There’s a lot of expectation when BMW’s M performance division launches a new model. The M vehicles are revered the world over for the unmistakable joy it brings the enthusiastic motorist. Sheer driving pleasure, to quote the Munich-based brand…
There are many elements that make up a “driver’s car” – such as nimbleness and feel. Power of course, ranks highly, as does a drivetrain that (mostly) should send torque to the rear wheels. Oh, and a manual gearbox too. So imagine my surprise on hearing that the international media launch of the second generation X6 M would happen in Austin. Not just the home of the brave, but also automatic transmissions, and large heavy vehicles that don’t exactly lend themselves to sporty driving.
But my preconceptions about the USA changed when I learned that the country was responsible for more than 40 percent of global sales of M division vehicles last year. With Russia, China and Germany taking smaller, but nevertheless significant chunks of the stats.
Exterior and interior styling
But just how much M can exist in an SUV? (BMW calls this vehicle an SAC, or Sports Activity Vehicle). I wasn’t expecting to be blown away when our media contingent arrived the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) and was driven to the pit garage complex. Obviously the new X6 (which is being launched in South Africa this week) boasts significant differences in details compared with its predecessor, but the M enhancements certainly make it that extra bit striking.
The redesigned, narrower headlamps with familiar LED half-round details are slightly more menacing now that they are backed up with extra wide kidney grilles, flared intakes and muscular wheelarches thanks to the beefy track and gumball tyres wrapped around model-specific21-inch alloys. Finishing off the look is the new Long Beach Blue metallic paint.
Inside, the cabin contrasts nicely with the exterior hue thanks to the Aragon Brown of the Full Merino leather upholstery. What next caught my eyes were the thickly bolstered front seats with integrated head restraints. The steering wheel is thickly rimmed in typical M fashion, and stitched on the inside in typical red blue and purple. Carbon fibre trim added a sporty touch to the interior, with satin finish metallic strip detailing on the multifunction steering wheel and front of the facia provided contrast.
On the road
The X6 M is powered by the same 4,4-litre twin-turbocharged V8 that made its debut in the M5. Pushing the start/stop button brought the motor to life with a deep woofle. I set out west from the circuit, to eventually cross Interstate 35 in a wide loop. Despite the wide and specially developed Michelins sporting low profiles (285/35 R21s up front and 325/30 R21s in the rear, the suspension is supple enough to carry the X6 M over the occasional road imperfection with grace. Even the bigger bumps did little to cause discomfort. NVH control was also excellent.
What surprised me most was just how unfriendly the Sport and Sport+ settings for the electric steering assistance and suspension stiffness were. Not exactly ridiculously heavy and jarring – but enough to make long trips tiresome. When the boom from the M trademark quad tailpipes became a bit monotonous, a Bang and Olufsen premium sound system (optional) allowed for further aural entertainment. Despite its heft, the X6 M surprised with its sharp reactions even in comfort mode on the roads between Buda and Driftwood.
On the track
Back the 5,49 km circuit, introduced to the world as the venue for the United States Grand Prix in time for the 2012 season, was the real test for the big bimmer. With more power and torque than its F10 M5 sibling, it easily reeled in the now infamous first left-hander at COTA, which requires braking with the nose of the vehicle still pointing toward the sky.
Despite having done no less than 10 hot laps before I slid into the M seat, the X6 M’s high performance ventilated discs, retarded by six-piston calipers up front and single-piston floating rears, showed no signs of fade. Even more impressive is that as I stomped on the loud pedal far too early for a swift exit (later, faster laps revealed this) the xDrive all-wheel drive system responded not by sending me into juddering understeer, but with surprising jerks of the rear end. Further exploration of the three driving modes of the Dynamic Stability Control demonstrates that up to 100 percent of the X6 M’s torque can be sent to the rear wheels… Meaning that this SUV is as capable of drifting as the rest of its M brethren.
The X6 M is one beast of a big car. It also boasts a hefty price tag. But I think where most consumers might try to find fault is that it’s an SUV with an M badge. I was skeptical before, but really am now convinced of its credentials. Besides, who says you can’t belt around a local race track before driving off for a round of golf? In the same car.
Look out for a full impression in an upcoming issue of CAR