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Von Bayern nach Le Mans: Mit dem BMW XM zum legendären 24-Stunden-Rennen

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Captivating Le Mans – Heading to the Prestigious Race with the BMW XM (2024)

Embarking on a remarkable journey with the most powerful BMW ever created by M GmbH…

It's been a quarter-century since BMW achieved their last overall victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans – arguably the world’s most renowned endurance race. This year, the team from Bavaria made a comeback in the premier category to compete for the championship title.

The anniversary served as a sufficient reason for us to accept BMW's invitation and make the trip to Le Mans. In keeping with the significance of the event, we chose the pinnacle of BMW M excitement, the BMW XM Label. After all, we had to conquer just over 1,040 kilometers, split into two stages.

Photo Gallery: BMW XM Label 2024 Le Mans Journey

A Car for the Bold and Confident

This vehicle marks the first initiative solely spearheaded by the M GmbH since the venerable M1. However, the XM shares as much in common with that mid-engine sports car as a bull does with a hunting dog. This car, affectionately referred to by some as a "beast," stands out in the modern era, seeming somewhat anachronistic.

The bold and fierce aesthetic that's currently in vogue certainly makes a strong statement and isn't universally embraced, a fact we witnessed firsthand several times on our journey.

On the flip side, numerous car enthusiasts celebrate and admire BMW for this bold move. Even my 13-year-old daughter, who's passionate about cars, remarked, "I don't see any ugliness there!" It just goes to show that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. As someone with a deep passion for cars, it's challenging to remain unaffected by the overall experience and to apply objective criteria to it.

Price and Performance Pushed to the Edge

Fortunately, in this instance, we neither require nor desire a dry, analytical review. Instead, what follows is the recounting of an eventful road trip. Our journey commenced in Garching, located on the outskirts of Munich, where we collected "our" XM from the test vehicle department.

And it wasn't just any XM (if that even exists with such a premium device), but a "Label" (sans Red), representing the ultimate version with 748 horsepower. Incidentally, this is the most powerful BMW ever constructed for road use.

The vehicle was encased in its signature controversial exterior design, this time painted in the special "Petrol Mica" color. This paint choice skillfully disguises the XM's enormous size, but it also adds nearly 7,000 euros to the price tag. However, considering our model is priced at a hefty 222,950 euros, the cost of the paint seems somewhat insignificant. It becomes apparent on this journey that for owners of such a car, expenses are not a major concern.

Pick-up at the Private Car Club Garching

Nuts and Clamps

Inside the expansive delivery warehouse, the XM appears somewhat subdued, losing a bit of its intimidating presence. The interior design opts for a less aggressive approach than the "Label Red" version, featuring luxurious black "Merino" leather with subtle red highlights. One immediately notices the sporty seating position upon entering the vehicle. True to BMW's design philosophy, the side bolsters of the seats are rather snug, which may lead to discomfort in the seat and thigh areas during extended drives. However, this could also depend on the driver's build…

Continuing with the grievances, the built-in, non-adjustable headrest became a real source of frustration during the drive. When the seatback is positioned relatively upright, the headrest practically touches the back of the head. This not only restricts movement but also, due to the XM's tremendous acceleration, frequently results in uncomfortable jolts to the head. The lack of sufficient padding on the headrest only exacerbates the issue. But it's clear that this design wasn't crafted with a gentle touch in mind!

BMW Multi-Functional Sports Seats

Highway as a Natural Habitat

The minor annoyances quickly fade away once you hit the highway. The objective was to drive from Garching to Paris on the first day and spend the night there. This meant covering a significant distance on the German autobahn before reaching the border. And nothing does it better than the XM. This beast just powers through like mad. The nearly 200 additional horsepower from the electric motor is particularly noticeable in its extremely responsive performance, which is responsible for the aforementioned sudden jolts.

An impressive torque of 1,000 Nm is delivered to the 22-inch wheels through the standard M-Sport differential. With incredible traction and the deep roar of a V8 engine, the vehicle propels forward with such intensity it can make one feel dizzy. However, it's critical to stay fully alert because the seemingly effortless acceleration is quickly countered by the reality of braking a vehicle that weighs about three tons, a mass that not even the most sophisticated technology in the BMW can make disappear.

