Not Just Weird; Powerfully Weird
Does your crossover have launch control? Does it, like the 2010 BMW X6 M, have 555 horsepower? Does it, during this "worldwide crisis," have the ability to "pick up your spirits," as one BMW official says?
Do you know why? Because according to BMW, the company's 2010 X6 M is the first and only sports-car SAV. "If there's no competitor, then you cannot follow anyone," said Dr. Kay Segler, president of BMW M GmbH. Wait...what?
BMW has always had a knack for describing its crossovers in a curiously Bill Clintonian fashion. The X5 is not an SUV but instead an SAV (Sport Activity Vehicle). And the X6 is, well, no one is quite sure what the X6 is. So it follows then, that the 550-hp hp Porsche Cayenne Turbo S and the Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG are not competitors for the X6 M.
OK, we acknowledge that the 2010 BMW X6 M is a wildly unusual thing. First, because it is an X6. And second, because it's an X6 that's also an M-car. This is a vehicle that if you believe what you read on the Internet, will dilute the M brand and bring shame on the house of BMW. It's worth noting that these were the same things said of the X5 when it was introduced.
The Car, er, Truck, uh, Thing
The 2010 BMW X6 M, along with the X5 M which also arrives for the 2010 model year, are the first M-brand crossovers, of course. But they're also the first M vehicles with all-wheel drive. And they're the first with an automatic transmission. This should give naysayers plenty of ammunition with which to attack the X6 M. But there probably isn't much use in arguing about it. It's already here, or soon will be, at least.
And oh how here it is. This is not a vehicle that goes unnoticed, a trait we suspect will be high on its buyers' lists of desires. Added to the standard X6 mix of suspicious eyes, cavernous air intakes, buns-up stance and coupelike roof line, are M-brand signifiers such as a fender vent and the four cannon barrels that act as exhaust tips. BMW also removes the last tiny vestige of truck-ish style in the X6 by painting the X6 M's fender lips and rocker panels in body color. And of course, the M edition gets its own specific set of 20-inch wheels, which despite their height, look curiously small mounted under the X6 M's big, curvy body.
Weight Is an Engine-Builder's Problem
Once we'd driven the 2010 BMW X6 M at the Road Atlanta racetrack and the surrounding public roads here in rural Georgia, there was another thing that couldn't go unnoticed: mass. We'd complained about the standard X6's little weight issue when the car (er, truck; no, we mean SAV) was introduced. Eternal optimists that we are, we'd hoped that even at 2.5 tons (5,324 pounds, says BMW), the X6 M version would be transformed in its new high-performance guise.
And it is, at least in as much as it's possible to make this much mass turn and go and stop. BMW has truly brought the big engineering guns to the fight. That starts with a twin-turbo V8 that produces 555 horsepower at 6,000 rpm. It is not likely a coincidence that this engine's peak hp rating is 5 hp higher than the Porsche Cayenne Turbo S that is apparently not an X6 M competitor. The BMW's 4.4-liter motor also churns out 500 pound-feet of twisty torque action from a low, low engine speed of 1,500 rpm all the way up to 5,650 rpm.
The M motor is very similar to the twin-turbo 4.4-liter V8 that powers the non-M X6 xDrive 50i as well as the new 2009 BMW 750i. Like that engine, the M-spec unit packages its turbos, exhaust manifolds and catalytic converter in the vee between the cylinder banks. And as we've seen before, the turbo plumbing requires that the intake and exhaust valves switch sides (exhaust on the inside of the cylinder head toward the vee, intake on the outside).
The Crossover's Crossover Manifold
For the M motor, BMW replaces the conventional turbos with highly responsive twin-scroll units that are fed air by a trick exhaust manifold that joins the two cylinder banks. There are four exhaust runners, each of which carries the spent gases of two cylinders. These pairs are always from opposite banks. Each of the turbos is fed by two paths, resulting in regular timing of exhaust gas pulses and near-constant pressure to the turbos. What does this achieve? Reduced turbo lag (it's all but nonexistent) and stellar throttle response.
