BMW X6 M: First Drive

Test Drives | July 8th, 2009 by 33
bmw x6 m 200 BMW X6 M: First Drive

For months we have been asking ourselves the same questions: is the BMW X6 M really a true Motorsport product AND does it really diminishes …

For months we have been asking ourselves the same questions: is the BMW X6 M really a true Motorsport product AND does it really diminishes the M brand? Well, the day has come to answer these questions and we have the opportunity to objectively comment on a product that went through our hands….or some may call it, test driving purgatory.

Associating the BMW X6 M with the Motorsport brand would implicitly mean driving the car on a race track and BMW has satisfied everyone’s desire: the International Media Launch of the BMW X6 M took place at Road Atlanta in Georgia.

The event started the night before when a team of BMW X6 M experts and product managers have joined the journalists for an informal session of Q&As. It’s always great to sit across the table from people that have worked on BMW products from their early stages and learn more about the concept behind these new models.

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BMW X6 M is one of these new products that have generated both positive and negative reaction from the BMW consumers and understanding the idea behind the X6 M has been one of our goals at this event.

So why would BMW build their first all-wheel drive and turbocharged M car? Well, the general consensus among BMW’s experts is that the market was in need for an “Ultimate Sports Car in the Sports Activity Segment”.

Sounds vague so far? Sure, absolutely, but….digging deeper in the strategy behind the X6 M, we found out that indeed BMW is aiming at a market that is currently “less cluttered” and in need of a new challenge. So far, the unofficial players in this segment were the Porsche Cayenne Turbo S, a $124,000 vehicle, and allegedly the Mercedes-Benz ML65 AMG. So tapping into this market with a super M SAV car at this point sound courageous but at the same time, a smart move. We will get to the bottom of this last statement shortly.

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Exterior Design

This is an area where for the first time in a while, most of the people and journalists have agreed on: the BMW X6 M has without a doubt “the looks” of an M car. The overall exterior design has received positive feedback and we couldn’t agree more.

The X6 M features an aggressive front fascia with large air intakes and front airdam, as well as gills in the front fenders. At the rear, the X6 M stands out with its unique diffuser that shrouds dual exhaust tailpipes, a typical M brand design element.

The X6 M sits on run-flat tires – 275/40R20 in front and 315/35R20 in the rear – which fit on 20-inch M alloy wheels. The high performance and “good looking” brakes complete the wheels area.

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Interior Design

Using as a starting point the BMW X6 interior, the Motorsport Division added their standard M design elements: M seats, an M leather steering wheel with shifting paddles and M launch button, M footrest, M logo on tachometer and M-color  stitching.  High quality materials from the BMW Individual catalog are found inside, along with Merino leather, brushed Aluminum Shadow and BMW Individual instrument panel with leather padding.

The X6 M received the M-specific Head-Up Display, an addition that proven to be quite useful during our super duper fast driving sessions. The X6 M also gets the new, hard-drive based iDrive system which is currently missing in the standard X6 model.

Backing up or parking the car has become a lot easier with BMW’s Rear View Camera which features the new Top View addition.

The interior space is still an issue for some people, mostly the rear sitting passengers, but that’s the price to pay for a rear coupe-like roofline and a four-seater arrangement. Up front the, the interior space and legroom is sufficient and comfortable, even for two 6″2-ish tall fellas like us.

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Engine, Suspension, Transmission and Innovative Features

Without a doubt and even on paper, the BMW X6 M is THE most powerful SUV on the market, ooops…we meant SAV, don’t want to upset our dear German M engineers. The S63B44 engine represents the latest innovation coming out of the Motorsport Division steel gates. The 4.4 liter V8 engine uses an an amazingly engineered and of course patented, exhaust manifold. The dual twin-scroll turbochargers are positioned together with the catalytic converters in the “V” section between the two rows of cylinders. According to BMW engineers, compared to a typical V engine configuration, the cylinder heads have been reversed with the exhaust going towards the inside of the “V”. The cylinder head uses the same aluminum alloy as BMW’s diesels.

The two cylinders for each scroll are 180 degrees apart in firing order, yielding better performance and most important, very minimal turbo lag. The turbos also have two liquid-to-air intercoolers.

The engine produces 555 horsepower, five more ponies than the Cayenne Turbo S and also an impressive 500 lb-ft of torque at only 1,500 rpm.

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Oh, as a fun fact, there is no oil dipstick in the X6 M which is being replaced by an electronic equivalent, so don’t look for it next time you’re going the old school of checking the oil level.

The M TwinPower Turbo V8 engine is matted to a 6-Speed Steptronic automatic transmission that offers three driving modes: Normal (D), Sport (S), and M-Sport. Shifting can also be done by using the shift paddles. To achieve faster shifting, the engine cuts the throttle and intentionally misfires one cylinder to reduce the torque load during shifting.

