2015 BMW X6 M First Drive [w/video]
Things Are Getting Weird, Quickly
EngineTwin-Turbo V8 4.4L
Power567 HP / 553 LB-FT
0-60 Time4.0 Seconds
Top Speed155 MPH
Curb Weight5,185 LBS
For many of you – especially the old guard that hears the descriptor "Sports Activity Coupe" and proceeds to unlock the gun cabinet – that's all you need to hear. Because, although the fickle community that consumes and comments on internet car culture seems to be fine with typical-looking SUVs and wagons packing performance-enhancing goodies, the idea of slanting the back of one turns them right off.
And yet, BMW continues to sell the things; more than 250,000 units have be delivered in the X6 series' history. As if that weren't proof of concept enough, blood-rival Mercedes-Benz has unleashed the GLE, a coupe-like crossover of its own, complete with AMG pedigree.
All of this brought me to Austin, TX, home of Hill Country, The Circuit of the Americas and the 2015 X6 M launch. On both road and track I found a car that was more powerful and blithely capable than ever, while also being exactly as weird to drive as it is a concept to comprehend.
Given that the X5 M exists, and offers styling that is more like normal for the SUV genre, both the lovers and the haters of the X6 M are likely to be focused on the way it looks. Here, the 2015 model isn't very much changed from the original, meaning you aren't liable to change sides on the styling debate for this refresh.
The '15 model has a slightly fewer black accents on the exterior, along with revised front and rear fasciae and vented (and chromed) front fender gills. The car is almost two inches longer than the existing model, but is near enough the same size in every other direction that you'd have to study the specification sheet to know different.
Inside the X6 M that I tested was a beautiful, fully optioned cabin that boasted gripping sport seats and BMW's wide, easy-to-read infotainment screen. The leather-wrapped everything and carbon-fiber trim were both well executed, and my hands rejoiced at the feeling of the thick-rimmed, serious-looking steering wheel. Veterans of the current M5 or M6 will see a lot that looks familiar here, but to my eyes that's high praise.
The most impactful changes aren't visual but visceral. The X6 M's turbocharged 4.4-liter V8 now puts out 567 horsepower and 553 pound-feet of torque – up from 555 hp and 500 lb-ft in last year's model. BMW has also replaced the six-speed automatic gearbox for an eight-speed Steptronic auto, helping the all-wheel drivetrain (now with more of an inclination towards the rear) to get the car to 60 miles per hour in four seconds flat.
Let's hammer that point home: a 4.0-second 0-60 sprint in a crossover that weighs just a Big Mac less than 5,200 pounds. There are so many things that I love and hate about that sentence.
Out on the road – from hard starts just for shits and giggles, and while passing steer-haulers and stake trucks with just a whisper of throttle – the effect of all that power is immense. Driving for a couple of hours, the silky smooth power delivery via that eight speed transmission and the great gobs of torque it was serving up made the hefty Bimmer feel surprisingly light on its feet.
What's more, the exhaust ranged from a tuneful blat when I spurred the throttle, to a deferential hum at a steady cruise. In traffic, I had no problem enjoying the excellent Bang & Olufsen sound system's rendition of Willie Nelson's Teatro, thanks to the nice, quiet soundstage of the cabin.
Even roar from the those super-wide tires (285-section rubber in front, 325 at the rear) was more muted than in X6 models past, thanks in part to the non-runflat Michelin tires.
With low noise, vibration and harshness and such a persuasive powertrain, you'd think the X6 M would be a dreamboat for cruising and the occasional blast of ridiculous speed, and you'd be right, if only the switch to electrically assisted steering didn't make piloting the thing so disconcerting.
As I said, I drove for several hours on Texas roads, ranging from ultra-smooth sections of the 85-mph-limited Highway 130, to winding, hill-cresting back roads. On all of them I tried to modulate between the variable steering settings on offer, from Comfort to Sport+, and met with odd behavior in every combination. At the heaviest-feeling setting, the steering wheel was seemingly 'corrected' with tiny surges all the time I had any lock dialed in. At the lightest, Comfort, setting, dead-ahead travel felt quite vague.
Aside from that rather bizarre steering experience (and isolationist levels of road feel), I can't complain with the X6 M's on road handling prowess. On the twistiest bits of road the big BMW turned in quickly, cornered flat and couldn't be provoked into even a hint of tire spin on dry roads.
Of course one of the primary reasons for flying to Austin to drive this car was to turn its wheels at one of the most advanced (and complex) track facilities in the country. COTA consists of 20 corners, two high-speed straights and very limited down-track visibility from one turn to the next.
To be frank, the very idea of tracking a 5,200-pound coupe-née-SUV is bananas, at COTA or anywhere else. Any hotshoe with a yen for BMW and aspirations for track greatness would almost certainly turn to either of the M3/M4 siblings first, or a M235i if they're feeling punchy. Still, the company went to all the trouble of securing one of the world's very finest racing circuits for me to test the X6 M on, so I didn't quibble with a little track time.
I drove the first-generation of this X6 M on track years ago, and I have to say that my ultimate pronouncement remains very close to the same. So much wizardry is used to keep this muscle-bound all-wheel-driver stuck to the tarmac – and truly absurd speeds – that the experience is more akin to flying a spaceship than jockeying a Lotus.
Forget everything you know about elegant racecraft; the preferred method of X6 M pilotry is to use the big grip, big brakes and big ol' computer brains to overcome the inherent flaw of really big mass. Brake hard; turn in hard; floor it: that's the formula our racing instructors, including former F1 driver Timo Glock, were recommending.
And for Timo, the strategy worked. I rode shotgun with the man as he ran a session of increasing-speed lead-follow. I was thrilled, he was trying not to be bored and we captured most of it in a video.
When it was my turn to lap the track, I'll admit to being considerably slower than the F1 and DTM driver – big surprise. There's no question that BMW has engineered a mind-boggling solution to problems inherent in pushing a very heavy, high-waisted vehicle around a track (sticky tires and AWD help a lot). But, at least for me, the solutions didn't take into account whether or not the exercise would be a great deal of fun.
Yes, the lack of body roll in hard corners, and cohesion of the underpinnings when clipping curbs and aiming for apexes was impressive. But the total experience was perhaps the least fluid I've ever felt on a track, with the car seemingly more inclined to drive its own line, than encourage me to find the limits.
Honestly, I would have been messy even in something like a Miata, given the short stint of driving (I was offered just six laps behind the wheel) and the complexity of the track. But ultimately the heft, and dull steering left me surprisingly cold about fighting for more hot laps. It's one thing to learn car and track over time – quite another to stop for lack of interest.
The fact that the X6 M isn't a proper-feeling track vehicle isn't surprising, but it isn't the point, either. The crossover has a potent mix of brash styling and rocketship speed, that's likely to attract just as many buyers in this facelifted version as it did in the original recipe.
Those buyers will need to pony up big – the 2015 car starts at $103,050 (with destination) and can rise by another $10k+ with liberal optioning. Though, it's fair to say that is at, or less than, the pricing for competitors like the Porsche Cayenne Turbo S, and likely close to that of the upcoming Mercedes-AMG GLE63.
At any price the X6 M will make a statement about its owner, wherever it is driven or parked. Not fully a member of the coupe, or crossover or SUV categories, it is nevertheless a full-blooded choice for buyers with unique tastes. Just remember, if you'd like to occasionally put your tall friend in the backseat, or your 60-inch plasma in the hatch, BMW has a lovely X5 M to show you.
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