Exactly 25 years ago, BMW achieved its last overall victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans - arguably the world's greatest endurance race. This year, the Bavarians competed in the top class again for the first time in the battle for the crown.

The anniversary was reason enough for us to accept BMW's invitation and make the journey to Le Mans. In keeping with the occasion, the BMW XM Label was chosen as the ultimate BMW M model. After all, we had to cover almost 650 miles in two stages.

Gallery: BMW XM Label 2024 Le Mans Trip

A car for great self-confidence

This vehicle was the first project to be developed exclusively by M GmbH since the blessed M1. However, the XM has as much in common with the mid-engined sports car as a fighting bull has with a hunting dog. This car - some also affectionately call a "monster" - is polarising in today's world and seems a little out of date.

The aggressive, brutal-looking design in particular is a bold statement these days and is far from universally popular, as we experienced several times on our tour.

On the other hand, many car fans celebrate and admire BMW for precisely this bold statement. And my 13-year-old (and car-mad) daughter also stated, "I can't see any ugliness!" As always, it's all in the eye of the beholder. As a petrolhead car enthusiast, it is very difficult to escape the effect of this overall experience and it is very difficult to set objective standards here.

Price and performance at the limit

But thank goodness we don't need or want to do that in this case, because this is not going to be a sober test report, but the description of a road trip that had it all. We started in Garching, just outside Munich, where we picked up "our" XM in the test car department.

And it wasn't just any XM (if there is such a thing with such an exclusive vehicle), but a "Label" (without Red), i.e. the highest configuration level with 748 PS. Incidentally, this is the most powerful BMW ever built for the road.

The whole thing was packaged in the famously provocative bodywork, which in our case was painted in the special colour "Petrol Mica". This paint skilfully conceals the enormous proportions of the XM, but also costs almost €7,000 (approx. £6,000) extra. However, in view of the price tag on our vehicle, which is a whopping €222,950 (£188,500), this is somehow put into perspective. Costs shouldn't play a role for owners of this car anyway, as we also learned on this trip.

<p>BMW XM Label 2024 Le Mans Trip</p>

Collection at PKV Garching

Head nuts and screw clamp

In the large delivery hall, the XM almost takes a step back and no longer looks quite so menacing. The interior is also not as aggressive as in the "Label Red", but is finished in elegant black "Merino" leather and only accentuated by a few red elements. The very sporty seating position is noticeable as soon as you take a seat. As is typical for BMW, the side bolsters of the seats are rather narrow, which can be quite uncomfortable on the buttocks and thighs on long journeys, but this could also be due to the size of the rider.

While we're on the subject of complaining, the integrated, non-adjustable headrest became a real nuisance during the tour. If you adjust the seat backrest to a reasonably upright position, the headrest practically rests against the back of your head. Not only does this mean that there is hardly any freedom of movement, but the XM's tremendous acceleration also means that you have to hit your head repeatedly. The fact that it is also barely padded doesn't make things any better, but they don't work here with kid gloves!

<p>BMW XM Label 2024 Le Mans Trip</p>

BMW multifunctional sports seats

Motorway as a natural habitat

However, these minor niggles fade away as soon as we enter the motorway. The plan was to get from Garching to Paris on the first day in order to spend the night there. The aim was to cover a lot of ground on the few hundred kilometres of German motorway to the border, and nobody can do this better than the XM. The thing simply pushes like hell. The almost 200 extra horsepower of the electric motor is particularly noticeable in the extremely spontaneous response behaviour, which provides the aforementioned head-bobbing.

A full 1,000 Nm are thrown onto the 22-inch wheels by the standard M sports differential. With unbelievable grip and a rich V8 sound, the car shoots forwards in a way that makes your head spin. But it's better to stay wide awake at all times, because what feels so light-footed when accelerating will catch up with you when braking at the latest, as the BMW cannot wish away the weight of around three tonnes even with the finest technology.

