• Jul 10th 2009 at 11:55AM
  • 61

2010 BMW X6 M – Click above for high-res image gallery

M aficionados take note: The 2010 X6 M (and yet-to-be-tested X5 M) represents the most dramatic shift in BMW's Motorsport division since its inception – and it's not because they're the first crossovers branded with the tri-tone "M" badge. This high-riding duo are the first M machines ever to be equipped with all-wheel drive. The first fitted exclusively with an automatic transmission. And the first (and surely not the last) to pack a pair of turbochargers. M has evolved, but BMW hasn't lost the plot – it's completely rewritten the screenplay, added Michael Bay firepower and harnessed the electronic might of a supercomputer farm to tie it all together.

Photos Copyright ©2009 Damon Lavrinc / Weblogs, Inc.

Purists have decried that "X" and "M" sharing a bootlid is the death of the brand, but these newest additions are just the latest in a long string of M-badged expansions. The brand's original intent – producing homologation specials tailored to die-hard enthusiasts – underwent its first conniption-inducing phase when BMW introduced the E30 M3 Convertible. Devotees cried foul, but amazingly, the brand not only survived, it thrived. Similar (if less vocal) protests were heard when the six-equipped E36 model debuted, followed by the E46 and the latest V8-powered model.

While that broken record is wearing thin, there's no doubt that the M brand is completely unrecognizable two decades later. It's moved beyond motorsport to bring power, agility and engagement to the masses through BMW's bread-and-butter models. And in the case of its fire-breathing SUVs (errr... SAVs), it's a story we've seen played out by another German automaker and its controversial introduction of a high-performance 'ute. We know how well that turned out, and now we know this: the X6 M has the goods to dominate its aging competition from Stuttgart – even if BMW doesn't want us to draw comparisons.

Packing a reworked version of the 4.4-liter twin-turbocharged V8 initially fitted to the X6 xDrive50i and later on the 2009 7 Series, the S63B44 has been tuned to deliver 555 hp at 6,000 rpm (five horsepower more than the Cayenne Turbo S – oops, we did it again) and 501 lb-ft of twist from an oh-so-low 1,500 rpm all the way through to 5,650 rpm. The party ends at 7,000 RPM, but outputs only tell a fraction of the tale.

An ingenious (and patented) exhaust manifold lies between the engine's two cylinder banks, shuttling spent hydrocarbons through four individual exhaust runners, then two tuned tubes feeding a duo of twin-scroll turbos. With a compression ratio of 9.3:1, peak boost of 7.3 psi and precise pulses of exhaust gas keeping the turbos perpetually on boil, the X6 M nearly eliminates any hint of turbo lag and sets a new bar for force-fed throttle response.

This V8 is the quickest, most linear turbocharged engine we've ever tested.
BMW claims a 0 to 60 mph run of 4.5 seconds (without launch control) and we have little doubt it's more than capable of shaving a tenth or two from that figure depending on the testing method. But straight-line performance aside, this V8 is among the quickest, most linear turbocharged engines we've ever tested and the transmission delivers shifts nearly on par with the world's best dual-clutch gearboxes.

The six-speed auto 'box is a mildly reworked variant of the ZF unit found on the standard X6, and in either automatic or manual modes, the tweaked six-speed has found a soul-mate with the twin-turbo'd V8. The amount of programming that's gone into delivering seamless shifts boggles the mind, specifically the ECU's ability – in Sport mode – to cut ignition to one cylinder while locking the torque converter to deliver a completely imperceptible suspension of torque.

Although the shifts aren't nearly as impressive when the awkward but adaptable transmission stalk is set to Auto, the steering wheel-mounted paddles are laid out as God intended – upshift on the right and downshift on the left – and they are easily snatched for passing power on demand. To lay into the throttle in Auto mode is to take a beat and feel your kidneys wrap around your spine as all four wheels grapple the tarmac and a muted, aggressive howl erupts from the quad-tipped exhaust.

You've been waiting patiently for it: 5,324 pounds.
While the transmission is excellent and the engine is beyond reproach, the all-wheel drive system and its assorted acronyms prove BMW has signed a pact with the Devil – one that cuts both ways and doesn't include a trip to Jenny Craig.

