2023 BMW XM Review: Indulge if You Dare

bmw xm 2023 02 exterior dynamic front angle blue scaled jpg 2023 BMW XM | Cars.com photo by Christian Lantry
Photo of Brian Normile
Road Test Editor Brian Normile joined the automotive industry and Cars.com in 2013, and he became part of the Editorial staff in 2014. Brian spent his childhood devouring every car magazine he got his hands on — not literally, eventually — and now reviews and tests vehicles to help consumers make informed choices. Someday, Brian hopes to learn what to do with his hands when he’s reviewing a car on camera. He would daily-drive an Alfa Romeo 4C if he could. Email Brian Normile

The verdict: The all-new BMW XM’s (redundant) mission is to be “indulgently sybaritic,” and while it succeeds at that, it frustrates more than it delights. By trying to be both a performance SUV and a luxury SUV, it falls short of both goals, with a ride so jarringly firm it’s unpleasant as a daily driver.

Versus the competition: Rival performance-oriented luxury SUVs may not be as quick as the XM, or as luxurious, but competitors like the Porsche Cayenne and Audi RS Q8 are far more livable — which is a weird thing to say about SUVs like these.

The 2023 BMW XM is an all-new SUV built by the mad scientists in BMW’s M performance division, and it’s also the M division’s first plug-in hybrid vehicle. With 644 horsepower and 590 pounds-feet of torque, it was the most powerful production vehicle BMW had ever built when it debuted — until the 2024 XM Label Red and its 738 horses and torques surpassed it. It’s also the most confusing and frustrating vehicle I have ever driven.

Related: Up Close With the 2023 BMW XM: Weird, Wild and Wunderbar

On the one hand, the XM is a hell of a performance vehicle; despite its three-ton curb weight, it’s quick and nimble. The XM’s interior is also luxurious and comfortable, with a backseat fit for a chauffeured ride. Unfortunately, though, its ride is just so firm I never felt comfortable while in motion. It’s as though Dr. Jekyll were just Mr. Hyde wearing a labcoat and glasses all along.

Ride Ruins Everything

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I usually avoid reading or watching others’ reviews of vehicles before I drive them, so I can go in with a clean slate, but murmurings about the XM slipped through. I saw snippets of content criticizing its ride quality and thought, “Surely it can’t be that bad” — and I couldn’t have been more wrong. The XM feels like it was designed by people who believe every road is as smooth as glass, because there’s no other excuse for its ride quality.

The XM is so stiff it’s jarring, magnifying the impact of potholes, expansion joints and everything else to the serious detriment of occupant comfort. BMW equipped the XM with an adaptive steel-spring suspension, but even in its Comfort setting, the ride is bone-shakingly firm — and it gets worse from there. At least this SUV’s engineers can take a perverse sort of pride in knowing drivers can actually feel the firmness increase in sportier settings.

Ride quality is further diminished by the standard 23-inch wheels, which are wrapped in tires with sidewalls so thin they look like rubber bands. Smaller, lighter wheels are available at no cost and might be the cheapest way to add an ounce of ride comfort.

Body control in corners, however, is impressive, especially with the XM’s standard active roll stabilization. The Porsche Cayenne is also firm-riding, though not nearly to this degree, and its optional air suspension controls body movements just as well as the XM’s steel springs. At low speeds, the XM’s four-wheel steering aids in tight maneuvers.

Related Video:

Why Does the Limo Have 644 Horsepower?

The XM’s interior is downright opulent, with some of the best materials quality I’ve experienced in a long time. Merino leather upholstery is standard, and our test vehicle had optional Vintage Coffee leather trim covering areas like the dashboard and door panels. That option can only be paired with Silverstone or Deep Lagoon leather, and while the look is nice in a vacuum, our Silverstone/Coffee combination didn’t match the exterior’s blue-and-gold treatment. (That said, I’m not sure anything would.) The “vintage” part comes from small imperfections visible in the leather that also ensure uniqueness. Indulgent.

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It was once the height of luxury to have an all-glass panoramic roof, whether or not it opened, and it was the height of performance to have a lightweight carbon-fiber roof to trim some fat off a car. The XM, however, employs a strange third option that mostly annoyed me: The headliner features a suede-like material with a textured geometric pattern that didn’t match any of the other upholstery in the car — and it’s surrounded by LEDs. It makes the cabin feel less spacious, but that’s not even the annoying part. The annoying part is that everyone who gets into the XM asks, “Does it open?” Even you, the driver, are likely to wonder that at least once per drive. And the answer is no, it doesn’t open. It just looms over you.

