Car designers are always seeking to find a balance between features and cost. Sometimes the upgrades can be slipped into the Options category, allowing drivers the chance to upgrade on a per-vehicle basis, and other times they can become a new, higher trim level. In fact, I think the average vehicle nowadays must have five or six trim levels, which can be quite confusing but does allow you to get exactly the vehicle at the intersection of what you want and what you can afford. But what if you were a designer and dint’ have to make those tradeoffs? What if you could just drop in every possible vehicle tech and luxury addition without regard to the price?
Enter the 2023 BMW XM. It’s a plug-in hybrid that offers up to 25mi electric or a hybrid drive experience that offers all the pep of a typical BMW sports drive while still averaging over 35mpg (depending on your drive parameters, the actual EPA estimate for “MPGe” is 47). While BMW first introduced PHEV technology with the 2015 BMW X5 xDrive40e, however, the XM hybrid seems a bit rough around the edges, a powertrain that’s so powerful that it was difficult to elicit a smooth acceleration experience from the rather cavernous SUV.
The emphasis on this top-end $165,000 luxury SUV instead is comfort and perhaps more the passenger experience than the drive experience. BMW loaned me one for a week to evaluate and there really was a lot to fall in love with here. This is the 2023 BMW XM in Black Sapphire Metallic with Black Merino Leather interior:
One of the distinctive elements of the design is that the front grill lights up. The company refers to this as the illuminated kidney grill “signature lighting” and it’s definitely distinctive (though the interior ambient lighting is far more striking, as I’ll explain momentarily). The “XM” branding, however, is surprisingly low-key and the BMW logo barely shows up at all on the rear of the vehicle. Think of this as an “if you have to ask, this isn’t the car for you” sort of thing.
The exterior, however, is pretty typical for an SUV of this size. The XM curb weight is just over 6,000 pounds, so it’s a big, hefty vehicle. It can tow up to 5,900 pounds, but, seriously, if this is your SUV then maybe you’ll be towing a pair of competition jetskis or something similarly luxe, not a trailer. Where it all gets fun is when you open the door and swing into the driver’s seat. It’s a pretty delightful experience…
See the blue lights along the edge of the dash? That’s part of the ambient lighting, and it runs throughout the vehicle. More importantly, you can change the color, choosing from any of a dozen or more colors. Critical? No. Fun? Definitely. Like most vehicles with automatic transmissions, the XM also has two driving modes, Normal and Sport. Switch to Sport and the lighting all turns red, even the door speakers glow a subtle red. It’s pretty sweet in practice, and the shift points definitely change to give the driver more access to the performance of the hybrid gas + electric engine.
Both the main gauge area and the infotainment area feature bright, enormous screens as part of what BMW calls its “Curved Display” design. The main gauge area has a curious design, however, with some information difficult to see (like how many miles of EV power you have remaining) while others are aggressively front-and-center:
The XM is powered by a huge 4.4L M TwinPower Turbo V8 engine with variable valve control and an 8-speed Steptronic transmission. In the above image, you can see that I’m in 8th gear and drive (the “8D”). You can infer my drive mode by the layout (this is the Normal layout, most of this information vanishes if you’re in Sport mode). With half a tank of gas, I have an estimated range of 192 miles (lower left) and have been averaging 34.5mpg and 5.5 miles/kWh. I charged the PHEV with a 110V garage wall outlet overnight, and every morning it was ready to go with a full charge. Since it’s a hybrid, running out of electricity doesn’t mean you’re stuck, a handy way to eliminate any potential range anxiety.
BMW also includes a lot of apps for the vehicle, and also neatly integrates all of your Apple CarPlay or Android Auto apps into the display too. Here’s just the range of Infotainment apps available:
It’s perhaps ironic that this morning I was reading an article about car buyers being fed up with tech that they don’t need or want in their vehicles, but perhaps this is an example of more options meeting the needs of more drivers instead? Now we’re back to the dilemma of car designers: when do you go from lots of fun options and choices to driver overwhelm? I will admit that the climate control interface on the infotainment system was completely baffling to me and took some thoughtful analysis to suss out basic functionality.