On the freeway, the massive, illuminated kidney grille of the XM proves to be incredibly effective. It seems that its commanding presence in one's rearview mirror encourages drivers to clear the left lane without hesitation. Even Lamborghinis respectfully move aside, often trailing behind, acknowledging that they're generally outmatched or need to put in considerable effort to keep up. This certainly adds an element of enjoyment to the drive!

Giant grill with prestige to outperform

Hybrid Cars – More for Fun than Fuel Efficiency

Checking the fuel consumption gauge is less enjoyable. Even with a hybrid system, driving in such a manner can easily consume 18 to 20 liters per 100 kilometers. As the saying goes, fun isn't free… With a modest-sized fuel tank that holds just 69 liters, one can't expect to travel vast distances. However, frequent breaks can help lower the adrenaline levels.

It's noteworthy how well the electric motor adapts. The battery, fully charged at the start of our journey, depletes slowly as we travel and is also effortlessly recharged when necessary. Consequently, the battery doesn't run out until we've covered almost 800 kilometers, yet it always maintains an adequate backup for boosting. This functions quite effectively.

The only flaw is the lag in the switch from electric to V8 engine when there's a demand for power. There seems to be a noticeable delay due to the processes involved. The drive is most enjoyable when the battery is depleted, eliminating the electric stages and using electricity solely for boosting.

Heavyweight Exhibits Impressive Agility on Curves

Sticking to the highway can become monotonous, which is why we decide to venture onto the Baden Wine Road for a change of pace, cruising through its undulating, curve-filled landscape. The vehicle's adaptive suspension system with anti-roll stabilization does an excellent job of concealing its substantial mass, especially when set to its sportiest mode, allowing the XM to navigate bends with surprising nimbleness. The sticky Yokohama tires also play a significant role in enhancing this agility.

Amusement Maker Road

Despite the most sophisticated technology, physics cannot be outwitted. Beyond a certain threshold, the nearly three-ton weight irresistibly pushes towards the edge of the curve, and one should always be prepared for that. However, thanks to the superb, sensitive steering, such incidents can always be managed well.

As you make your way towards the border, the miles seem to fly by. Upon entering France, it's time to ease up. The strict enforcement of a 130 km/h speed limit on the highways provides plenty of opportunity for a leisurely drive. The XM excels at this too. With the "M Setup" and its extensive customization options, you can tweak the suspension, powertrain, brakes, and sound to the point where it almost feels like you're gliding in a luxury cruiser. If only the seat bolsters didn't press so uncomfortably against your backside…

Brief bursts of joy are provided by the many toll booths, which offer the perfect opportunity to accelerate out of each time. Naturally, with the exhaust valves open and shifting manually, because why not treat oneself? This way, other drivers – mostly in dented small cars – get to enjoy it too. And they seemed thrilled, if we choose to interpret the signs in the rearview mirror positively.

By adopting such a driving style, one can reasonably manage fuel consumption, although it rarely dips below 13 liters per 100 kilometers due to the injectors. Only with extreme restraint did we manage to lower it to 12 liters per 100 kilometers, but it's hardly enjoyable. The realities of weight, engine displacement, and drag coefficient are, after all, inescapable. Now is also the chance to engage the extensive suite of assistance features. Even though the BMW disables some systems upon crossing the border for legal reasons, the XM can still operate with near autonomy on French highways.

Interesting tidbit: A persistent wasp met its fate upon hitting the radar sensor and lodging itself there, leading to multiple instances of unexpected braking that seemed to have no apparent cause. This particularly tested the reactions of those driving behind. The issue was resolved during a stop for fuel. May it rest in peace.

The complete entertainment package comes with some usability and design flaws. We stream our favorite playlist through the "Bowers & Wilkins" sound system via wireless Android Auto, which, by the way, adds nearly 4,500 euros to the price tag. However, the sound quality is truly impressive. The mentioned Android Auto is seamlessly integrated into the latest OS8 infotainment system, unlike its predecessor, allowing users to display Google navigation directly on the instrument panel.

