Torque is a good thing. To any gearhead, having copious quantities of readily available torque available under their right foot is always welcome and the 2010 BMW X6 M has plenty to spare.
The X6 M is the steroid pumped version of the fastback crossover that BMW calls a “sport activity coupe.” BMW came up with this label in hopes of setting the X6 apart from other SUVs, but it really isn’t necessary. As soon as you lay eyes upon this thing, you know it is something different. Prior to the X6, SUVs largely stuck to the traditional wagon format. The five door fastback is not a new format in Europe, but the X6 was one of the first SUVs to go this direction.
BMW launched the M versions of the X6 and the more wagon-like X5 in summer 2009 as the first ever official M SUVs. M is BMW’s high-performance tuner division that competes with the likes of Mercedes-Benz’ AMG and Audi’s Quattro. Until the X5 and X6, M had been reserved for the likes of the M3, M5 and M6.
While the basic shape of the X6 is certainly attractive, we can’t help but wonder what it would look like on the 5 Series sedan platform with its lower ride height. Judging by sales volumes, a large number of customers seem to favor the tall ride of SUVs and CUVs so maybe a sportier looking machine like the X6 could have potential.
The X6 features the same design language we’ve seen on other recent BMWs with a sharp horizontal character line below the belt line and flowing forms around the wheels that give it a muscular look to match its powertrain. The M version enhances this with standard 20 inch wheels with 315/35R20 rubber and huge gaping intakes in the front bumper to feed the intercoolers and brakes. At the rear, the X6 M gets a re-shaped bumper and the M-signature quad-tailpipes.
Inside the X6 also gets the full M treatment with bolstered sports seats in the front and a pair of contoured seats in the rear. For those of us with longer legs, we’re always happy to find adjustable thigh bolsters. The leather clad steering wheel has a pleasantly thick rim for an easy grip. Unlike lesser X6s which feature symmetrical automatic transmission paddle shifters which require a push for a downshift and pull for upshift, the X6 M gets a race-car arrangement. The right paddle selects higher gears while the left brings down-shifts.
Depending on their height, those in the rear seat may not be as happy as the driver. The X6 sacrifices some rear seat head room for the sake of exterior style. Riders below six-feet tall should be alright, but taller passengers may find their head rubbing the ceiling. Nonetheless, with the extra 3.5 inches of height compared to the Acura ZDX, the BMW still offers far more usable room. Cargo space is ample with 25.5 cubic feet available behind the seats and 60 cubic feet with the seats folded.
Besides space, the elevated roof-line also offers another big advantage over the Acura, visibility. The view straight back in the X6 is limited by the tall deck but the slim pillars all around provide excellent visibility over the shoulders to the rear three-quarters. Visibility is further enhanced by the surround view camera system that augments the rear view with cameras on the underside of the mirrors to provide a picture of the sides.
With so many lesser vehicles now including USB ports as standard or very low cost options, you might think that BMW would have them as well. Unfortunately the base X6 M only provides an auxiliary plug that connects to the headphone jack. If you want want to control your iPod, iPhone or other USB capable device through the stereo, you’ll have to pony up for the $1,400 premium audio package.
The heart of any M model resides under the hood. In this case, BMW has started with its newest engine, the direct injected 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 that debuted in the X6 and thoroughly enhanced it. In standard form, the V8 generates 400 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque. For M duty, the turbos have been replaced with twin-scroll units that are both more responsive and generate more boost. The M V8 cranks out a massive 555 hp and 500 lb-ft of torque everywhere from 1,500 to 5,650 rpm.
The engine is bolted up to an enhanced six-speed automatic transmission with normal, sport and manual shift modes. Even under hard acceleration, this transmission provides fast and admirably smooth shifts.
All of that power and torque is sent to all four wheels through a sophisticated all-wheel-drive system that vectors torque to the appropriate wheels to provide the best traction and handling. When the system detects understeer, more power is sent to the outer rear wheel to help the X6 turn in. The torque vectoring is managed by electronically controlled clutches on the rear axle. For a vehicle that weighs in at over 5,300 pounds the X6 provides amazingly balanced handling when pushed hard through corners.
The X6 M can indeed push very hard everywhere from curves to the drag strip. With the M Dynamic performance control switched on and launch control enabled, the X6 leaps from a standing start to 60 miles per hour in just over 4.2 seconds. At speed, a gentle tip-in of the throttle yields instant thrust and can push to the X6 M to triple digit speeds before you know it. Like the M3 and its normally aspirated V8, the X6 M has a subdued exhaust note when driven around town or cruising on the freeway that will leave occupants and pedestrians relaxed. However, when you really step into it, the twin-turbo has V8 has a throaty growl that will warm the heart of any enthusiast.
Perhaps the most surprising element of the X6 M is the ride quality that BMW has managed to achieve in spite of the handling capability. You might expect a vehicle with this kind of performance and huge wheels to pound the driver into submission with every pot-hole. However, the adaptive damping system helps to keep the X6 on an even keel while still allowing the wheels to move in response to the broken pavement that passes for roads in southeast Michigan.
Since the original X6 went on sale in early 2008, it has spawned a number of other five-door hatchback crossovers, most notably the Acura ZDX. Others like the Honda Accord Crosstour and BMW’s own 5 Series Gran Turismo are more car-like than the X6, but this is the original. Having driven each of these vehicles we still remain unconvinced of why people would want to blend the tall-ride SUV aesthetic with sport coupe styling since you loose a good chunk of the utility that is the SUV’s middle name. However if you must have what is essentially a tall sports car, almost none can do it better than the X6 M.
While the basic premise of a hugely powerful crossover or SUV remains a highly dubious proposition, we certainly can’t argue about the powertrain in the X6 M. In fact perhaps the best aspect of this vehicle is that it serves as a preview of the all new M5 sedan coming next year powered by this same engine. The new M5 will abandon the low-torque high-revving 5.0-liter V10 in favor of this turbo V8 which could well push the car above and beyond our current favorite sport sedan, theCadillac CTS-V.
In the meantime, if you need to sample this V8, the X6 M will set you back a minimum of $89,725. The cold weather package, driver assistance package and keyless entry on our tester brought the total to $93,725. If you can stomach that price tag than you are unlikely to have an issue with the X6 M’s rather prodigious thirst for premium gasoline. Over our week with the X6 it averaged 15.5 miles per gallon and barely got to 16.7 on the highway. The EPA rates the X6 M at an unimpressive 12 mpg city and 17 mpg highway.
originally published in 2010 on examiner.com