In automatic mode, the shifting is much smoother and fast enough to satisfy even the most pretentious BMW fans.

As one BMW engineer has said, the X6 M was built for the M-Sport model and we can attest to that.

The BMW X6 M uses the Dynamic Performance Control differential. The power distribution varies between the two rear wheels and the Dynamic Performance Control differential can transfer up to 1310 lb-ft of torque from one rear wheel to the other.

As explained further by the BMW M experts, the xDrive system provides more traction and rear-wheel drive characteristics.

Typical in an M car, the springs and bushings are stiffer than in the regular X6 model and BMW confirmed that it uses a two level Electronic Damping Control (EDC). With all the stability control features, the X6 M gives you that confidence needed when entering a sharp corner and slightly drifting that you might notice, it’s actually part of the plan.

The X6 M uses an M Servotronic Steering which is smooth and comfortable. To still get the M feeling and handling of an M car, the power assistance is reduced at higher speeds.

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Driving Experience

Okay, you’ve made it so far, so stick with us a little bit longer and we will tell you all about the driving experience behind the wheel of one of the most powerful BMW’s out there.

Going back to drive a new M car right after the M Performance Driving School I attended two weeks ago, has put us in a privileged situation where one, we would be able to compare the X6 M more fair against the M cars and two, we’re far more experienced at driving an M vehicle on a race track.

So after doing the mandatory three laps behind a BMW pace car that quickly shows you the inside and outside of the two mile race track setup at Road Atlanta, we were on our way to finally answer the question of X6 M being a true Motorsport vehicle.

One of the concern we have had for a while was around the “overweight” figure that the X6 M sports. At 5,324 lb, the X6 M is far from being a a thin, agile athlete….at least on paper, but those concerns were quickly dissipated as we pushed the car more and more.

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Going through the sharpest corners at fairly high speeds has not been just fun, but also safe and dynamic. The more we drove the car, the more comfortable we became behind the wheel of a 555 horsepower car or should we say …. a real M car? YES, the BMW X6 M handled itself as a true M car and has never given us the impression that we’re driving a an SAV model, at least from a handling and driving dynamics perspective.

The car displays tremendous capabilities and the work of BMW M experts can be seen in this model who have truly built a new M vehicle and not just an upgraded version of the standard X6. Cornering is just as fun as any other M car and this comes from someone that has intensively drove all the other M models in an 8-hour race track session just recently. The expected body roll from an SAV model is very well controlled by the Dynamic Stability Control and wheelspin was minimal to none, and mostly occurred due to a less experienced driver or not knowing the car enough.

Despite its large size, visible and weight wise, the BMW X6 M is easy to maneuver and could even become a choice for those less M-inclined customers, but who have always looked for more thrill from an SUV.

Now we all expect a BMW to do well in cornering and tight situations, right? Well, the X6 M performs quite amazing on straight lines as well, both with manual shifting and automatic. While manually shifting the paddles, we managed to squeeze a top speed of 135 mph, that’s 217 km/h for our European readers. Was that good enough for us? Nah, we expected more and we knew we can do better, especially after graduation the M school, so we switched to M-Sport mode and let the car do the shifting for us. After going through about 30 more laps, we finally reached our goal: 143 mph (230km/h).

Not impressed yet? What if we tell you that the straight line wasn’t really entirely straight, but rather combination of a couple of wide curves and uphill/downhill situations? Not bad at all, that was our general consensus, especially since the high speed was achieved on such short distance.

Now the X6 M can’t be all coated in sugar and honey, so we did have a little complaint to make: despite the large size of BMW’s high-performance brakes, the braking distance is definitely longer than in a smaller M vehicle. Even when slamming the brakes really hard, we didn’t get the same feedback we’ve received a couple of weeks ago from the M5 for example. We can already see the counter arguments flying our way, bigger car, larger wheels, more power….etc…but we still wanted to point it out.

So let’s check our findings against BMW’s definition of the X6 M: agility – checked, dynamics – checked, response – checked, feedback – almost checked.

After 30+ laps, we ended the test driving session with a smile on our face and we are finally able to answer those questions we posted at the beginning of the article – you still remember them, right?

YES, in our opinion and based on what we heard from other journalists, the BMW X6 M is a true Motorsport vehicle and even the purist BMW fans should be proud to have the opportunity to experience something different without fearing that it diminishes the M brand. In the end, a successful car company should always be searching for new segments to tap in or simply, to create new ones.

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If we were Porsche executives, we would fear that some of their customers might find the more powerful and affordable BMW X6 M as being a more valuable purchase.

Oh…and those of you that were worried to see turbocharged engines in the future M models, don’t be, they truly are great and innovative and if we were to blindly trust BMW with something, those would be the ENGINES.

Full Disclaimer: Our trip to International Media Launch was sponsored by BMW North America.


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