BMW's X5 M is astonishingly fun to drive for a while. There's ludicrous thrust from the twin-turbo 4.4-liter V-8 and ample stopping power from the 15.6-inch front and 15.2-inch rear brakes. But after a few blasts up to triple digits and the resulting braking to get back to legal speeds, I tire of the X5 M. In an era of 40-mpg advertising and public disapproval of SUV ownership, the "big engine in a big vehicle" thing feels archaic to me. I certainly don't think all SUVs need to go away, just the ones that have go-fast pretensions. In fact, I'm a huge proponent of SUVs, but as far as I'm concerned, anyone who needs an SUV for SUV tasks will be better off with an SUV that can tow trailers and do moderate off-roading excursions, and just deal with the average to slow acceleration. Want to go fast? Then get a sports car or sport sedan.
But if you really are dead-set on getting a go-fast SUV, you would be wise to examine the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 before purchasing a BMW X5 M. The Jeep is about half the price and it doesn't give up a whole lot in terms of performance. If you'd rather have refinement, the Porsche Cayenne Turbo would get my vote.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
The X5 M falls in a middle ground between its competitors - it is cold and clinical when compared with the Porsche Cayenne Turbo (although it's cheaper), and it feels slow and heavy next to the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 (although it wears a more prestigious badge). Those customers who are willing to shell out 100 grand or more for an SUV will generally be those who are also brand conscious, making the X5 M a winner over the Jeep but not over the highly regarded Porsche. The all-out power might be there in the X5 M - although it's stifled by the weight, as Floraday says - but it is not the same kind of intoxicating thrust or aural delight that other BMW M vehicles have. For V-8 power in a big BMW, why not just settle for the 400 hp from the 4.4-liter twin-turbocharged V-8 X5 xDrive50i? That vehicle is more than 20 grand cheaper, to boot. For an all-out performance SUV, look to the Porsche or the Jeep.
Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor
I rolled into the parking lot of a local specialty grocery store where I was meeting an old friend who went to graduate school in Ann Arbor but who now lives in San Francisco, where he is a psychiatrist. This is a man who grew up in a family with German cars, whose mother always had a white Mercedes in the garage. He himself currently has a Volkswagen Jetta TDI wagon, which he got to replace a BMW 3-series sedan because he has dogs to haul around. So, this is a man who knows, likes, and appreciates German cars. He got out of his Malibu rental and the first words out of his mouth, uttered in an incredulous but bemused tone, were, "Did BMW really need to make an M version of the X5?"
It's a pertinent question. I used to think that the X5 M made more sense than the X6 M, because at least the X5 M has a fair measure of utility to it. But now I think that perhaps the coupe-like X6 M indeed makes more sense, since it's a deliberately sport-oriented, niche crossover, a vehicle that's already kind of over the top, so what's a little M treatment and a 555-hp V-8 gonna matter? I guess you could argue it both ways. There's clearly a market for the X5 M or BMW wouldn't make it and sell it. There's just something highly amusing about an SUV with staggered tires: Bridgestone Dueler HP Sport 275/40R20 in front, wider 315/35R20 at the rear. They speak to just how excessive this thing really is.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
The BMW X5 M is a luxurious SUV with a heroic 555-hp, twin-turbocharged V-8 engine. So why don't I love it? Although the X5 is very, very fast and makes fantastic noises (including a loud whomp sound when the transmission shifts), it's not really that much fun. Watching the speedometer climb in the X5 M isn't as exciting to me as doing so in a true sports car or sport sedan. By my definition, sports cars thrill the driver at every opportunity, whereas this BMW simply goes fast without really getting my pulse racing.
That's not to knock the X5 M: if you want a high-performance SUV, this BMW is certainly a good choice. For my money, though, I'd go for the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8. The Jeep is pretty much as quick as the BMW, but has more attitude and looks much better -- for half the price.
Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor
The BMW X5M is the car for the person who has everything. I mean, really, why would anyone buy a 555-hp SUV that can reach 60 mph in less than five seconds and gets 12 mpg in the city, other than because they're bored with the rest of their fleet? Of course, vehicle purchases are often made on emotion rather than a sober analysis of value, fuel economy, and performance, and I don't discount the fact that the X5M is a crazy fast vehicle that can be a real blast to drive. I personally would never buy an X5M, mostly because I don't have $100,000 to spare for what is a very niche vehicle. But if you have more money than you know what to do with and you want an SUV that is capable of giving you thrills, by all means go for the X5M.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
With more power on tap than most people know how to handle, the X5 M has always been a ludicrous vehicle - but it's harder now than ever to actually rationalize the purchase of one.
Why? Because of a new Jeep.
Had Jeep not pursued a second iteration of the Grand Cherokee SRT8, the X5 M would likely be one of the cheapest performance sport-utes on the market. After all, the 2011 Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG started at close to $92,600, while the Porsche Cayenne Turbo costs more than $107,000. The Jeep, in contrast, comes in at $60,960.
That's still a princely sum, but it's also better bang for the buck. Is the X5 M faster than the Grand Cherokee? More powerful than the SRT8? Yes. But $40,000 faster? Hardly. It also fails to blow it out of the water in terms of refinement - the BMW's interior materials may be a little nicer in a few areas, but the X5 M lacks the day-in, day-out civility of the SRT8. Its ride is forever stiff and unforgiving, while the Jeep's adaptive dampers help soften the blows issued by broken pavement.
I'm still unsure if most X5 M buyers will cross-shop a Jeep before bringing home a BMW. But I certainly hope the folks at M GmBH choose to benchmark the SRT8 if they decide to update the X5 M in the years to come.
Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor
Like most of its competitors in the high-performance-SUV category, the BMW X5 M exhibits speed and handling characteristics that seem to break the laws of physics. Although breaking these laws won't result in jail time, the X5 M makes you pay for defying them; the most significant sacrifice being its completely unforgiving ride. It's so tightly sprung that rough and even not-so-rough terrain is transmitted, often violently, to your backside and fingertips. In an effort to avoid rush-hour traffic, I turned the X5 M down a dirt road that in most vehicles feels nearly as smooth as pavement. Big mistake. After hitting a minor divot at 30 mph that shook the X5 like a grenade exploding underneath the car, I slowed to a crawl until I reached cement. While high-powered SUVs like the Range Rover Sport and the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 do a decent job of playing the roles of both a sports car and an SUV, the X5 M is all sports car. If you are willing to accept the X5 M's numerous shortcomings, though, it can be quite rewarding.
Jennifer Misaros, Managing Editor, Digital Platforms