Having practically invented the high-performance variant with the original M5, BMW will happily sell you an M version of almost all of its models. For quite a few years, the M badge constituted only the highest level of each model. However, you can now also find M performance variants that slot underneath the full-blown M models. Why let a good exercise in branding go to waste, right?
While the full M model is undeniably faster, it’s also a lot more expensive. All this time, though, I’ve been wondering if this extra cost is really worth it — especially since most of the added performance is hard to exploit outside a racetrack. As if they were reading my thoughts, BMW placed both an X5 M50i and an X5 M Competition in my local press fleet. Both cars even arrived wearing the same color: Tanzanite Blue Metallic. Driven back to back, would the X5 M prove that it’s worth the extra coin?
For any of you who think this pointless, as the X5 is a crossover first and not a sports sedan or coupe, let me offer two points.
While being a crossover, the X5 drives far better than you might think. If you haven’t driven one recently, you should. Even the base model X5 xDrive40i will hit 60 mph in just over five seconds flat. It can more than hold its own on a windy road. BMW also now sells more crossovers than sedans, and even the M models are now almost evenly split. While some might say this is a sad state of affairs, this is simply how the market is going.
BMW X5 M50i: A surprisingly fast and comfortable people mover
The X5 M50i arrived a few days before the X5 M, so I drove that first. The first time I floored the gas pedal, I thought perhaps there had been a mix-up. You see, although it’s down almost 100 horsepower on the X5 M Competition, the 523 horsepower M50i makes an identical 553 lb-ft of torque. Both share essentially the same 4.4-liter V8. Mainly, BMW just tunes the one in the M50i more conservatively. As in most BMWs, ZF’s superb eight-speed automatic handles both cars’ shifting duties.
Acceleration is stunningly fast for a vehicle this hefty. Car and Driver clocked one doing 0-60 in under four seconds, which is faster than an M2, despite it’s 5,260 pound curb weight. That engine sounds fantastic, encouraging you to stab the throttle whenever the opportunity presents itself. The xDrive AWD system also makes it easy to put the power down, as even flooring it mid-corner doesn’t provide much drama.
Once you get used to the upright, almost truck-like seating position, it doesn’t take much time to discover that the M50i is also very capable at attacking corners. Dial up the firmest setting for the adaptive M suspension, and the shocks provide a suitably stiff, but not punishing ride. Optional 22-inch rims shod with Pirelli P Zero summer tires deliver plenty of grip. Again surprising for a car this massive, there’s hardly any body roll. Our test car came equipped with the Dynamic Handling package, which gives you active roll stabilization, something that all larger vehicles with a high center of gravity should have.
Only when pushed hard in tighter turns does the M50i start to understeer, with the front tires squealing in protest. But this is going at a speed that well exceeds what most drivers will attempt, and would easily equal that of a smaller sports sedan. I recently drove the new BMW M235i Gran Coupe over the same roads, and I wasn’t taking the corners any faster.
Even without the full M treatment, the X5 M50i is very much a high-performance vehicle, with limits that many owners will never fully explore. But what makes this car special is that when you dial everything back, it turns into a comfortable and luxurious crossover that also excels at such mundane tasks as doing the Costco run or taking the family to the park.
In comfort mode, the suspension is downright plush. And even though there’s a howitzer of an engine lurking under the hood, throttle response isn’t twitchy, and shifts are nice and smooth.
Perhaps the only disappointment is that none of this comes cheap. The M50i starts at $82,150, but our test car featured almost $15,000 in options. A base xDrive40i already offers a lot of performance and can be had for a bit over $60,000. Even at $97,195 with included options, the X5 M50i provides an impressive performance level for the money.
BMW X5 M Competition: Pay-to-play performance
After spending a few days in the X5 M50i, I was skeptical how much farther the X5 M could crank up the performance dial. All it took was a few minutes behind the wheel to realize this is an entirely different animal.
For starters, even in the default comfort setting, the suspension is anything but. Select Sport or Sport Plus mode, and it becomes downright harsh. When driving casually around town, you feel like you are in a car designed for track duty. Unlike the M50i, the X5 M makes no attempt at being a luxury cruiser, no matter what drive mode you have it in.