This engine is spectacular. With 7.3 psi of boost and a compression ratio of 9.3:1, there's enough thrust to push this chunky monkey to 60 mph in less than 4.5 seconds. Predictably, the 2010 BMW X6 M will easily and quickly reach its 155-mph speed limiter. And the X6 M comes with a launch control system if you happen to be drag racing your $90,000 luxury ute. We note, however, that the sensation of speed is blunted a bit by the X6 M's relatively high seating position and weighty feel.
The six-speed transmission is a nice piece in day-to-day operation. Naturally it offers manual gear selection. And unlike the funny thumb-push/finger-pull units of the standard X6, the X6 M comes with nice big paddles behind the steering wheel; pull the left for downshifts and the right for upshifts. BMW says that this unit is the quickest-shifting automatic it has ever offered. Ultimately, though, it lacks the rifle-shot firmness and quickness of the best dual-clutch automated manual gearboxes. This automatic is, however, smooth in traffic in a way that no dual-clutch has yet achieved. Call it the softer side of M.
But Wait, There's More Weight
So, with a monster motor, BMW manages to overcome the X6's heftiness. To keep a handle on all that weight in handling maneuvers, BMW brings to bear its most powerful selection of acronyms.
You've got your EDC, ARS, DPC and probably some other systems that we can't really recall at the moment. The Electronic Damping Control (EDC) system is pretty conventional. There are two modes: Normal and Sport. Active Roll Stabilization (ARS) couples and decouples the antiroll bars for a smooth ride in straight-line driving and greater body roll resistance while cornering. Dynamic Performance Control (DPC), which was introduced on the standard X6, is a torque vectoring system that can accelerate either the outside or inside rear wheel to adjust the cornering attitude of the vehicle. If the vehicle is in an understeer situation, the outside rear wheel is accelerated to improve the balance. Conversely, if the vehicle is about to oversteer, the inside rear wheel can be accelerated to give it more stability. If you think of DPC as a stability control system that uses power instead of brakes to maintain balance, you're not far from the truth. But DPC also works to help you launch this big boy out of corners with uncanny resolve.
The double-wishbone front and multilink rear suspensions also get stiffer bushings all around than the standard X6, and the body is a half-inch lower, too. The result is impressive. The steady-state ride quality is impressive, even on the standard, run-flat 20-inch Bridgestone tires. And dang if this vehicle won't stick. The DPC is a thing of beauty, forestalling the need for stability control intervention and providing a tangible consumer benefit.
However, drive the 2010 BMW X6 M hard and you can't escape the feeling that there are various systems constantly at work trying to manage the vehicle's weight and the driver's shortcomings. This is not an altogether pleasant thing, if you judge a performance vehicle's worth by how connected it makes you feel to the road. There are layers of separation here. Let's call its handling performance more impressive than entertaining.
Something this big and fast requires hefty binders, and BMW has fitted some big iron plates to the X6 M. The fronts measure 15.6 inches and the rears are 15.2 inches across. These are grabbed by four-piston fixed calipers in front and single-piston floating calipers in the rear.
We were initially disappointed to find that after some hard driving the brake pedal went soft, until we realized that it happened after six laps around Road Atlanta, which included braking from 130 mph, downhill, for a 90-degree corner.
When we get an X6 M out to the test track to run numbers on it we'll let you know if we experience any fade. But we suspect they'll hold up fine in all but the most extreme conditions.
With the 2010 BMW X6 M, the Munich company has achieved something quite remarkable. It's turned a tall, heavy fashion statement into a truly fast and capable thing. In so doing it's surpassed that non-competitor, the Porsche Cayenne Turbo S. The BMW is almost certainly quicker and, even with its peculiarities, it's a better-handling thing. Oh, and, at $89,725, it's a whole lot less expensive than the Porsche, too.
We suspect the car will do quite well in China, the U.S. and certain oil-rich bits of the Middle East. As a flagship for BMW's lineup of crossovers, the X6 M even makes some kind of weird sense. But as a standard-bearer for the M lineup? Well, let's just say that as long as BMW keeps building M3s, then the X6 M is fine by us.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.