I admit that I didn't track the high-performance midsize SUV market in recent years. I remember driving a Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 after it was first introducted in 2005. With a Hemi 6.1-liter V8 that pumped out a whopping 420 horsepower, a lower stance, a stiffer suspension and bigger brakes, it was a ridiculously fun to drive brick. But I thought, "Those race-oriented Dodge people are crazy. How many people are really willing to pay the extra bucks for a seriously fast big SUV?"
Duh, me. The base price then was under $40,000. Now I'm driving an even crazier BMW version of the same concept — the 2020 X5 M Competition. The "basic" X5 M is wild enough with a twin turbocharged 4.4-liter V8 that pumps out 600 horsepower. But the Competition version adds 17 horsepower to that and costs over $126,000.
And the two versions of the 2020 X5 M are not alone. Jeep has continued producing high-pro Grand Cherokees, upping the ante with the 2020 Trailhawk with a 707 horsepower powerplant. The AMG version of the midsize Mercedes SUV is also awesome. And if money's no object, check out the the 641-horsepower Lamborghini Urus at more than $200,000.
All of these well-engineered vehicles are remarkable. They go faster, corner better, and stop quicker than anything so large should. But with so many lower-priced sports cars, sport sedans and retro muscle cars on the market, it's easy to ask why anyone would want to spend the additional money to buy such large vehicles?
The short answer is, there's long been a demand for something like them. The first fast-for-the-time mass produced American cars were big coupes and sedans in the 1940s and 1950s. Although compact Pony Cars and midsize Muscle Cars got a lot of press in the 1960s and 1970s, Detroit was also producing full-size cars with big V8s and stiffer suspensions. Nicknamed the "Businessman's Express," some could be ordered with the base versions of the engines that needed to be sold in limited numbers to qualify for Nascar racing.
More recently, Jeep produced a top-level Grand Cherokee Limited in 1998 with a 5.9 V8. Chevy later released a Trailblazer SS with a 6.1-liter V8. Dodge is now selling a Durango SRT with a 6.4-liter V8 that produced 475 horsepower.
But they all pale in comparision to the 2020 BMW X5 M Competition, which is not only large enough to serve a family, but also faster and better handling than all but the most expensive sports cars. It is also a genuine luxury vehicle with every available comfort, convenience, infotainment and safety system. And it includes BMW's sophisticated all-wheel-drive system for additional traction, although the wide low-profile tires are not the best for even light off-road driving.
Perhaps most remarkable, it is not much harder to live with on a day-to-day basis than a regular X5. Yes, the exhaust barks with you first start it and growls as you drive it, but other than that, you never worry about battling for control or even spilling your coffee during routine commutes and shopping trips. The awesome power is always lurking in the background, but it feels otherwise restrained and well controlled.
But you need to pay serious attention during hard driving. Road tests show the 2020 BMW X5 M Competition is capable of going from zero to 60 in under four seconds. It felt that way to us, even though we didn't use a stopwatch for confirmation.
The all-wheel-drive and multiple traction control system kept everything together when we found roads empty enough to test the limits, however. The stability was remarkable, considering we were practically defying the laws of physics. It's hard to believe that a vehicle weighing more than two-and-a-half tons can be so fun to drive fast, but it is.
The base 2020 BMW X5 starts at under $60,000 with a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six. It's already an excellent midsize SUV and should be more than enough for most drivers. But if you want to go crazy, the X5 M starts and $141,100. And if you want to go wild, you can step up to the X5 M Competition with all the bells and whistles for $126,295. If you can afford it, you won't regret it.
2020 BMW X5 M Competition
Base price: $114,100
Price as tested: $126,295
Type: Midsize performance crossover SUV
Engine: Twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8 (600 or 617 hp, 553 lbs-ft)
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
EPA estimated mileage: 13/18
Overall length: 195 inches
Curb weight: 5,450 pounds
Final assembly: Spartanburg, North Carolina
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