Speaking of drive modes, managing all the various settings in the X5 M is an almost daunting task. Luckily, like other M cars, the X5 M features M1 and M2 customization buttons on the steering wheel that allows you to program two custom modes. Personalizing the setup makes it easy to keep the suspension in the softer comfort setting while putting the engine, steering, and brakes in Sport or Sport Plus.
The X5 M has the same 600 horsepower version of the 4.4-liter V8 as the (non-Competition) M5 and M8. And like those cars, you can add the $9,000 M Competition package to add another 17 ponies. Torque remains 553 lb-ft for both. Our test car came with the extra ponies, making it one of the most powerful SUVs you can buy.
Although the X5 M Competition is only a few ticks faster to 60 than the already quick M50i, the engine feels a lot more potent, especially higher up in the RPM range. One of my favorite test roads is a twisty 7-mile climb up a consistent 7% grade. The X5 M was noticeably quicker accelerating out of corners on this grueling climb due to its superior power to weight.
This same road has exceptionally smooth pavement, and this is where the X5 M’s stiff suspension pays dividends. I’ve driven some fast sports cars up this hill, and I do not doubt that the X5 M could keep up with most of them.
With the shocks in the firmest setting, body roll disappears. Call up the 4WD Sport setting, which directs more power to the rear wheels and relaxes the stability control, and you can also say goodbye to understeer. The huge Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires seem to be immune to losing traction, as I could hardly get them to make a peep.
Obviously, this is still a sizable crossover weighing over 5,000 pounds, has a relatively high center of gravity, and not so nimble in any sense. However, the X5 M almost defies physics with how hard it can corner. Anything less than glass-smooth pavement and you need to leave the shocks in their softest setting or risk losing a kidney, but on the right road, the X5 M is brilliantly fast.
Verdict: For most drivers, the X5 M50i is plenty
With the M Competition package, the 2020 BMW X5 M starts at a lofty $114,100. Our test car featured another $14,000 in largely unnecessary options, but any way you cut it, you’re going to spend around $30k more for the full M treatment.
On the one hand, this hardly seems worth it, given the already impressive performance that the X5 M50i delivers. On the other hand, you’re getting performance that rivals the Porsche Cayenne Turbo S and Lamborghini Urus, both of which cost substantially more.
The main problem with the X5 M is it just doesn’t know how to relax. It’s always ready to attack the next apex, even if all you want to do is go for a mellow cruise. For me, the X5 M50i hits the sweet spot of high performance combined with everyday driveability. I’d pocket the extra $30,000 and head over to the Mazda dealership to see if there are any deals on Miatas.
Specs: 2020 BMW X5 M50i vs X5 M
|2020 BMW X5 M50i xDrive||2020 BMW X5 M Competition|
|Price As Tested||$97,195||$128,245|
|Engine||4.4L TwinPower Turbo V-8||4.4L BMW M TwinPower Turbo V-8|
|Power (hp)||523 hp @ 5500 – 6000 rpm||617 hp @ 6000 rpm|
|Torque (lb-ft)||553 lb-ft @ 1800-4600 rpm||553 lb-ft @ 1800-5860 rpm|
|Transmission||8-speed Sport automatic||8-speed M Sport automatic|
|EPA Combined||18 mpg||15 mpg|
|Drivetrain Layout||all-wheel drive||all-wheel drive|
|Front: double wishbone
|Front: double wishbone
|Four-wheel disc with ABS||Four-wheel disc with ABS|
|0 – 60 mph||4.1 seconds||3.7 seconds|
|Top speed (electronically limited)||130 mph||155 mph|
|Dimensions (length x width x height)||194.3 / 78.9 / 68.7 inches||194.3 / 78.9 / 68.7 inches|
|Wheelbase||117.1 inches||117.1 inches|
|Ground Clearance||8.3 inches||8.4 inches|
|Departure Angle||21.6 degrees||N/A|
|Breakover Angle||19.1 degrees||N/A|
|1st Row Legroom||39.8 inches||39.8 inches|
|2nd Row Legroom||37.4 inches||37.4 inches|
|Cargo Capacity Behind 2nd row||33.9 cu. ft.||33.9 cu. ft.|
|Max Cargo Capacity (rear seat folded)||72.3 cu. ft.||72.3 cu. ft.|
|Curb Weight||5,260 lbs.||5,425 lbs.|
|Tow capacity w/factory hitch||7,200 lbs.|