Mountain Wheels: BMW XM brings outrageously polarizing looks and hybrid power

Should the regular 644-horsepower BMW XM ultra-hybrid seem a little tame, you can step up to the 738-horsepower Label Red edition, the most powerful BMW ever sold.
Courtesy photo

Seven days into an often life-changing and frequently terrifying time with the nearly unbelievable BMW XM — which also appears as the most powerful, factory-built BMW ever made — a bit of levity appeared in this Darth Vader-looking, $166,000 hybrid from hell.

Most notably, while XM’s standard arrangement is an awe-inspiring 644 horsepower from a twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8 and high-output electric motor (they’ve also dangled a 738-horsepower Label Red edition, if that’s not fast enough for you), it is an actual hybrid, so like a Prius driver, you can feel good about that. Somehow, you’re saving the earth.

Actually, no. Not in this car. Not once did I have a feel-good 1950s Disney moment while tooling around in the menacing-looking and brutal-sounding XM. Double the posted speed limit is about all you can (but should not) do in the XM, with power and pull and sport brakes and 22-inch P Zero “all season” race tires, all designed for 4.1-second 0-60 malice, at all times. I gave myself an injury every time I got in and out of the SUV’s brutally tall race seats. I guess I deserved that.

Yes, XM’s looks are not for the faint of heart, or old-time BMW enthusiasts for that matter, as they all seemed to complain about it, vociferously. Design here is of the Brutalist/futurist/masochist school, with squinty headlamps, a blocky face and a full commitment to that off-putting new 4-Series digital kidney grille, rendered with light-up surrounds and slats that seem like they might be hiding a machine gun nest, like a prop from a Connery-era James Bond movie. Body molding is of the stealth bomber variety.

In the rear, there’s an equally imposing array of angles, frameless rear glass and a quad stack of burping, whooping and screaming exhaust pipes. As you might guess, hybrid motoring here is not at all what it is in regular gas-electric blends, and those often vulgar exhaust notes, especially when you start it up first thing in the morning, are a lot to take. But it’s also the first electrified M performance model and, if you plug it in, it will apparently go 30 miles in all-electric mode. The bag for the charging cable, by the way, looks like it was made by Louis Vuitton. XM is rated at 46 electronic mpg or a more M-like 14 combined mpg for gasoline engine only.

Delicately clamber aboard and drop yourself into the seats and it has the most fearsome array of M-model controls and self-selectable drivetrain options imaginable. Two oversized red tabs on the wheel more easily called up the previous driver’s G-rated and XXX-rated settings, the latter of which turned off traction control, tightened shifting, suspension, steering and braking to Very Large Race Car mode — as XM is a pretty chunky 6,063 pounds, pretty close to the weight of the fully electric Mercedes EQS 580 SUV you’ll hear about later this summer.

Top that off with ultra-tall carbon fiber paddles and you can go totally manual with the eight-speed transmission, and then appreciate the impressive stickiness, corner-holding and gravity-defying performance you’ll find, with the strange intersection of all-wheel drive, dynamic stability control as well as chassis and suspension control systems.

It reminded me at times of the heft found in the Bentley Continental GT; its brand-new race tires were so bald that I skidded a bit on a rain-soaked spot in my driveway and did not take it anywhere above 5,200 feet while I had it, in mid-April.

I appreciated the fact that, unlike the ridiculous Ram Rebel pickup I had a few months ago, XM does not have a clownish array of track timers and G-force monitors. Everything you do in the XM remains your secret. The ultra-wide curved display, which stretches from the instrument screen over to the middle of the console, is sublime. As was the literally deafening 1,475-watt, 20-speaker Bowers and Wilkins Diamond Surround Sound system.   Should you want to use the XM as a passenger vehicle or even, my goodness, an SUV, it still has about 64 cubic feet of storage with the rear seats flattened

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