BMW has done what it said it would never do and made M versions of its SUVs – the X5 M and the X6 M. And we’ve just driven the more expensive – and less practical – of the two, the £77,425 X6 M.
So what are the stats then?
The X6 M has a twin-turbo 4.4-litre V8 with a common exhaust manifold – a world first – that produces a significant 547bhp and a thick 501lb ft slug of torque available throughout most of the rev range. The run to 62mph takes just 4.7sec and top speed is a limited 155mph – though if you opt for some BMW Driver Training as part of a special M Driver’s package, it’ll get raised to 175mph. That's crazily fast for a 2.4-tonne SUV...
Pretty impressive numbers, but how does it feel on the road?
Fast for sure, but not mind-blowingly so. You have to use the Launch Control System – yes really, an SUV with launch control – to hit that acceleration time from standstill. However, it’s the mid-range surge that’s most impressive. Plant the throttle in any gear and the X6 M hunkers down and throws itself forward.
Okay, so it’s quick. But M cars are more than that – how does it handle?
It’s no M3 or M5 that’s for sure, no matter how many times BMW might harp on about the X6 M being a true M car. It’s not. It’s a big, heavy SUV and unfortunately feels it when you start to chuck it about.
Part of the X6 M’s problem is just how good the lesser-engined models are to drive. I was all against the X6 when it was first announced, but was seriously impressed when I first drove one. With the X6 M though, I was let down.
Let down? How so?
The X6 M doesn’t feel as agile as the rest of the range and that’s due to the extra weight it’s carrying. It tips the scales at 2380kg – 115kg more than the xDrive50i. And that car’s no slouch either; it’ll hit 62mph in 5.4sec.
Under heavy braking the X6 M feels like it’s standing on its nose and can become a little unsettled. Punt it through some tricky corners and the weight really becomes apparent. However, there’s very little body roll to speak off thanks to the electronically adjustable dampers. There’s absolutely loads of grip, though.
What, no showboating drift antics?
Unfortunately not. The X6 M is four-wheel drive and feels it. Torque is shifted between all four of the X6 M’s wheels through the clever Dynamic Performance Control system, but it’s never fully rear-drive. Throw it too hard into a corner and the X6 M juggles the power and you end up experiencing understeer, followed by a nice neutral balance, then just tipping into slight oversteer before everything gets beautifully back in control, all without any tyre-burning drama. It also sounds pretty rubbish, the V8 emits a deep grumble but it’s not going to raise the hairs on the back of your neck like an M3 or M5 can.
Is the X6 M the sign of things to come from M then?
Well, it’s a guarantee that the engine is going to feature in the new M5 due in a couple of years (and likely the new M6 too). However, the X6 M is four-wheel drive because it has to be, while future ‘true’ Ms will stay rear-drive.
Phew. Anything else of note with the X6 M?
Like other X6s, shifting is via a six-speed automatic gearbox though with proper + and – paddles, no confusing push-me/pull-you buttons here. But there’s no complex variety of shift maps like you’d find on other Ms, just Drive, Sport and Manual modes. It's all the better for it.
The interior doesn’t feel as special as other M cockpits. If you don’t notice the three M badges dotted around the cabin, you could be in a regular X6. The outside is different though.
Indeed it is. Does it really need all those vents?
M’s mantra on styling is that it only does things if they serve a purpose, not just to look good. The turbos get really hot when worked hard, so the more air that can be pushed under the bonnet the better.
How does the X6 M stack up against its rivals?
The Porsche Cayenne Turbo, Mercedes ML63 AMG and BMW X6M are all very closely matched on paper in relation to price, power and acceleration times. From our initial impressions, we'd put the X6 M square in the middle – it's much more involving than the ML to drive, but it's the Porsche that takes the edge. It's a group test we'll look forward to later in the year.
So what’s the final verdict then?
It’s not great. Sure the X6 M’s quick – how could it not be with 547bhp? – but it’s no driver’s car and certainly not something to take out on the track. The lesser X6s are much better to drive as even if they’re a little slower on paper, you’re unlikely to notice the difference on the road.
To be honest, we’re struggling to see the point of the X6 M – short of a straight-line drag race, it’s not that good at anything. BMW should stick to doing what it knows best with its M cars and not dilute the brand any further. We only hope the new M5 is going to be a return to form.