Ever see a vehicle go by that just stopped you in your tracks? Something that gave you whiplash and made you question your sanity by appearance alone? If so, the latest flagship model coming to BMW dealerships in early 2023 should be of interest. It may only be a concept car today, but with production scheduled to start in December 2022 and assurances from design chief Marcus Syring that the concept is 80–90 percent accurate to what the production version will look like, the BMW XM is sure to make waves in the growing segment of high-performance “Sport Activity Vehicles” (SUVs to everyone other than BMW) and is positioned to serve as BMW’s next halo model.
Shooting for the Moon
A halo car, if you’re not familiar, is something to drum up interest in the brand, something that draws people into a dealership just to look at it. The theory goes that if more affordable offerings from the brand still deliver some of the spirit and essence of that halo car, potential buyers who aspire to but can’t necessarily afford the gilded flagship will happily settle for the commoner’s version. Think of the Audi R8, which achieved exactly that for Audi because its overall design language was reflected in a wave of redesigns from the A4 to the S7, allowing all Audi drivers to see a reflection of the R8 in their own cars. On the other hand, the Acura NSX was a relative failure, essentially because it was the only sports car offered by a brand that primarily sold soft crossovers that could never deliver on any of the NSX’s well-deserved hype.
BMW seems poised to absolutely nail this one based on how those previous examples turned out. I’d even dare to say that the comical schnoz of the new M3 and M4 would be redeemed if the new design language is a hit with shoppers. But I don’t want to talk too much about shoppers since most of us (myself included) are not in a position to walk into a BMW dealership and work out a deal on any new car they might have in stock. Instead, we’re here to enjoy the sight of them, to know the significance of what we’re looking at, and think about what they mean for the brand as a whole and whether they’ll be worth buying on the used market.
The BMW Concept XM looks more like a Stage 1 design language platform than a penultimate revision of the brand’s latest flagship. The massive SUV has the same wheelbase as the X7, but similarities end there, with every angle of the XM loaded with details to capture the eyes for far longer than it’ll take to pass on the highway. The front end is highlighted by aggressively narrow running lights and an LED surround on the kidney grille openings, although to call any one design feature a “highlight” implies that any of the other locations where the eye might fall are relatively bland. The grille itself is similar to the enormous maw of the new M3 and M4, with power bulges in the hood extending from each opening; where the look is goofy on the cars, it is powerful and exciting on the big SUV.
The side panels host a cacophony of bodylines so intense that it’s hard to believe it’ll be in production this year, fitting perfectly with the incredibly detailed styling of the front and rear. Huge 23″ wheels in oversized carbon fiber fender housings underline the two-tone paint scheme, while the aggressive roofline implies a fastback muscle car nature. A glossy black beltline splits the canopy from the base and draws the eye upwards towards the back to finish in a classic Hofmeister Kink at the rear end of the greenhouse.
It’s likely that the view from the rear is the most outlandish of the three. The carbon fiber diffuser on the bottom might be the most normal-looking thing about it, which is saying something for an SUV. Functional quad exhausts, a signature of all M cars, are split into two pairs, stacked vertically with trapezoidal tips that together form a hexagon at either side of the vehicle because this thing is all angles and circles are for squares. Then the narrow taillights catch one’s attention, stretching from near the middle of the trunk to wrap right around onto either flank of the rear fenders before turning downwards, forming an L-shape as unique as anything else on the Concept XM exterior.
If the eye manages to continue upward to the top of the broad rear glass, two things will split your focus yet again: the roundels etched into the top corners and the air channel diving into the middle of the glass at the center. The channel is unlike anything I’ve ever seen on a production car and is undetectable from any other angle, making this yet another shocking feature of the exterior, but the inclusion of the roundels feels odd and out of place at first glance.
However, long-time BMW fans already know what I’ll tell you now: both of these features recall the appearance of the legendary BMW M1, the first M-car and the only M-car in the M Division’s 50-year history not based on a standard BMW model. This throwback is more than a 50th-anniversary homage to the M Division’s debut–the BMX XM is the second M-car not based on a standard BMW and pays respects to its lineage with this remarkably unique design.
If you think that all sounds ice cold, if a little bit much, I agree 100%. I also cannot wait to see one. I think the coolest thing in the world would be to drive around a real-life Hot Wheels car or, failing that, a functioning concept car (which oftentimes is the same as a real-life Hot Wheels car anyway). The Concept XM looking the way it does, this close to production, means BMW plans to make that dream a reality for thousands of drivers. I think this model will be an incredibly successful effort for BMW for three reasons:
- The Concept XM is the pinnacle of a high-demand segment rather than a niche sports car like most halo models.
Concept XM represents the introduction of a new design language that will proliferate throughout the lineup over the next several years.
- The Concept XM provides unprecedented power using efficient modern propulsion technology that won’t alienate environmentally-conscious drivers.
Let me start breaking this down with Point #3. This is less a reason why the Concept XM will succeed and more a reason why it won’t fail. We live in an interesting time where massive gas-guzzling engines are simultaneously at peak desirability and persona non grata. The Concept XM’s 4.4L V8 is a tried-and-true twin-turbo classic but paired up with a plug-in hybrid electrical system, it becomes BMW’s strongest production powerplant ever (estimated at 750 hp and 738 lb-ft of torque), delivering the best features of guttural V8 engines along with the tech of the future. It represents a step forward in electrifying the BMW lineup and meeting emissions targets, avoiding the kind of backward misstep that would derail the entire initiative.
New Design Language
Point #2 is simple. We have it straight from BMW M’s CEO, Franciscus van Meel, that this model is introducing a design language of “expressive luxury” that will soon infuse the entire lineup. While the gaping kidney grille of the M3 and M4 is somewhat alienating, on the XM, it looks right at home. The staggering geometry on all faces of the XM marks as profound a shift of BMW’s style as the R8’s sleek panther-like posture was for Audi. Soon, anybody who walks into a BMW dealership to give the XM a good twice-over will be able to have many of the same design features in an X3 or X5 that they can actually afford, and BMW sales might just see a bump for that association alone.
Swinging at the Right Pitch
The vast array of design features on the Concept XM, inside and out, is a lot to take in. It’s a tremendous gamble, like committing to the big swing before the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand. But unlike Acura, which rolled out the highly anticipated NSX amongst a field of crossovers, BMW is making their new halo car an SUV. Today the sedan market has all but vanished under a flood of demand for tall-standing crossovers, and 1 out of 3 M-cars is already an SUV. Even Lamborghini, Aston Martin, and freakin’ Ferrari are in on the performance luxury SUV game.
BMW has delivered excellent results with their X line of SUVs, and they’re in high demand. As outlandish as it is, and pricey as it’s sure to be, the XM is the new summit of that line, above the X7 in a place far sportier than the big three-row Beemer could ever be. It is primarily for this reason that I’m confident the XM will succeed both on its own and as a lure to the BMW brand.
The M Lounge – Another Club I’ll Never Have an Invite To
Don’t worry about it; that’s just how it is for many of us. I’ll never find a seat in a private room of a swanky club for uber-elites, and it’s quite unlikely I’ll ever actually sit in the M Lounge–the name assigned to the BMW Concept XM’s delightfully plush rear seating area–or even in the vintage leather and carbon fiber cockpit. C’est la vie. I can still enjoy an XM when I see one, thanks to its outlandish exterior design, and starting in January of 2023, I intend to do just that. So thank you, BMW, for making a high-end SUV that’s actually worth looking at–here’s to hoping that you keep it that way in production!