Originally fitted to the X6, the AWD system features BMW's torque-vectoring Dynamic Performance Control (DPC) which shuffles power between the rear wheels to maintain a constant cornering attitude no matter the conditions. It's unobtrusive and highly adaptable, accelerating the inside rear wheel when it detects oversteer, delivering more grunt to the outside rear wheel to keep understeer at bay, or sending the majority of the power to the rear wheels when nailing the long pedal in a straight line. Navigate to the vehicle settings page in the (much improved) iDrive system and passengers can see exactly which wheels are getting precisely measured delivery of torque. But it's best to avoid the desire to stare at the display, as the next corner presents itself a quickness... and you've got an unwieldy amount of mass to manhandle into submission.

When the time comes to turn, the X6 M's natural tendency is towards understeer. Set to Sport, the Electronic Damping Control (EDC) and Active Roll Stabilization (ARS) do their best to mitigate the effects under load, and with a double-wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension dropped by half-an-inch and fitted with stiffer bushings, body roll is all but eliminated.

Hit the "M" button on the steering wheel, and with M Dynamic Mode (MDM) engaged, the ghosts in the machine allow for a limited amount of rear slip. Defeat the traction control completely – as we did after a hot-lap with the head of BMW's suspension development – and the X6 M's attitude changes ever-so-slightly, allowing for greater slip angles that won't set the fastest laps, but leave you cackling like a demented five-year-old with a gross of firecrackers.

There's a twisted appeal to piloting a crossover at triple-digits speeds then chucking it into a 90-degree left-hander.
Despite the electrowizardry adding an extra layer of anesthetic to the experience, there's a twisted appeal to be had in piloting a high-riding crossover with an elevated seating position at triple-digits speeds, only to chuck it into a 90-degree left-hander. In a weird, physics-defying way, all was right in the world – until our fourth lap around Road Atlanta.

Heading downhill towards Turn Six, with the weight of the world (and yes, you've been waiting patiently for it, 5,324 pounds) on our shoulders, we laid into the stoppers. The pedal traveled halfway towards the floor before the X6 M began to slow. With less than 100 feet before our turn-in point, we eased off the brakes, then reapplied and forward progress was mercifully interrupted before we had the chance to test the SUV's heightened ride on an impromptu farming excursion. Turn Seven came up just as fast and the process had to be repeated. And again. And again. With its uprated 15.6-inch discs clamped by fixed, four-piston calipers in front and 15.2-inch rotors with single-piston calipers in the rear, the X6 M has the stopping power on paper to put up with this porky, high-output SUV. In torturous practice, less so. While we're not convinced the X6 M will be seeing regular track duty (particularly on a course as demanding as Road Atlanta), this is an "M" after all, and fade isn't the order du jour. We're looking forward to a full review to see if the problem persists, but somehow, we doubt it will.

Although the real M-ification of the X6 lies underneath its sheetmetal, there's little to discern the standard four-door coupe/SUV/SAV from its lesser brethren. It gets the standard gaping front grilles and fender vents, along with body-colored rocker panels and M-specific 20-inch rolling stock (fitted with 275/40 R20 front and 315/35 R20 rear run-flats) that almost appear too small in the massive body-matched wheel arches. But the overall effect is subdued, or at least as subtle as the this massive hatchback on stilts could reasonably attempt to be. It's no sleeper and it wasn't designed as such, and BMW takes pride to point out that X6 M owners are, "self-confident extroverts." No doubt...

For M addicts looking for more juice from their Roundel-badged SAVs, the X6 M is the only game in town, and at $89,725, it's likely to quell cross-shopping as it undercuts the Porsche Cayenne Turbo by a considerable margin. Add the X5 M into the equation and you've got an added dose of practicality with less divisive looks. No matter the body style, you'll be piloting one of the most formidable, meticulously engineered, tech-rich crossovers on the planet, perfected for those corrupted by power and enamored by grip – and it's likely the last of its breed.

Undoubtedly, the world's Chicken Littles will shudder at the idea of a 555-hp crossover, but the underlying technology -- forced induction, all-wheel drive and copious quantities of electronics -- that makes the X6 M such a perspective-skewing vehicle will eventually find its way into the next generation of BMWs and M products. Lightweight, fuel efficient, turbocharged offerings are right around the corner, packing enough performance to rival their modern-day counterparts while treading slightly lighter in the process. If that's the future, the X6 M is an unlikely harbinger. But we're ready for it. M is dead, long live M.

Photos Copyright ©2009 Damon Lavrinc / Weblogs, Inc.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 6 Years Ago
      As soon as this engine heads down to the M5 I'll be good.