What helps incredibly on the motorway is the XM's huge kidney grille, which is illuminated at night. Apparently, it is such an impressive sight in the rear-view mirror that nobody wants to block the left-hand lane any longer than necessary. Even Lambos make way, hang on behind and have to realise that even they have no chance in most cases or at least have to make a real effort. It's fun that way!

<p>BMW XM Label 2024 Le Mans Trip</p>

Giant grill with overtaking prestige

Hybrid - a source of fun instead of a fuel saver

Looking at the fuel consumption display is less fun. With this kind of driving style, 18 to 20 litres easily flow into the engine every 60 miles, despite the hybridisation. Fun costs, you know, given the small fuel tank - only 69 litres - you don't really get very far, but regular stops also bring the adrenalin level down again.

The good adaptation of the electric motor is striking. The battery, which was full when we set off, is only moderately drained during the journey and is easily recharged if necessary. This means that the battery is only empty after almost 500 miles, but still always has enough reserve for boosting. This works very well.

The only flaw is the delayed transition from electric driving to the V8 engine when a load is demanded. Some time is lost in all the processes that are apparently necessary for this. The whole thing is most pleasant to drive when the battery is empty, when the electric phases are missing and electricity is only used for boosting.

Heavyweight with amazing cornering qualities

But motorway driving alone is also kind of boring, which is why we turn off onto the Baden wine route and surf a little through the winding hills. The adaptive suspension with roll stabilisation conceals the high weight very well to a certain extent in the sportiest position, so that the XM can be manoeuvred through the bends almost light-footedly. The sticky Yokohamas also play their part.

BMW XM Label 2024 Le Mans Trip

Fun maker country road

But physics cannot be outwitted even with the finest technology. From a certain point, the almost three tonnes simply push irresistibly towards the edge of the bend, and you should always be prepared for this. Thanks to the really great, sensitive steering, however, such escapades can always be controlled well.

The miles to the border literally fly by. In France, it's time to give up. A top speed of 130 km/h (80 mph) on the motorway - rigorously monitored - gives you enough time to cruise. The XM is also a master of this. Thanks to the "M Setup" with its extensive configuration options, the suspension, drive, brakes and sound can be so softened that you almost feel like you're in a touring saloon. If only the seat bolsters didn't pinch your bum so much.

Brief moments of happiness are provided by the numerous toll stations, from which you can accelerate out so beautifully every time. With the flaps open and manually shifted, of course - you don't treat yourself to anything else. That way, the other road users - mainly travelling in battered small cars - also get something out of it, and they were delighted when we interpreted the gestures in the rear-view mirror favourably.

You can also keep fuel consumption reasonably under control with such a driving style, although rarely less than 13 litres/100 km (21.7 mpg-UK) flow through the injectors. Only with absolute abstinence did we once manage 12 l/100km (23.5 mpg), but that's no fun. Weight, cubic capacity and cw value simply cannot be ignored. Now is also the time to activate the extensive armada of assistants. Although the BMW deactivates some systems for legal reasons when crossing the border, the XM can also be driven close to autonomously on French motorways.

BMW XM Label 2024 Le Mans Trip

Fun fact on the side: An unlucky wasp that hit the radar sensor and remained there caused several moments of shock in the form of spontaneous braking for no apparent reason, which posed a few challenges, especially for the drivers behind. We were then able to eliminate the cause at the refuelling stop. Rest in peace.

Complete infotainment with operating and design weaknesses

Via the wireless Android Auto, we let our favourite playlist run through the "Bowers & Wilkings" sound system, which incidentally also costs just under €4,500 (£3,800) extra. However, the sound is absolutely convincing. The aforementioned Android Auto is very well integrated into the current OS8 infotainment system, so that, unlike the previous version, Google navigation can also be shown on the instrument display.

One negative aspect that has already been mentioned many times, however, is the operation of the system with its many small tiles and unnecessarily complex menus. You have enough time to search on boring French motorways, but it is not useful.

