I had a short drive in a disguised BMW XM prototype earlier this year; the kind BMW often facilitates to give testers an early idea of what to expect from the driving experience of a new car, but to keep the finer points of the styling reserved for comment later.

Now we’ve all seen it with the camouflage off, you can make your own mind up about the looks of the car; but the drive that left me particularly cold on the day.

The problem, perhaps, was the context. We tested the XM on some narrow Alpine roads in Austria, where it felt big, wide and heavy, and there was very little chance to explore what that 740bhp hybrid powertrain could do to keep the driver interested.

And the car, the M Division admits, is one with a particularly global, growth-oriented agenda; it’s not really intended to appeal to us Europeans, but instead to build the BMW M brand in places like The Middle East and China, where its exaggerated outright size and features should seem more in tune with wider car culture, and its blend of dynamic strengths more relevant.

But it was the M Division engineer I remember clearest, who encapsulated the car perfectly for me, without knowing it. He reacted monosyllabically when I asked about rivals for dynamic benchmarking, and whether air suspension had been considered; and then he asked much more enthusiastically whether I’d like to ride in the back seats, or if I’d seen photos of the special illuminated headlining they’d developed for the car. 

This is a luxury M car like none the company has ever built; but I don’t suppose BMW will mind how well it sells in markets like ours. 

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