      This? I'd love to have one, but I'd never buy one.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I don't want one, can't afford one, but I think it is impressive.
      • 6 Years Ago
      A sad day indeed when they decided to stop making their one true production sports car, the M Coupe, instead softened up the Z series only to pour technology into "M" izing a hulking ugly high sprung CRX shaped impractically truncated creature.

      Truly they are going for the 'needs to ride high look at me overcompensating' set nowadays...
      • 6 Years Ago
      I actually like the way the X6 looks but I agree, an M model of an already head-scratching model is beyond sacrilege - its like Bob Dylan doing a duet with Lady Gaga, with beats by Timbaland - Doesn't make sense, and doesn't improve the game, even if it works.

      Its clear that the US market is no longer the important main market. This X6 seems aimed right at the heart of oil nations.
        • 6 Years Ago
        LOL. That song would be my new Jam. Timbaland's production is the truth!
        • 6 Years Ago
        "its like Bob Dylan doing a duet with Lady Gaga, with beats by Timbaland"

        • 6 Years Ago
        i bet that would be a hit tho
      • 6 Years Ago
      Is this sort of like a niche vehicle in a niche?
      • 6 Years Ago
      I cannot wait till they put that engine in the M5...

      4.4 TT V8 555hp with EASY tuning potential to increase the boost and extract 650hp pretty easily...

      I was hoping they would put a variant in the 550i, since its going into the 750i.... but not sure about that now...

      • 6 Years Ago
      No matter what you say, the X6 M needs to go be fat somewhere else.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Yeah. Automatic transmissioned SUV is NOT an M-Car. BMW = sellouts.
        • 6 Years Ago
        We can talk about the M6 another time. For now, let's keep this discussion to the X6 M, okay?
        • 6 Years Ago
        @ evan- It's no secret that an suv/crossover will never be as fast or nimble as an equally equipped car, but BMW's theory is that they can build the fastest crossover possible. I'm sure all car enthusiasts would love to love to have a race car to drive around in all day, but we have to make sacrifices, and some of us might need the space and ground clearance that an SUV has to offer.
        • 6 Years Ago
        @ Rob:

        I know everyone is going to analyse the hell out of the reason for BMW's imminent decent into medeocrity, but I think you've pretty much hit the nail on the head:

        BMW = Sellout
        • 6 Years Ago
        Tall vehicles are fundamentally flawed as performance vehicles. They throw in lots of engineering and technology to compensate for the center of gravity being too high, but the result will never be as nimble as what is possible in a lower vehicle.
        • 6 Years Ago
        the M badge is totally dead

        the best driving 3 sereries is a 135, not even an M

        new m3 is fail, shoulda stuck with the straight 6
      • 6 Years Ago
      With the X6, its seems to me that they are flirting with having too many models in thier SUV, CUV, lineup, bluring the lines a little. Not seeing enough difference with the X5 to warrant a new model.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Um... have you SEEN an X6 in person? Completely different feel to the vehicle when compared to an X5.
        • 6 Years Ago

        Maybe the Germans get away with it because how many $90k X6 M's are actually going to be sold here? Compare that to the MILLIONS of SUV's and Pickup trucks that cost $25k-$45k and sit in every driveway in the United States. Its not the gas guzzling of a few cars that hurts the environment, its when that gas guzzling is romanticized and available to EVERY United States citizen with a drivers license that it becomes a problem.
        • 6 Years Ago
        How do companies like BMW get to produce and sell porky, high horsepower SUV's to Americans, and we don't bat an eye? While American companies hestiatant to create excitement, because if GM produced somthing like this, the green community would be all over em.
        • 6 Years Ago

        That rationale does not shield Hummer, who is in a similar market segment and gets tons of flak. I do think there is a double standard.
        • 6 Years Ago

        The X5 M I would probably take over any other SuperUV, though.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I am waiting for M7 and a revival of an 8, or the ancient rumour of a 9 series( though that could be quashed thanks to porsche...)
      • 6 Years Ago
      Marketing team to engineers: "What we want you to do is significantly raise the center of gravity so we can hit the 'I like to sit high up' audience. Also, make sure it handles really well and goes really fast just like the M5, but try to make it get better fuel mileage while you're in there. Oh, and get on that right away; we really want to start selling these soon"

      The whole time the engineers are wondering why they can't just make a car...
      • 6 Years Ago
      I saw one of these the other day and it looked as bad in person as it does in the photos...its got a confusing design, like they tried too hard to make it look "sporty"
      • 6 Years Ago
      why not get an m5 wagon?
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