The monstrous BMW X5 M and X6 M twins-under-the-skin defy convention in the best kind of way
Those with a perfectly sensible disposition must find the world a baffling place.
But for the rest of us, who splurge on designer labels and novelties, there is an implicit understanding that sometimes we do things just… because.
There is no more appropriate way to set the scene for what we’re reviewing here — the BMW X5 M and X6 M — for the first time on local soil, on the company’s media launch.
Australians are buying more SUVs than ever. They’re also buying more premium vehicles than ever. And performance versions therein sell at a rate unheard of anywhere else to boot, given BMW M, Mercedes-AMG and Audi RS are all posting records year on year.
So it figures that a pair of brutal and uncompromising turbocharged V8 off-roaders, built to handle a racetrack, embody the current automotive zeitgeist like little else.
What does that say about us as a car buying nation? Who really cares. You might hate these cars with a passion, or you might embrace the excess they represent as perfectly understandable. You might have gained some kids and a dog, but you haven’t lost your soul.
Either way, it’s a little hard to argue with a 2.3-tonne crossover that eats up Tasmanian targa roads with the sort of aplomb that few conventional sportscars can.
As we reported in our pricing and specification story this week, these twins are the most powerful regular production BMWs you can buy.
The ‘sensible’ X5 version and the flat-out ridiculous X6 ‘coupe’ version cost $185,900 and $194,700 plus on-road costs respectively, which is a lot of money. About $37K more than a 740Nm triple-turbo-diesel M50d derivative of either.
But then again, they also undercut the less muscular, no faster and way less practical M5 and M6 passenger twins by about $45,000 and $100,000 apiece. The X5 is also about $45K cheaper than the less powerful Porsche Cayenne Turbo.
Amazingly, BMW Australia expects as many as one-in-five X6 models sold here will be the X6 M, while the figure for the X5 is a little lower at about 5 per cent. Those are still big numbers.
Under the bonnet of each is an evolutionary 4.4-litre TwinPower turbocharged petrol V8 familiar from said M5/M6 with lag-reducing cross-bank exhaust manifolds, pumping out 423kW of power and 750Nm of torque between 2200 and 5000rpm. Oh, and there are 10 separate radiators to cool the car down.
These outputs trail only the M5 Jahre special edition, no longer on sale.
BMW says each dashes from zero to 100km/h 4.2 seconds with launch control, the same as an M5. Throw the eight-speed ZF torque converter auto (a BMW dual-clutch can’t handle the torque) into D, plant your foot, and you realise it’s not a stretch.
Power delivery is instantaneous, and somewhat disarming in its linearity as you ride that wave of torque up the rev band. Set the throttle/gear shift to the most aggressive sports setting for best results.
The noise is less canned and artificial than an M5, because there’s nothing piped in via the speakers. It’s raucous, but perhaps less so than you might think. More a rumbler than a screamer — the latter of which seems to be the province of AMG.
You do get some fairly entertaining blips on upshifts and downshifts, which is a positive to the transmission that counteracts the rather irritating gear-shifter itself, which has an unusual gate that takes a while to get used to, given you’ll often struggle to engage D for a few seconds. Minor gripe.
Torque is sent to the road via an xDrive all-wheel drive system with electronically controlled multi-place clutch that allows fully variable drive distribution (100 per cent, either way) between the axles.
On a wet road, the system helps channel the power better than in a rear-drive M5/M6. It’s a tough ask indeed to elicit wheelspin and to trip up the lightning-fast redistribution of torque, or to throw out the unflappable traction control (which has adjustable parameters).
Improved over the donor cars is the steering, which remains electro-assisted but gets a revised progressive steering system with three settings. The sportiest mode adds some welcome resistance and removes any hint of play on-centre.
Still, there really isn’t all that much feel and feedback through the (lovely thin-rimmed) steering wheel.
Each M version rides 10mm lower than the regular model, and has M-specific elastokinematics. German brands love engineering speak. Both offer better directional stability. Both turn-in better than you’d think and stay flatter (less prone to roll) than you’d think.
Behind the 21-inch wheels shod with Michelin Pilot Supersports rubber (not, we add, run-flats, which we discovered when we managed to lodge a massive rusty nail in one of the 325/35 rears) are bigger brakes (392mm front/385mm rear) with more pad surface area, that remain fade-free after a workout.
The transfer of weight in this situation, and in general rapid sequences, is deceptive to a point, but you never quite lose sight of the fact you’re steering a tall wagon that weights about 2.5-tonnes with two people and gear aboard. Physics > BMW, apparently.
Each model rides firmly — a by-product of the body control — but softens up in Comfort mode to an acceptable degree. There’s more suspension travel than a conventional sportscar, but it’ll still communicate more road imperfections than regular SUVs.
As well as the muscular wheels and lower height, each is differentiated by quad exhausts, tweaked kidney grille, new front air dam and rear apron with diffuser.
Each looks menacing, though obviously the X6 will polarise in a way the handsome X5 will not. In a perverse way, the X6 makes sense — if you’re going to buy a ridiculous car, better off going the whole hog. That said, logically, the X5 is the better bet given its heightened practicality.
Inside is a lovely new M leather steering wheel with gearshift paddles, a standard Head-Up Display (HUD) and multifunction switches with M Drive buttons on the steering wheel (there are two pre-sets for the driving modes).
There are Merino leather sports seats that you can get in lairy red if you like, with contrast stitching and an embossed M logo in the backrests, and a leather-covered BMW Individual instrument panel. But BMW will sting you almost $8000 for optional extra leather bits and an Alcantara headliner that you can draw temporary outlines into with your fingers… we suppose.
Each version comes pretty loaded with equipment, as you would expect. The list includes an automatic tailgate, automatic climate control, a harman/kardon sound system, Park Distance Control with Surround View function, adaptive LED headlights with an anti-dazzle high-beam function and active cornering, and Professional Navigation system on a floating hi-def flatscreen.
BMW claims about $15,000 worth of extras over the predecessor models. Worth noting is the fact that the new front bumper with intakes precludes full active city stop from fitment.
As ever, each is a practical SUV, though the X5 obviously betters its edgier sibling in terms of rear headroom and outward visibility. Five people and their gear is relatively manageable in both, with the X6’s rear headroom — even with a sunroof — still sufficient for those above 190cm tall.
Given the boxier shape, the X5 carries more stuff: 650 litres with the seats up and 1870L when folded flat 40:20:40. The X6 by comparison is 550L/1520L under its roof-mounted hatch. Both have loading rails and netting, and space-saver spare wheels only underneath the load floor.
The fascia itself is typically BMW — easy to operate, with its peerless iDrive system — while the seat and steering wheel electric adjustability is excellent. Yet despite the lashing of leather, a Range Rover Sport still feels more upmarket, even if its multimedia operation falls well short of the BMW.
Honestly, assessing a car as a day-to-day proposition based on a media event is tough. But the key to these cars is realising just what they actually are. Both are bigger, more spacious and way cheaper than an M5 or M6, yet no slower in a straight line and no doubt more effective at getting those mountains of power down thanks to good variable AWD systems.
Like or lump the idea, it’s hard to fault the execution.