If you’re the kind of driver that likes their heart firmly in their throat when they hit the gas, go ahead and buy a 2021 BMW X5 M. Featuring all of the big sixes – a six-figure price, six hundred-ish horses, and six M-specific performance enhancements, BMW’s beastly Sports Activity Vehicle gets our vote for most outrageous performance in its segment.
We expect any BMW with the M designation to impress us with on-the-road performance and handling, but the X5 M is a cut above, especially when it’s equipped with the Competition Package. Tick that box on the options sheet, and it turns it into a fire-breathing dragon capable of eye-watering acceleration and hard cornering that’s so intense BMW padded the center console to prevent bruising.
It’s hard to focus on anything but the X5 M’s blistering acceleration, but a quick glance at the cabin reveals an ultra-premium luxury environment outfitted with a fighter jet cockpit and a dizzying array of infotainment and digital display screens. It’s fitting that even more luxury is discoverable once would-be buyers click through the BMW build-your-own shopping tool.
What are some of our favorite features hidden beneath the more obvious performance stats? We reveal them here.
Insane Interior Tech and Features
Leave it to BMW to offer seven different interior upholstery options, including several premium selections incorporating uncommon hues that shouldn’t work inside a vehicle but are actually surprisingly fetching. Check out the Sakhir Orange/Black combo, which evokes a race car vibe, or the more understated Adelaide Grey, which offers a subtle departure from standard black. In addition to upholstery options, buyers can dial in specific trim enhancements in premium finishes like carbon fiber, aluminum, or fine wood ash grain.
Let’s talk about over-the-top luxury; an overused term applied to luxury cars when describing upscale features like ventilated seats. Due to its diluted meaning, we had to come up with another word to adequately categorize some of the optional features available on the X5 M: insane. Choose the $3,600 Executive Package and enjoy heated and cooled cupholders – yes, cupholders – and soft-close automatic doors.
How does a soft-close door work, and why is this a feature that everyone unequivocally needs, but no one ever thought it was a thing, so they haven’t demanded it? First off, it works via a series of small dedicated electric motors that finish the job after you gently close the door. No more slamming. No more annoying not-quite-closed-all-the-way doors. BMW found a way to take care of that for you.
All BMW X5 M trims come standard with a premium 16-speaker Harman Kardon sound system, but the company doesn’t stop at just premium sound. The available Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Surround Sound System adds a hefty $3,400 to the price tag, but it’s a small price to pay for audiophiles seeking unmatched sound clarity. The system utilizes 20 speakers, 10 active amplification channels, and QuantumLogic Equalizing to deliver 1,500 watts of, well, insane sound.
Competition Package and Performance, Oh My
Serious performance junkies won’t drive off the lot in just any X5 M; instead, they’ll only accept a model equipped with the Competition Package. It’s a lot to unpack, but suffice to say that the additional 17 horsepower gained from adding the package is just a teaser. It also adorns the rear axle with larger 22-inch wheels (the front wheels remain 21 inches in diameter), adds dual tailpipes, and includes buttery soft Merino leather seating.
The included Inconel chrome-nickel alloy M Sport exhaust is a heat-resistant system that optimizes airflow and reduces exhaust backpressure. Its lighter weight (due to the .8mm tubing) reduces the vehicle’s overall curb weight, which is always good news for top-end speed. The system delivers a throaty tonal exhaust profile that reminds bystanders this isn’t just any SUV, while the visible titanium tips also sport an engraved M logo.
Utilizing all 617 horses isn’t for everyday driving, but they are there if you need it. Aided by the twin-turbo setup that includes multiple water pumps, six radiators, and a separate cooling system dedicated to the transmission, the V8 engine sends power through BMW’s 8-speed M STEPTRONIC transmission. Yes, you get the usual steering wheel paddle shifters, but you also get Drivelogic.
Drivelogic is a transmission mode system that lets drivers decide how long the transmission remains in any given gear and how fast gear changes happen. It’s the closest thing to a manual transmission you can get without losing the constant power enjoyed when driving with an automatic. The three-stage dynamics dial-in preciseness without compromising on specific driver input, and you even get a Launch Control feature.
Infotainment and Other Digital Tech Goodies
The BMW X5 M offers no shortage of in-vehicle tech, including an impressive 12.3-inch infotainment system, but it doesn’t stop there. You’ll also find an equal-sized digital instrument cluster that performs every imaginable task. iDrive 7.0 powers the touchscreen for instant feedback and whip-fast response times. Don’t feel like touching anything? BMW feels you, offering Gesture Control for those moments when your digits need a digital vacation.
Also standard is a full-color Head Up display and an instrument cluster devoted to all things M, including M Drive and Drivelogic display feeds. You can take advantage of the included Drive Recorder to track all the times you exceeded the posted speed limit and bask in the zen of ambient lighting, heated armrests, 3-stage heated massaging seats, and an ergonomically-located driver footrest.
There are times when a key isn’t simply a key (a rose by any other name doesn’t apply here). Each BMW’s Advanced Vehicle & Key Memory features a unique chip that stores the most recent cabin temperature settings, as well as all mirror and seat settings. It remembers how you like your audio down to the specific tone, and it greets you with the same interior lighting presets you preferred on your last drive.
For a vehicle with approximately 106 cubic feet of passenger volume, we’re not sure 4-zone automatic climate control is necessary, but BMW’s definition of necessary isn’t the same as that of us mere mortals. The active-charcoal micro air filter is planted within the ventilation system, delivering treated air to cabin occupants.
The onboard safety features are too many to mention, but a highlight is BMW’s Active Protection System. Not only can it detect an imminent collision, but it also prepares the cabin by automatically closing the windows and moonroof and pretensioning the seat belts for optimal protection. The system also activates aggressive post-crash braking to eliminate additional impacts. All the usual driver assist systems are also included, but each one is painstakingly engineered for accuracy and condition-specific responses, like the City Collision Mitigation and Braking system, which accounts for urban driving conditions.
The Most Enjoyable SUV Available
The all-wheel drive 2021 BMW X5 M is a master class in automotive design and engineering for people who enjoy driving. It doesn’t belong in the typical SUV category, but its utility disqualifies it from being classified as a high-performance sports car. Alas, the X5 M is an outlier, the sole member of an uber-luxury, uber-performance class of vehicles – dubbed a Sports Activity Vehicle by its maker – that has the editors at Car and Driver challenging buyers to “revel in its ridiculousness.”
We agree. Sometimes over-the-top is a requirement. When you’re at the county fair, go ahead and indulge in the fried butter. Out for a hike? Head for Everest. Shopping for a vehicle with literally more power than you will ever need? You guessed it: head to a BMW dealer and get your hands on a 2021 X5 M, and don’t forget the Competition Package. You never know when you might need that extra 17 horsepower.