A recurring and negative aspect, however, is the system's interface which features a multitude of tiny tiles and needlessly complex menus. One might have ample time to navigate through these while driving on the monotonous highways of France, but that doesn't make it practical.

The new instrument panel design is a matter of personal preference, reminiscent of old, inexpensive gaming consoles. Why not give customers a choice of different layouts? After all, it's just software and certainly not rocket science.

Why not display the traditional scales of a BMW E30 M3 on the screen? Or just stick with standard analog clocks? BMW could potentially turn this into a subscription-based business model. However, there must be reasons for not pursuing this approach.

Effective even in small French towns

We're currently close to the city of Reims, a place we've heard great things about, prompting us to make a quick detour to explore its intricate city center and cathedral. Here, the XM impresses us again with its performance. Thanks to its active rear-wheel steering, we easily navigate the SUV, which is over five meters long and two meters wide, through the narrow streets. We also manage to snugly fit into a tight parking spot with the help of the high-end "Driving Assistant Professional" package's integrated parking aid.

It seems that the locals here don't really take a liking to us or our "beast," as indicated by their scornful looks and muttered comments, which fortunately, we can't understand. This feeling appeared to intensify later on during our time in Paris.

Reims, located in France

We quickly rejoined the motorway and continued our journey towards the French capital. As we approached, traffic became increasingly heavy. However, the onboard assistants proved invaluable in maintaining safe distances and lane integrity amidst the congestion, allowing for a much more relaxed arrival. The only real source of tension were the countless motorcycles that darted through the stationary cars at alarming speeds, their hazard lights flashing. Even the most advanced driving assistant struggles to cope with such unpredictable behavior.

XM and Paris – not exactly a match made in heaven!

We're faced with a significant challenge right at our Parisian hotel. The underground parking entrance displays a warning for a maximum clearance of 1.8 meters. Just how tall is the XM again? It's not something you remember off the top of your head, but it's definitely close. Nonetheless, we take the risk and manage to get in without a scrape (turns out it's 1.76 meters, as we later confirm from the registration document). However, it's clear that the entire parking garage was designed with smaller cars in mind, perhaps a Renault 5 rather than a BMW XM. This is where we once again appreciate the rear-wheel steering and the 360-degree camera.

The following day, we boldly head towards the heart of Paris. Navigating through the city in a large SUV is a bit of a challenge given the current debate in Paris. The city's government is looking to dissuade the presence of large, hefty SUVs by imposing steep parking fees, and it's quite evident why they're taking this stance.

We make the most of the XM's electric mode whenever possible, where instead of the V8's rumble, there's only a muted spaceship-like wail courtesy of Hans Zimmer. However, this doesn't shield us from the harsh stares of primarily cycling locals, who we inevitably get quite close to on the narrow streets.

We quickly made our exit and set off for the final stretch towards Le Mans. Traffic thickened considerably well before our destination, forcing us to navigate through several congested spots to reach the BMW camp located within the racetrack. The lack of clear signage and the (expected) language barrier with the French-speaking stewards, despite their friendliness, did not make the journey any easier. Eventually, we arrived at the BMW campsite and settled into our cozy tipi.

BMW Training Event at Le Mans

BMW Training Event at Le Mans Track

BMW Faces Mixed Fortunes at Race Weekend

The event turned out to be less than ideal for our hosts. Both BMW Hypercars were knocked out of the race early due to crashes. Furthermore, the leading car in the LM-GT3 category, featuring the renowned Valentino Rossi as one of its drivers, was also compelled to withdraw prematurely. The only silver lining was the second BMW M4 GT3 in the same category, which managed to finish third and secure a spot on the class podium. This offered a slight consolation amidst the overall disappointment. Those interested in more details about the race can find extensive coverage at our affiliate publication, Motorsport-Total.com.

Despite the unpredictable weather, we thoroughly enjoyed the race weekend. The 24 Hours of Le Mans consistently offers a one-of-a-kind vibe and typically sells out. As a result, the mood is always upbeat. With a multitude of competing brands, this event is also a sports spectacle. Plus, we still have our journey back to Garching to look forward to!

Additional information on the BMW XM:

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