In many respects, the BMW X6 is impossible to classify. With respect to its dimensions, it’s an SUV, plain and simple.
By Mark Hacking, Atlanta, Georgia
Further proof; it’s built on the same platform as the X5, and that’s an SUV, right? However, the X6 has a coupe-like shape and BMW steadfastly refuses to refer to it as an SUV. Me, I like to call it an urban assault vehicle.
The regular X6, with its massive footprint, significant cornering capabilities and relatively soft suspension, feels like it could roll over pretty much anything, including other cars, pedestrians, buildings and the like.
Now we have the brand new BMW X6 M, a high-performance variant that is even more of an oddity in the automotive world.
Along with its X5 M sibling, the X6 M is the very first all-wheel-drive M vehicle to be developed by the mad scientists at BMW M GmbH. It’s also the first turbocharged M, a bit of a surprise given that the division first began to factory-pimp cars way back in 1978.
Over the past 30 years, they have cranked out some of the most desirable automobiles known to man or machine. So the obvious question is; does the X6 M continue a rich tradition of ultra high performance and do the M badge justice?
To find out, we rolled out of suburban Atlanta, in the United States, and made a beeline for Road Atlanta, a challenging racetrack that hosts the Petit Le Mans endurance race every year.
The course is fast in places, has treacherous curbing and features a number of turns that demand razor-sharp handling.
For safety’s sake, the organizers prevented us from negotiating the hair-raising final turn before the start/finish line, not much run-off area here, and instead opted to send us down pit lane at a mandatory 60km/h. (In effect, it was like getting a drive-through penalty every lap!).
While this set-up effectively derailed any flow to the lap, it mattered little because the remaining 10 corners gave a solid sense of what the X6 M is all about.
First things first: It’s an SUV. Ignore the fact that the BMW comes armed with a twin-turbo, 4.4-litre V8 that pounds out 408kW and 680Nm of torque from 1500 to 5650rpm.
Pay no attention to the fact that the thing can accelerate from zero to 100km/h in 4.7 seconds courtesy of a launch control system. Set aside the top speed of 275km/h top speed, a fairly stratospheric figure available with the optional M Driver’s Package.
Disregard all this wildly impressive information and, instead, consider the following; the X6 M weighs 2350kg and stands 1684mm high.
That’s a lot of vehicle to be tossing around a racetrack, no matter what might be under the bonnet. Sure enough, the BMW does not feel like a 400+ kilowatt vehicle under hard acceleration, it might be fast, it just doesn’t feel that fast.
Although the thing carved corners reasonably well and generated relatively heavy g-loads without the expected body roll, the undulating track did highlight a few weaknesses.
Down the long back straight, I saw 235 km/h on the slick heads-up display before having to hammer on the brakes for the ninety-degree turn 10A left-hander.
This was the absolute maximum I could extract from the X6 M before courage gave way; not only did the SUV get extremely light over a rise going down the straight, the brakes also faded after just a few laps of high-speed approaches. This was disappointing – until I remembered that the X6 M is, in fact, an SUV.
The vehicle could definitely benefit from a larger fixed rear wing. Or possibly a larger rear wing that deploys automatically at high speeds, such as Porsche has on its models.
So, too, could the BMW use more powerful brakes, it comes with 395mm vented rotors and four-piston fixed callipers in the front, 385mm vented rotors with single-piston callipers at the back. To be fair, although the brakes did fade quickly, they reached a point at which the pedal feel did not worsen.
The X6 M features a lot of wizardry designed to help you forget it’s an SUV.
Chief among these goodies is the torque vectoring all-wheel-drive system, technology that sees power transmitted from one rear wheel to the other to aid in cornering. It’s a slick system that certainly has the thing motoring around corners with a healthy amount of momentum.
Of course, the BMW also comes standard with a stability control system that enables switching from normal to sport mode.
Pressing the ‘M’ button on the steering wheel triggers the least intrusive amount of stability control, along with the most aggressive level of power delivery, more responsive steering and a sportier setting for the electronically-controlled dampers.
The transmission is a six-speed automatic, dubbed the M Sports Automatic, with three shift modes: drive, sport and manual.
The gear selector is one of the centre console-mounted numbers, as found in many new BMWs and the manual shift mode can be operated using the proper paddle-shifters mounted on the steering wheel.
Both the sport and manual shift modes proved less than fully satisfying during the track session. In sport mode, automatic up shifts seemed to happen at inopportune times; in manual mode, the BMW was reluctant to shift down into second at the aforementioned turn 10A, despite the engine speed being in the required rev range.
Cosmetically, the X6 M differs from the base X6 in a few ways. The M has a different front fascia with massive air intakes, special gills in the side panels, a sculpted rear air dam, a pair of dual tailpipes and 20-inch light alloy wheels.
Inside, the X6 M boasts a special M steering wheel, M sport seats and the heads-up display that reveals the gear indicator, digital speed readout and illustrated tachometer.
Now, make no mistake, despite its weaknesses, the BMW proved great fun around the track. I had the option of driving just 10 laps and then making an early break for the hotel mini bar.
Instead, I stuck it out till the rain threatened, running the tank dry on our X6 M and flogging it around for about 25 laps in total.
In the presentation, the M engineers referred to the X6 M as, “the ultimate sports car in the SUV segment.”
Without a doubt, this is an SUV you could take to a track day; the question is, would you? For my part, I’d rather enjoy the fine work of the M technicians from behind the wheel of an M3 or M5!