Gordon Gekko may have given us the epigram that “Greed is good,” but the suspender-clad scumbag of 1987’s “Wall Street” couldn’t have imagined the modern performance SUV and the people who spend six figures to have it all: Track-level performance, rich luxury, family seating and all-wheel-drive capability.
The latest 2.5-ton corporate raiders are the 2020 BMW X5 M and X6 M, and they’re a hoot: A match for any SUV in the global portfolio, from the Porsche Cayenne and Cayenne Coupe to the Lamborghini Urus, Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio, Audi RS Q8 or Mercedes-AMG GLE 63. “Competition” versions amass 617 horsepower and 553 pound-feet of torque from a new twin-turbo, 4.4-liter V-8 that first rocked the world in the BMW M5 and M8. So equipped, the X5 and X6 M will scorch 60 mph in 3.7 seconds, and peak at 177 mph with a further $2,500 M Driver’s Package. Base models bring an even 600 horses and 553 lb-ft, and lose a whole 0.1 second in the sprint to 60 mph. Competition models add goodies beyond the extra 17 horses, including dramatic sport seats, an exclusive shift lever, a full Merino leather interior, a rowdier M Sport exhaust system, and a selectable Track mode.
I requisition an X6 M Competition at our Scottsdale hotel, the third generation of the slant-roofed crossover that — as with many BMW’s — started off controversial but quickly spawned imitators as other automakers figured out that not every SUV has to look like the bus to Dullsville. It’s still an unconscionable brute. Appropriately, mine is the color of a fresh bruise, or maybe a fresh eggplant, a variable shade called Ametrin Metallic (a $1,950 option) that appears nearly black in low light. An M-specific double-kidney grille is striped with black double bars, spaced so widely I can nearly squeeze my arm through, the better to direct air to a near-naked central radiator. Dual inlets in the 3D-contoured front apron feed an optimized track cooling system, with air-breathing gills in front fenders. Blue-caliper M Compound brakes peek through wheels. Lightweight forged, staggered-sized wheels measuring 21 inches front, 22 rear are standard on Competition versions and optional on base models. A slim liftgate spoiler spans the rear, along with an M exhaust with four 100-mm outlets.
Burbling away from the hotel, the X6 M proves surprisingly hushed and docile with adjustable systems set to various Comfort and Efficiency modes. Most passengers would never suspect there’s a pavement-eating monster below the hood, with a 7,200-rpm redline and spanking throttle response, aided by turbos cozied within cylinder banks. Electric flaps and high-capacity silencers muffle that monster — for now. I settle into those M seats, a visual and ergonomic highlight with their thick-padded integrated headrests; black inserts shaped like cobras (the snake, not the Ford); and powered, winged bolsters that squeeze torsos tight during high-g antics.
BMW’s latest displays and interfaces are among the best in the luxury game, from its richly informative head-up unit to the iDrive 7.0 system and Live Cockpit Professional’s conjoined 12.3-inch displays. The rest is a rich, if somewhat busy, assemblage of glossy carbon fiber, metal and Alcantara. Slipping through traffic, I suddenly notice new, Tesla-style animations of surrounding cars in the driver’s display. (In a bit of Bavarian dreaming, the animated cars are all BMW sedans). The Competition models’ shifter is the best lever BMW has offered in some time, a saddle horn of metal and leather, with an embossed M logo and red-and-blue stitching to match the steering wheel and seat belts. It’s worlds better than the fussy, medical-looking wand that marred many previous Bimmers. That lever controls an eight-speed, M Steptronic transmission, with steering-wheel paddles and three DriveLogic settings.
Stippled pavement sends a dull roar into the cabin from enormous Michelin Pilot Sport 4S rubber, which is promptly drowned out by the sparkling Bowers & Wilkins audio system. There’s some ride crustiness, even in the Comfort setting. On the other end of the spectrum, the suspension’s Sport Plus setting seems utterly superfluous, aside from glassy racetracks where virtually no owner will tread. A familiar array of adjustments tailor the engine response, adaptive suspension, steering, and an M-specific AWD system that largely sidelines the front wheels until their contributions are required. Thank goodness for two red M buttons atop the steering-wheel spokes, which cut through programming clutter to store a pair of macro settings.
