquely American-BMW blend of space, towing capacity, performance, hybrid frugality, and ride comfort will make the XM as attractive to loaded Yank influencers as it is baffling and confounding to German enthusiasts.

*estimated

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