BMW XM Label 2024 Le Mans Trip
BMW XM Label 2024 Le Mans Trip

The new instrument layout, which reminds us strongly of old cheap games consoles, is also a matter of taste. Why not simply offer customers several different views to choose from? After all, it's just software and certainly not rocket science.

Why not have the classic dials of a BMW E30 M3 on the screen? Or just normal analogue clocks? BMW could even turn this into a business model with a subscription, but there will certainly be reasons not to do this.

Also works in small French towns

We are now close to the city of Reims, which we have heard a lot of good things about. Reason enough for a short detour to the cathedral in the winding city centre. Here, too, the XM does a surprisingly good job. With the active rear-axle steering, we easily steer the SUV, which is over five metres long and over two metres wide, through the narrow alleyways and, with the parking assistant integrated into the expensive "Driving Assistant Professional" package, also find our way safely into a small space.

However, the locals don't seem to really like us and our "monster", as disparaging looks and mumbled comments (fortunately incomprehensible to us) suggest. An impression that was later reinforced in Paris.

BMW XM Label 2024 Le Mans Trip

Reims in France

So we quickly get back on the train and continue towards the French capital. The closer we get, the heavier the traffic becomes. Here, too, the assistants help us to keep our distance and lane in the traffic jam, making our arrival much more relaxed. The only thing that really stresses us out are the countless motorbikes that race between the jammed cars with their hazard warning lights on and at crazy speeds. Even the best driving assistant can't cope with that.

XM and Paris - not a love affair!

A major challenge awaits us at our hotel in Paris. The entrance to the underground car park warns of a clearance height of 1.8 metres. How high was the XM again? Of course we don't remember, but it can't be much less. We take the plunge anyway and get in cleanly (it's 1.76 metres, we read later in the vehicle registration document). But the entire underground car park is clearly designed for Renault 5 rather than BMW XM, so we sing the praises of the rear-wheel steering and the 360° camera again.

The next day, we bravely set off in the direction of Paris city centre. With such a large SUV, it's not without its problems in today's Paris, where the topic is currently the subject of heated debate. The Parisian government wants to get large and heavy SUVs out of the city by imposing horrendous parking charges, and it's clear to see why.

So we use the XM's electric mode as often as possible, where instead of the V8 rumble, all we hear is a muffled spaceship howl from Hans Zimmer. However, this doesn't protect us from various nasty looks, especially from bike-riding locals, whom we naturally come quite close to in the narrow streets.

BMW XM Label 2024 Le Mans Trip
BMW XM Label 2024 Le Mans Trip

So we quickly leave again and set off on the last few miles towards Le Mans. The traffic gets heavier well before we get there and we have to make our way to the BMW Camp within the race track through various traffic jams. The inadequate signposting of the route and the (naturally) non-existent English skills of the stewards - who were all very friendly - didn't necessarily help either. At some point, we finally arrive at the BMW campsite and move into our cosy tipi.

BMW Camp in Le Mans

BMW Camp in Le Mans

BMW XM Label 2024 Le Mans Trip

BMW Camp in Le Mans

BMW with a mixed race weekend

The race itself went rather sub-optimally for our host. Both BMW hypercars retired early due to accidents. The top car in the LM-GT3 class, with superstar Valentino Rossi in the cockpit among others, also had to retire early. Only the second BMW M4 GT3 in this class made it through and finished third on the class podium. A small consolation after all the disappointment. If you want to find out more about the race, the colleagues at our sister magazine Motorsport-Total.com will be happy to help.

Despite the very mixed weather, we really enjoyed the race weekend. The 24 Hours of Le Mans always has a unique atmosphere and is always sold out. The atmosphere is correspondingly good. Due to the large number of participating manufacturers, this event is also an absolute sporting highlight. And the return journey to Garching is still waiting for us!