The complex, spectacularly effective Active M Differential apportions torque between rear wheels, and of course there’s active roll stabilization. They all do their David-Copperfield-best to make this 5,375-pound SUV (5,425 pounds for the X5 M) drive like a smaller sport sedan. The newest twiddling opportunity is a by-wire braking system — yep, there’s no physical connection between the pedal and the stoppers — that’s decisively more linear and natural-feeling than the godawful brakes on the Alfa Stelvio. The brakes’ Comfort setting seems great for showing mercy to back-seat passengers. A Sport setting brings a noticeably more-aggressive braking map as the pedal spans its travel.
Shooting north, the scenery changes from Phoenix sprawl to forlorn trailer-park and RV country, then to Wild West backdrops of cactus and canyons. With a quick settings switch, the X6 M also switches personalities, hurtling toward the Prescott National Forest like an outlaw outrunning the hangman’s noose.
The 617-horse race leads me to the White Spar Highway. It’s 16 miles of adrenaline, with more than 100 cliff-hung curves teasing through stately pine forest. Roadside memorials pay homage to departed motorcyclists — including helmets and signed bike fairings — and testify to the need for caution. This BMW has other ideas. A press of the M Sound Control button dramatically transforms the V8’s character, even just off idle. A rich, chesty bellow fills the cabin, like a mechanical tympani played at amphetamine speed — the better to experience torque that peaks at 1,800 rpm and holds steady to 5,860 rpm, nearly 1,100-rpm wider than the previous version’s already-vast powerband. It’s a remarkable engine, as it should be for the price.
It’s also time to summon Track mode, which aims to maximize performance and minimize distraction. It disables driver-assistance systems and the center display screen, adds a bar-graph tach to the head-up unit, plus two more geometric tachs that wrap the driver’s screen. Its full arsenal unleashed, the X6 M flaunts that unholy power to clip 95 mph in third gear, and about 112 mph in fourth. Useful, complementary displays include tire temperature and pressure. My hot set-up was dialing steering to Comfort — the Sport setting feels needlessly stiff, with no attendant gain in feedback — the chassis and brakes in Sport, transmission in its snappiest setting, and the engine always, always in Sport Plus. Shutting down stability control lets me call up a Sport 4WD setting with even more rear bias, enough to let me flirt with pitching the tail wide. But for the most part, it’s nearly impossible to shove these BMWs off their sticky tires on public roads.
On a conquering descent to Prescott, I left-foot those M Compound brakes to better-balance the X6 M into corners. The new by-wire brakes shed speed with unerring might and surprising sensitivity, even as this mammoth rig rushes down steep grades. One of the best things about the X6 M? Despite the rigorous chassis control, the BMW still feels playful and rarely artificial, including a skosh of body lean and some squat under hard acceleration. It feels even more car-like and tossable than the previous-generation version, itself a commanding performer.
X5 M left; X6 M right
What’s not to like? Well, the X6 M, especially, could lose the tippy-toed stance, showing too much negative space below wheel arches. Should one care, these Bimmers are as gluttonous as ever at the pump, enough to draw a company-estimated $1,000 guzzler tax. EPA mileage is estimated to be 15 mpg combined for both, and over six hours behind the wheel, my own mileage confirmed the guzzler label. Sure, the White Spar Highway had something to do with that, but after briefly sniffing 20 mpg, the X6 M fell to 17 mpg, 14 mpg, and finally bottomed out at an indicated 11.8 mpg, before recovering slightly to 12.6 mpg on a highway run to Sky Harbor Airport.
You’ll also pay through the double-kidney nose, with the X5 M starting from $106,095 and the X5 M Competition $115,095. X6 versions add another $3,500 – yes, even though they're about 20-percent tighter in maximum cargo space – so the X6 M Competition I drove started from $118,595 and reached $131,745 with options. A Porsche Cayenne Coupe Turbo, with “just” 541 horsepower, starts at just over $131,000, but soars past $160,000 when similarly equipped to the BMW.
It’s probably churlish to mention that a six-cylinder X5 starts just under $60,000, roughly half the price of these latest M versions. It's not like the Gordon Gekkos of today's world would care. If greed is good, speed is better, and with the BMW X5 M and X6 M, you get a wealth of it.