BMW 4×4 gets the M treatment (2008)

Published: 18 October 2007

An X5 that’s been to BMW’s hallowed M-sport division? Surely not!

We’ve long assumed that BMW wouldn’t dare send its off-roaders to the M division toyshop, but we’re hearing the first rumours that this is exactly what’s happening. And this tuned X5 that’s been spotted on numerous occasions is said to be an engineering mule for a high-performance 4×4. So is BMW chasing the ultimate fat-cat’s plaything, the Porsche Cayenne Turbo? Sort of. Although there are no plans for an M-badged X5, our man in Munich suggests that this is a prototype for a breathed-on X6, the slinkier half SUV, half coupe revealed at the recent Frankfurt show.

An M X6 in an X5 bodyshell? It’s a world of badge confusion…

Let’s look at the evidence. Our professional spies vouch that this car wasn’t an independent tuner car – it had official BMW engineers crawling all over it. So it’s not just a hot X5 with a racy bodykit. And check out the grossly enlarged airvents at the front, and quad-pipe exhausts at the rear – typical features of M-division cars. When CAR’s assistant editor Ben Barry visited the M division’s HQ on the ironically named Daimler Strausser on the fringes of Munich for our feature in CAR Magazine (June 2007), he indeed spied an X5 in a curtained-off area. What engine would a high-performance X5 or X6 run? One option would be the extraordinary V10 from the M5 and M6. It’s a great engine, but relies on high-revving antics to deliver its punch. Peak torque doesn’t arrive until 6100rpm, and its 384lb ft is only slightly up on the 4.8-litre X5’s 350lb ft. Not quite enough to punt around a 2180kg SUV with much alacrity then. Our man suggests that BMW is considering going down the hybrid option. Like Lexus, the Bavarians could make their high-performance off-roaders green and fast. It’s more in keeping with the zeitgeist, after all.

A high-performance X6 hybrid? So the M division are playing with Duracell batteries?

Perhaps. At Frankfurt BMW unveiled an X6 concept, which is a thinly veiled example of its new crossover. So this engineering mule could be BMW’s new hybrid system on test. The rear of the X6 ActiveHybrid concept had a motorised bumper that moved to cover the exhausts when the car was running on electric power only (a great bit of marketing department showing off!) and this mule clearly has some exhaust testing going on. If the boot is now full of electrical gubbins for the hybrid system, the exhausts may have to be re-routed. All very specualtive, but there are shards of evidence to support this theory…

Tell me more about BMW’s hybrid system

BMW was tight-lipped at Frankfurt, but it did say its 2009 hybrid features two electric motors, a high-performance battery, a two-range transmission and three planetary gearsets. The system is being jointly developed with GM and Mercedes, and at Frankfurt Mercedes took the wraps off a whole host of hybrids. In 2009 Mercedes will launch S400 and ML450 hybrids; Merc’s off-roader is said to pump out a modest 185g/km. If BMW can match that figure, it stands a fighting chance of making its newcomer more acceptable in a greener world.

By Ben Pulman

CAR's editor-at-large, co-ordinator, tallboy