Pros: Wild acceleration; inconceivable handling; subtly menacing styling tweaks; incredible cargo capacity for 555 horsepower

Cons: Regular X5's third row isn't available; zero off-road ability; flatulent exhaust noises during all-out upshifts

The 2012 BMW X5 M is about what you'd expect if you let a bunch of racing junkies loose on a luxury crossover SUV. The junkies in question are from BMW's high-performance Motorsport division, which is better known for creating iconic sporting cars like the M3. Faced with the task of turning a nearly 2.5-ton SUV into a true performance vehicle, they started by doing the sensible thing: stuffing a 555-horsepower twin-turbocharged V8 into its snout. Then they went to work on the suspension, gave the body the usual purposeful M styling cues and voilą! They created the X5 M, an SUV that will hang with genuine sports cars in virtually any contest of speed.

Of course, they made some compromises along the way. The regular X5, for example, can be had with a third-row seat, which is small but still handy when you have a couple of extra kids in the mix. No dice in the X5 M; it's strictly a two-row SUV. Also, any pretense to off-road drivability is rendered laughable by the X5 M's aggressive sport suspension and 20-inch performance tires. You won't be venturing off the beaten path in this "sport-utility vehicle."

But you don't get an X5 M so you can carry six kids around or crawl off into the bush. You get one because you want to blow the doors off unsuspecting Porsche 911s at stoplights, then stuff the back full of Ikea boxes and take the long way home through the hills. If that scenario gets your heart pumping, you're safely in the target demographic for the 2012 BMW X5 M.

Comfort & Utility

The X5 M comes in one thoroughly loaded trim level. Standard features include 20-inch alloy wheels, sport-tuned adaptive dampers, a self-leveling rear air suspension, a power liftgate, adaptive xenon headlamps with retractable washers, foglamps, a panoramic sunroof, keyless entry with push-button ignition, extended leather upholstery, 14-way M sport seats with driver memory, dual-zone automatic climate control, iPod/USB and Bluetooth connectivity, a 16-speaker audio system with dual subwoofers and the hard-drive-based iDrive information and entertainment system with navigation, digital music storage and a wide-screen display.

If that's not enough for you, some of the more notable options are quad-zone automatic climate control, 20-way multi-contour sport seats, a leather-trimmed dashboard, an 825-watt audio system (crushing the base system's measly 600 watts) and a rear-seat entertainment system.

The X5 M's standard front sport seats are fantastic, but the optional multi-contour chairs are worth whatever your dealer feels like charging; they're among the very best in the world. The gauges are pure BMW: white-on-black numerals that change to orange on black at night. The dashboard design is similarly recognizable as a BMW design, although the X5 is getting on in years, and we find newer BMW dashboards to be a little nicer in both materials and build quality.

The X5 M's back seat is surprisingly low, especially for a crossover SUV. We're surprised second-row passengers don't get a higher bench with more thigh support. Unlike the regular X5, the X5 M doesn't offer a third-row seat, but it does have the same two-piece hatch with a tailgate that folds down and a liftgate that flips up. Cargo capacity measures 35.8 cubic feet behind the second row and a healthy 75.2 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks folded.

Technology

The X5 M may have a somewhat dated interior relative to newer BMW products, but its technology is anything but dated. Let's focus on iDrive, because it's the X5 M's technological heart and soul. Every X5 M comes with the hard-drive-based version of iDrive, which includes a beautifully crisp wide-screen display and plenty of digital music storage. The iDrive interface has improved dramatically from its controversial early years. It now features a vastly better menu structure and numerous physical buttons next to the controller knob for direct access to common pathways. It's one of the best information and entertainment systems on the market, and we appreciate that it's controlled by that console-mounted control knob instead of a touchscreen, so there's no need to lean forward and smudge the screen with your fingertips.

Performance & Fuel Economy

The X5 M is powered by a twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8 rated at 555 horsepower and 501 lb-ft of torque. The transmission is a satisfactory six-speed automatic. And acceleration is completely bonkers insane in the X5 M. There's no way a 2.5-ton SUV should be piling on speed like a Porsche, but that's exactly what this BMW does. Our only quibble is with the flatulent noises emitted by the exhaust system during full-throttle upshifts. You don't want to be making embarrassing sounds while you're out-sprinting 911s to the next stoplight, do you?

All X5 M models have an exclusive all-wheel-drive system with torque vectoring to let you put maximum power to the pavement in all situations. Fuel economy is a dismal 12 mpg city/17 mpg highway.

Safety

The 2012 BMW X5 M comes with standard stability control, four-wheel ABS and six airbags (front, front side, full-length side curtain).

The government hasn't crash tested an X5 lately, but the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the standard X5 its highest rating of Good in every tested category.

Driving Impressions

The X5 M's lowered sport suspension does a ridiculously good job of keeping this massive SUV planted at speeds you won't believe until you drive it for yourself. Still, the ride remains more than tolerable, which is a tribute to the fundamental goodness of the aging X5 platform. The steering is amazingly precise for a vehicle of this type. Among SUVs, only the far more expensive Porsche Cayenne Turbo and the mechanically similar BMW X6 M can do what the X5 M does dynamically.

Other Cars to Consider

Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG: Now equipped with a twin-turbo 5.5-liter V8, the AMG-tuned ML will certainly give the X5 M a run for its money in a straight line. Corners are a lost cause, however.

Porsche Cayenne Turbo: The Cayenne is a good match for the X5 M if you don't mind paying considerably more for that Porsche cachet. We think the BMW's cachet is just fine.

Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8: The hot-rod Grand Cherokee is less athletic and less civilized than the X5 M. On the other hand, it delivers the awesomeness of a 6.4-liter Hemi V8 for about half the price of the BMW.

AutoTrader Recommends

We'd want the multi-contour seats for sure and, oh, why not, the 825-watt stereo. The X5 M definitely isn't about restraint.

author photo

Josh Sadlier is an automotive journalist based in Los Angeles and has contributed to such publications as Edmunds.com and DriverSide.com. He holds arguably the most unexpected degree in his profession: a master's in Theological Studies.

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