And then there’s the rather busy steering wheel:
Yes, the BMW XM has paddle shifters – and it’s easy to accidentally slip into the manual drive mode without realizing, as I learned when I was going about 25mph on a suburban road. In first gear! – but it also has the ability for you to set up your favorite drive modes and save them as “M1” and “M2”, almost like drive macros. Ready to rabbit from a stop? “M1” can drop you into the highest performance Sport mode, while “M2” might then drop you back to max eco Normal for regular highway driving, as an example. Complicated, and likely ignored by most XM owners, but still a cool idea that seems borrowed from Gran Turismo or another video racing game.
How do you get into all these different EV/Hybrid Normal/Sport drive modes? Through buttons on the center console:
The big knob lets you control the infotainment system, an increasingly popular control system that I really find terrific. Much better than having to reach forward to tap on the infotainment screen itself, no question. Look closer at the above image and you’ll see the drive modes: M Mode, M HYBRID, AUTO H, and more. Self-parking’s covered and you can peek at the image from any of the half-dozen cameras on the vehicle too, including a marvelous 360º SurroundView that will have you swear there’s a drone hovering 10′ off the bumper. These are absolutely fantastic for parking lots and there’s no longer any excuse not to have your vehicle perfectly centered between the lines.
Rear passengers aren’t forgotten either, with one of the most sophisticated rear console control clusters I’ve seen in any vehicle (including the ambient mood lighting too, of course: Notice the floor illumination):
Rear passengers will also find very good legroom, even with the front seats slid back as far as possible:
Before we leave the interior, however, the heads-up display is really cool and changes rather dramatically between Normal and Sport modes. Here’s the Normal view, including directions from my wireless Apple CarPlay nav system:
Yes, BMW, I was driving 10mph over the speed limit. But hey, with a 4.4L TwinTurbo V8, are you expecting us car writers to stick exactly to the speed limit? 🤓
Stepping outside of the vehicle, the rear is worth some consideration too, starting with cargo space, of which there’s plenty:
The swanky black bag? That’s the storage bag for the actual charging cable, and it’s actually looped onto the vehicle so it won’t slide around. BMW has definitely thought of everything with this vehicle!
I have talked about the ambient lighting in the vehicle, but there’s no better way to show how striking it is than by looking up:
Remember, you can change this color – and adjust the brightness – to match your whim. I couldn’t figure out a way to have it react to the music being played, which is probably a good thing, but it’s likely that’s an option too.
Finally, the rear exterior shot shows the mostly typical SUV lines with a bit of BMW flair. Speaking of which, though, notice what isn’t obvious at all: Where’s the BMW logo? From the rear, the only indication that it’s a BMW are two very discrete stickers on the top corners of the rear windshield. A curious choice that makes it feel a bit stealth!
There really is a lot to love with this top-end BMW SUV and a lot that demonstrates why it’s still considered one of the best luxury brands in the world. The drive experience, however, left me a bit unsatisfied; a bit like trying to drive a Ferarri through a supermarket parking lot, the XM just had so much power it was a task to learn how to get a smooth and gradual acceleration experience, particularly at low speeds. It also has a tight, aggressive braking system which took some getting used to too; the first time I braked I almost flew through the front windshield! Drive this for a few hundred miles, however, and you’ll recalibrate your own drive style to match and find it a delightful, albeit quite expensive, PHEV SUV.
2023 BMW XM, powered by a 4.4L TwinPower Turbo V8 PHEV with 8-speed Steptronic transmission. BASE PRICE: $159,000.00. Options included: Bowers & Wilkins sound system, M Driver’s Package. AS DRIVEN: $165,895.00.
Disclosure: BMW loaned me the XM for a week in return for this candid writeup. Thanks, BMW, it was great fun!