The BMW X6 M is a mode of transport that makes about as much sense as the current state of Australian politics. It’s not a coupe or a real SUV, yet it sits somewhere in the middle and no matter what you think of its divisive looks and bold character, it’s unbelievably fast.
Even BMW admits that the original X6 was an answer to a question nobody had asked. The German company sold far more first-generation X6s than it had anticipated and as such, arch rival Mercedes-Benz unashamedly followed with the GLE Coupe. The second-generation BMW X6 launched in Australia recently and the X6 M — tested here — will follow in April.
To find out why spending around $200,000 on an impractical SUV is a rational decision, we came to the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) racetrack in Austin, Texas, the home of the United States Formula One grand prix.
From the outside, the new BMW X6 M distinguishes itself with three large air openings at the front, quad tailpipes, a spoiler at the rear, double spoke M design 21-inch wheels, M grille and mirrors, blue brake callipers and much respected M badging all around.
Jump inside and it’s familiar BMW territory with signature M treatment and the usual high quality fit and finish we are accustom to expect in a BMW. It’s not as loud or audacious as its exterior, but that’s a good thing.
In saying that, the X6 M is a car that an introvert would seldom seek solace. In fact, one could argue that the X6 M’s buyer personality profile would be highly predicable. If not for its looks, than surely the orchestral soundtrack that so unforgivingly roars from the updated 4.4-litre twin-turbocharged (twin-scroll) V8 engine would send Greenpeace into a frenzy.
With 423kW of power and 750Nm of torque, it’s certainly not lacking in the power department. Though it’s 7kW and 10Nm short of the Mercedes-Benz GLE 63 AMG S Coupe (5.5-litre twin-turbocharged V8), it shoots from 0-100km/h in the same 4.2 seconds as its German nemesis.
With those figures in mind, it’s little surprise why BMW brought us to a racetrack. BMW believes that while figures may be similar to its new rival, the X6 M is the most dynamically capable competitor in its class.
The idea of driving an SUV on a racetrack is nonsensical at the best of times. If you wish to participate in regular track days you’d do the sensible thing and just buy an M3 or M4 — both excellent and very capable track and everyday cars. Yet the X6 M is somehow exhilarating to drive fast very fast.
Following DTM drivers, Marco Wittmann and Augusto Farfus for a dozen laps at full speed around COTA is an excellent way to see why the X6 M is so appealing. Unlike its predecessor, the new M car is equipped with bigger and better brakes as well as non-runflat tyres, both of which make a world of difference at high speed.
The grip from the car’s xDrive system on the limit is unlike any SUV we’ve driven. It hangs on in the corners long after you’ve pressed send on your will and with its rear-bias torque delivery, the potential for a controlled drift is always present, and frankly, any SUV that can go sideways upon request gets a big tick in today’s nanny state. More so, it’s an elegant demonstration of the car’s 50:50 weight distribution and over-engineered dynamic performance.
Some may tell you that the steering feel is not what it used to be — and it’s not. But it’s still uber direct and well weighted, but follows BMW’s recent philosophical change of making their cars more accessible to everyday drivers.
Unfortunately, though, it’s also like the current crop of M cars, since the only way one can drive it enthusiastically without frustration is in MDM mode, where the hordes of electronic aids loosen their iron grip.
Leave the steering, powertrain and suspension in comfort mode and you’ll find the much loathed yellow traction control warning light, which we liken to clippy from the early days of Microsoft Word, showing its ugly head almost at any moment something fun is about to happen.
As for the modes themselves, even with the suspension setting left in comfort the X6 M is a little too firm, which is saying a lot as we mostly road tested the car on smooth Texan roads that are significantly better than those found at home.
However, if you’re expecting a plush ride in an X6 M, you’re not matching the buyer demographic. This is perhaps where Mercedes-AMG, with its voodoo magic of making AMG cars ride smoothly without too much dynamic compromise might have an advantage with the GLE 63 AMG.
But it’s important to note that you can live with it daily. It will perform like a trained docile guide dog when it's left alone and turn into something far more savage with a double press of the M2 button on the steering wheel.
Unlike the sedan and coupe models in the M range, the X6 and X5 M both make use of an eight-speed ZF transmission (as opposed to a Getrag seven-speed DCT), this might seem like a downgrade but it’s the opposite considering the application.
It’s smooth to shift around town, yet still quick to drop down or rapid fire at speed. BMW estimates the shift difference is around 100ms between the heavier ZF and sportier Getrag dual-clutch transmission. A worthy compromise.
For those looking to upgrade from a first generation BMW X6 M, don’t be fooled by the specification sheet of the new car that shows the same 4.4L twin turbo V8 engine, it’s anything but. Ignoring the extra 15kW and 70Nm, BMW has updated a significant portion of the power unit with an enormous emphasis on better cooling, utilising five coolant pumps.
There are significant hardware and software changes to the engine and transmission, giving it the same power but more torque than the more expensive BMW M5 (which is torque limited by its dual-clutch transmission).
The company’s engineers have also remodelled the exhaust and muffler systems with the engine now emitting a far more mechanical sound than before, which in some ways sounds closer to that of the new M3/4 than the V8s of old.
Overall, the premise from the introduction has not changed. The BMW X6 M makes no sense whatsoever. Yet, its allure and unexplainable appeal will bring plenty of uncontrollable grins to those that get it.
The previous car sold here for around $191,000 and we expect the price to remain largely unchanged with additional standard features.