BMW’s XM is a $160,000 hybrid SUV — but it’s not for everyone

It was codenamed “Rockstar” when it was being developed internally.For BMW, that meant it had to be something different — the kind of car that stood out and was driven by those who wanted to be seen.

And it needed to look like a design piece — like high-end jewelry, or haute couture fashion straight off the runways of Milan.Whatever the motivation, the BMW XM SUV is here.

And not without controversy.First, a bit of a history lesson.

BMW’s M division, or motorsports division, has only ever created one car on its own, the legendary M1 coupe.

BMW purists lust after this car, with its stunning performance and racing heritage packaged in a lovely period-era angular design aesthetic — no curves here.Now comes the second car ever made exclusively by the M division: the XM sport activity vehicle, debuting last year during the M division’s 50th anniversary.It’s an understatement to say the XM is odd and raised some eyebrows across the industry when it came out.

And that’s not even including the fact that it’s also a plug-in hybrid.Looks only a designer could love?The BMW XM SAVThe overall design of the car — its hulking body, tall front end, hard edges — is reminiscent of brutalist architecture.

I was certainly very lukewarm to it, though I went in with an open mind.Seeing it in the flesh it didn’t help matters.

The XM also appears much larger in person, almost full-size in terms of the space it occupies, though it is strictly a two-row SUV.BMW has been known to push the envelope with some of its designs, and then ultimately down the road enthusiasts end up sort of liking the weird, ugly-duckling looking cars.

We shall see.The BMW XM SAVInterior-wise, it’s a much better story.

The center dash is dominated by BMW’s current entertainment system, featuring a curved dual widescreen display, which has detailed graphics and good visual layout.

BMW’s latest iDrive infotainment software is one of the best in the industry, though you do at times have to hunt through many sub-menus to perform basic functions.

The climate controls are an example of a system that could use more physical buttons.Story continuesThe BMW XM interiorI found seating to be very comfortable, and the fit and finish of the materials — as well as the crystal-like patterns featured on the suede-like ceiling trim — gave the car the “rockstar” vibe designers were targeting.The driveLet’s start with the powertrain, and then we’ll get to the controversial limits of this car.The XM is powered by BMW’s twin-scroll turbocharged V8, which is paired with an electric motor.

That electric motor gives the plug-in hybrid powertrain an extra 150 hp, resulting in a total of 644hp and 590 pound-feet of torque.

These are serious figures, and the engine sounds good in its sportier settings.

BMW says this is the same hybrid system that’s used in its LMDH and WEC endurance racing programs, a.k.a.

“hypercar” racing.The BMW XM SAVThe XM is a plug-in hybrid, meaning the car has around 30 miles of electric range, and you can hit 80 mph in electric mode as well.I found 30 miles of range is pretty usable.

You can tool around town for most activities, and on the highway in small spurts, in fully electric mode.

That means no trips to the gas station if charging is readily available.The hybrid powertrain works seamlessly with the transmission and the all-wheel-drive system, and it’s barely discernible when it switches back and forth, though the engine does let out a throaty roar in sport mode and higher.Driving the car with both the V8 and electric motor active gives the XM a lot of power off the line, because there’s no real lag from power delivery.

You get a lot of torque right from the electric motor, while the big V8 produces a tremendous amount of oomph once moving.The BMW XM interiorThe XM is fast for its size, and because this is an M vehicle, it has sport-tuned suspension, along with BMW’s M sport differential in the rear.

That allows the XM to really put that power down to the rear wheels, a hallmark of the M cars.The issue I have with this car is comfort and handling.In “comfort” mode the XM is not that comfortable — it’s still pretty stiff.

BMW tends to err on the side of extra firmness: BMW engineers do not want “roll” or “push” in the car’s handling, but the XM ends up with an uncomfortably bumpy ride, even on somewhat smooth roads.

With the car’s weight and size, BMW couldn’t use an air suspension that many competitors use, which allow SUVs to have a smooth, plush-like rides on rough terrain.This goes hand in hand with its other major problem: size.

The XM is not that sporty because of its bulk, and that takes away from the fact that it’s an M car.

Even with the XM’s rear-wheel steering, it just feels too big.Who’s the XM for?Still from the BMW XM release videoI see the appeal for owners who want a really sporty SUV with the larger footprint and ability to haul cargo, kids, and more, and still have a thrilling vehicle.

And there’s a little cachet with the XM being the first-ever model.But for $160,000, that is a hard value proposition — though almost all of its prospective buyers in this rarefied air aren’t concerned about value.

However, there’s a lot of competition in this space with the Porsche Cayenne Turbo GT and Aston Martin DBX.The bottom line is the XM is a contradiction, and I’m conflicted about it.

It seems BMW has decided that it is going to make the company’s SUVs the pinnacle of its product portfolio, even ahead of its sportscars.

BMW SUVs sell hand over fist, so perhaps this is a calculated decision.But for many BMW purists, and even myself, the XM isn’t the answer.Maybe the rockstars of the world out there feel differently.Still from the BMW XM promo video

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