Road Test: 2010 BMW X6 M
This 2010 review is representative of model years 2008 to 2013.
By John Phillips of Car and Driver
When folks first happen upon BMW's peculiarly proportioned X6, they can't get over its skyscraper butt. Many can't get around it, either. Were you to walk into the X6's liftgate at midnight outside the Sidetrack Tap, the thing would nail you not in the gut but in the Adam's apple. But we're not here to dissect styling. The proposition before us is power. One would have thought that the 400 horses under the hood of the X6 xDrive50i might have been sufficient. BMW's M division didn't think so. And thus we have the X6 M depicted here, which is to the evolution of SUVs sort of what the appendix is to the evolution of Homo sapiens.
To the 4.4-liter V-8, the ever-tinkering Bavarians have added new pistons, cylinder heads formed of the same material used in their diesel engine, a new intake manifold, a crossover exhaust manifold that connects both cylinder banks, a finned aluminum oil pan, altered cam timing, and two new twin-scroll turbos that provide max boost of 17.4 psi, which ought to Chernobyl just about anything made of aluminum. And there are even larger intercoolers in the grille, which look like the air inlets for the Pentagon's backup generator. This particular recipe yields 555 horsepower and 500 pound-feet of torque rolling out as early as 1500 rpm. Which should be fun. On the other hand, Frisbee golf is fun. But does anyone take it seriously?
What, exactly, do you do with a vaguely nonsensical 555-horse SUV? Our answer: Subject it to a nonsensical vehicular triathlon.
Triathlon Event No. 1: Drag Racing
Our X6 M was a prototype and wasn't equipped with launch control, which will be standard on production models and will likely improve acceleration times by a couple 10ths. So, before each run, it was necessary to program the X6 M for take-no-prisoners mode. I first had to press the minuscule "M" button on the steering wheel that was programmed to disable most of the stability control, then up popped a menu on the nav screen on which I had to toggle through "Settings," "M Drive," "Power Sport," and "Power Sport" again (because the only alternative is "Efficient," which is not a term anyone would ever use to describe my driving). After all that, of course, I'd worked up quite a sweat, so I had a sip of cool iced tea stored in the center console and calmed my nerves by eating three tasty digestive biscuits.
But, suddenly, as I was still munching, it was my turn at the Christmas tree, where I repeatedly staged too deep and had to back up a couple inches. In the X6 M, this is difficult, especially when a red-faced man in the starting booth is screaming and the competitor in the far lane is overheating the 500-cubic-inch Hemi in his Ford Anglia, an engine he built at the expense of multiple mortgage payments and his wife. To obtain reverse, you have to push a button on the side of this BMW's bizarre shifter (do not even think of touching the top button, which engages park), then make sure the shifter is in the right-side gate, then push forward and release, hoping against hope that these calisthenics will illuminate the orange "R" between the tach and the speedo. This took forever, inciting the red-faced person to utter a very bad word, although I had said the same word a moment prior.
Even without launch control, it was easy to catapult this thing out of the hole: left foot on the brake, right foot flat on the throttle until the final yellow Christmas-tree light glows, then left foot at ease. At which point, oddly, nothing much happens. I mean, there's no explosion, there's no wheelspin, and the turbos take a second or two to spool up completely, after which they pretty much mute the V-8. Plus, my reaction times were legally drunk — like 0.333 to the Anglia guy's 0.163 — but it didn't seem to matter because the first run was 13 seconds flat, at 106 mph, with seat massager and Tormé at full tilt. I should have folded the big side-view mirrors to reduce drag, but it seemed like a lot of work at the time. I might have gone quicker but, just before the tree went green, Tormé coincidentally lit into "More Than Gone," a song that describes both my mind and the X6 M, and I was understandably distracted.
No matter. We'd already obtained the official acceleration figures the night before at the Chrysler proving ground. Here's all you need to know. If the X6 M were pitted against a Porsche Cayenne Turbo S, it would humble big bad Mr. Zuffenhausen by 0.1 second to 60 mph and by a like amount through the quarter-mile. Which makes this the quickest production SUV we've ever tested, a somewhat strange boast, like claiming to be the best poetry-writing drywaller in Alabama. Also, damned if the launch didn't spill my iced tea.
Olympic judges' vote: Gold medal
Triathlon Event No. 2: Off-Roading
I don't want to get into a lot of ugly details here, except to note that 40- and 35-series Bridgestones designed essentially for maximum g's did not acquit themselves admirably in a soft alfalfa field belonging to our farmer/video editor, Tom Adams. And they proved even more disappointing after I drove down the steep bank of a stream and directly into a thicket of thorn bushes that arrested all further motion.
Adams seemed a little testy about this but snatched me out with his Dodge Power Wagon, whose bed right then held three bales of hay and two retired laying hens who had an upcoming date with a stew pot. Both were approximately as short-tempered as Adams.
Alas, what we have here is that rare occasion when 555 horses don't mean bupkis unless they're grazing in a corral on Adams's farm. No harm done, apart from one chicken who might really benefit from psychiatric treatment.
Olympic judges' vote: Disqualified.
Triathlon Event No. 3: Road Racing
So it was off to GingerMan Raceway, near South Haven, Michigan, where we met up with Formula Mazda superstar Juan Marchand, 35, who had just won the SCCA June Sprints (having started at the back of the field) and who had just set a track record at Nelson Ledges and who had also just won at GingerMan after again starting dead last, which apparently is his trademark. Marchand, in his 1170-pound, 205-hp racer squared off against us, in our 5254-pound, 555-hp car. Well, "car" isn't the right word. BMW calls the X6 M a "sports activity coupe," which is odd because it has four doors — plus a hatch — and who would want to nickname anything a SAC? On the track, I kept losing sight of Marchand and was fearful of squashing him. About all you can see out of the X6 M's towering tail is a six-inch glimpse of frothy jet contrails. Fortunately, Marchand wasn't behind me for long. His little open-wheeler can lap GingerMan in 1 minute and 22 seconds, 18 seconds quicker than the X6 M.
Which is not to say the BMW was dawdling. It sure as hell was not. At GingerMan, it felt like a 66-inch-tall Corvette: absolutely no body roll — none. A ride bordering on harsh. Heavy but accurate steering. M-specific composite brakes that were not only fadeless but sufficiently powerful to fling me gravity-free into the shoulder belt. And straight-line thrust that had me ignoring the tach in favor of the speedometer and fuel gauge. Plus, there's that torque-vectoring rear differential, which probably was doing something really important, but when you're holding the X6 M in a four-wheel drift for about three seconds at maybe 80 mph in the second-to-last turn at GingerMan, multiplate clutch packs and ball-ramp assemblies aren't really front-of-mind fodder.
Track owner Dan Schnitta pointed out that the X6 M's lap time would have earned it a pole position in a Spec Miata race. Okay, okay. A boast like, "My monster BMW beats your Miata" is like saying, "My son's meth lab makes more money than your daughter's Girl Scout cookies." All we know is that a driftable 2.5-ton SUV is, well, surprising, but if that's what you want, BMW can supply it. For $89,725.
Here's another very cool thing about the X6 M: It can tow up to 6000 pounds. Which means you could use this SUV to tow your race car to GingerMan, unhook the trailer, then race your tow vehicle.
Olympic judges' vote: Gold medal.
Final triathlon tally: two gold medals and one total ass-kicking. We can live with that.