Ride & Handling

One of my main criticisms of the regular X5, which was redesigned for the 2007 model year, is its regular suspension doesn't offer the balance between ride comfort and handling prowess that I've come to expect from BMW. Sure, the X5 is quite a bit larger than a 3 Series, but I would have thought BMW could have worked its magic on it nonetheless. Unfortunately, the X5 delivers a ride that's overly firm, paired with unexceptional handling. I had to toss those impressions out the window after driving the X5 M; the characteristic BMW-ness that was missing from the regular X5 has been unearthed here.

Perhaps the standard Adaptive Drive adaptive suspension, which is an option on the regular X5, played a part. The X5 M's ride quality is very forgiving despite its large wheels and low-profile tires, and it exhibits very little body roll when driven hard through turns. It's this combination of comfortable suspension tuning for everyday driving and poise when cornering that's partly why BMWs are as revered as they are in enthusiast circles, and the X5 M continues that legacy.

The crossover's M Drive feature allows drivers to customize the characteristics of the throttle, transmission and electronic stability system — among other things — via a menu on the standard iDrive system's screen. Once you've made your selections, they can quickly be recalled by pressing the M button on the right side of the steering wheel. It's a quick and easy way to change the character of the X5 M if you find yourself on a winding road and want to push it a little.

The M button also controls how much effort it takes to turn the steering wheel. There's quite a bit of assistance in normal driving, so you don't have to exert yourself. Steering response is good, but like in the regular X5 there's not a lot of feedback. If you have M Drive configured for the system's Sport mode, though, steering effort notably increases when you press the M button, which gives you steering feel that's closer to the BMW norm. The extra effort felt appropriate for sporty driving, but considering this is a crossover that likely won't be driven hard all the time, it's nice to have the more relaxed mode available.

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