The XM’s backseat uses what BMW calls M Lounge seating, with padding that wraps around to the doors and cocoons passengers. There’s more than ample legroom, along with that plentiful cushioning and enough climate and charging amenities to make any passenger happy — so long as the XM isn’t moving. In motion, all that cushioning does nothing to shield you from the harsh ride. And isn’t this a driver-focused car, anyway? Why would you want to be driven around in a borderline supercar? And even if you did, wouldn’t you want it to supply a comfortable ride? Why does a car with almost 650 hp have throw pillows? It doesn’t make any sense, it’s just really indulgent.

Driver-Focused

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Minus the luxurious interior, I might be able to forgive a lot of the XM’s ride-quality issues given the rest of its driving experience. Power delivery is immediate — some editors found it twitchy — and BMW says that, with launch control, this three-ton SUV can go from 0-60 mph in 4.1 seconds (and they usually underestimate). The XM hustles, and it sounds mostly good while doing so, though some of that noise is artificial. The eight-speed automatic transmission also shifts smartly, though it sometimes got hung up momentarily during aggressive kickdowns, pausing in a higher gear before getting where it needed to go.

The M name also means configurability, with two M Mode buttons right on the steering wheel for easy access. Each button can be set to a unique configuration of engine, braking, transmission, suspension and exhaust system behavior. It’s something I love about M cars, but I’d be lying if I said I was able to find a combination that really worked for the XM. Eventually, I just set both to be as aggressive as possible, with one letting the transmission do the shifting and one set for manual shifting — “sequential” in BMW-speak — via the XM’s massive steering-wheel-mounted paddles. They can be activated via the gear selector, as well, but I liked having everything within a fingertip’s reach on the steering wheel.

Like many modern BMWs, the XM’s steering feels numb and disconnected at lower speeds. As driving gets more spirited, steering feel improves; it feels like the car starts to wake up. To combat the low-speed issues, I usually chose the most aggressive steering setting so the wheel’s heft was more to my liking.

Another option on our test car was an M Driver’s Package. It gets buyers two things: a 168-mph top speed instead of the base car’s 155 mph, and a day of performance driving instruction at a BMW Performance Center.

But again I say, why bother with a lounge-style backseat in such a performance-oriented car? For all the XM’s speed and agility, it’s still a 6,000-pound SUV first and a sports car second (though it’s a close second). Really, why make this an SUV at all (other than for profit’s sake)? A more fitting tribute to the M division’s 50th anniversary might’ve been a modern take on the original M1, which inspired the XM’s rear windscreen badge etchings. There’s also a silhouette of it in the digital instrument panel.

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Is It a Good Plug-In Hybrid?

bmw xm 2023 13 exterior charge port scaled jpg 2023 BMW XM | Cars.com photo by Christian Lantry

As a PHEV, the XM can operate solely under electric power for short distances. It has an EPA-estimated 31 miles of all-electric range, and I observed a predicted 44 miles with a full charge. Did I achieve 44 miles under electric power? Reader, I did not. At just 46 mpg-equivalent and 14 mpg combined in gas-only driving, the XM is — here’s that word again — indulgently inefficient.

While the XM is more subdued in all-electric driving, it’s too tempting to tap into its full power and forget about efficiency. Unfortunately, its transition out of Electric mode can also be clumsy and jarring, making me wonder at least once what had just broken on the car. I preferred leaving the SUV either in Hybrid mode or an “eControl” mode that’s designed to maintain or increase the battery’s state of charge.

Like most PHEVs, the XM does not offer DC fast-charging capability; Level 2 charging is the fastest available. Its onboard charger is rated at 7.4 kilowatts, and BMW says its battery can go from 0% to 100% in 3 hours and 15 minutes when connected to a charging system capable of delivering that level of power. That roughly tracks with our experience charging the XM using a public Level 2 charging station.

Who Would Buy an XM?

If you’ve read this far, you’ve probably figured out that I certainly wouldn’t — and it’s not just because I couldn’t afford one: The XM starts at $159,995 including destination, and the one we drove had an as-tested price of $168,395. The M Driver’s Package and Vintage Coffee leather trim are $2,500 each, and the optional Bowers & Wilkins premium stereo alone is $3,400; it sounded fine.

As configured, this was the most conspicuous and ostentatious test vehicle I’ve ever driven, and that kind of flashiness isn’t for me. But I also got a number of unsolicited compliments from strangers, so there are people out there who like the cut of the XM’s jib.

There are better and more livable performance SUVs out there, but if you want to — sigh — indulge and shell out the big bucks for something so contradictory and unique, and you’re willing to put up with a painfully firm ride, the XM may just be for you.

Cars.com’s Editorial department is your source for automotive news and reviews. In line with Cars.com’s long-standing ethics policy, editors and reviewers don’t accept gifts or free trips from automakers. The Editorial department is independent of Cars.com’s advertising, sales and sponsored content departments.

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