New Cars for 2010: Europe

Mark Bramley Greg Pajo
#BMW, #V-8

First Drive: BMW X6 M
Not just a new car - A new philosophy.
By Jason Cammisa

The X6 M represents an entirely new philosophy for BMW's M division. Until now, any BMW wearing an M badge has been equipped with a normally aspirated engine that revs to the moon. Every M car has been a faster, more involving version of a rear-wheel-drive BMW. And every M car has been, well, a car.

The X6 M, however, is an SUV with an automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. Porsche, with its Cayenne Turbo, and Mercedes-Benz, with its ML63 AMG, have proven that an SUV can get to 60 mph in five seconds and scorch through the Nürburgring's hills and dales. These super SUVs are very profitable, and BMW wants a piece of that pie. So, philosophy be damned, M is doing a truck.

M engineers started with the basic X6's optional 4.4-liter twin-turbo V-8, then added lag-reducing exhaust manifolds. The brain trust realized that, because the turbos are nestled in the valley of the vee, each turbo could be fed with exhaust from two cylinders on each bank rather than from four cylinders on a single bank. Using equal-length runners, the new setup provides each turbo with evenly spaced exhaust pulses rather than the irregular pulses that spin the turbos on BMW's non-M twin-turbo V-8s. This results in dramatically better response than in the standard X6 - the M suffers from practically zero lag and produces a tsunami of torque - 500 lb-ft - at any point between 1500 and 5650 rpm. Maximum boost pressure is 17.4 psi, and peak horsepower is 555, served at 6000 rpm. The sprint to 60 mph takes only 4.5 seconds, according to BMW, and in manual mode, the six-speed automatic will happily let you bang the V-8 against its 7000-rpm limiter.

Speaking of transmissions, the ZF-supplied automatic features M-exclusive revised programming that reduces shift times without any serious comfort penalty. Until you engage manual mode. Then, the gearbox gets serious, locking the torque converter as soon as you're moving and keeping it locked during gearchanges. Shifts are incredibly quick and are accompanied by an entertaining burp from the twin exhausts.

The X6 M corners, stops, and sticks like a serious sports car. It shares the regular X6's Dynamic Performance Control rear differential, which can borrow up to about 1300 lb-ft of torque from one rear wheel and send it to the other. Like other cars that use torque-vectoring rear diffs (such as the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution), the X6 dances around corners - and the laws of physics - with little regard for its mass. Whether rocketing off the line or tearing around a racetrack, even 555 hp is no match for this all-wheel-drive system.

In the world of the super SUVs, there's likely no match for the X6 M's performance, either. With that said, it lacks the involvement of other M cars - there's not much steering feedback, and it even rides smoothly, thanks to its adaptive suspension. The interior is similarly subdued - there's little to differentiate it from lesser X6s, and it's likely that passengers will never know what their chariot is capable of.

Sadly, many of its drivers won't, either. Like buyers of other super SUVs, X6 M customers are probably concerned more with bragging rights than experiencing the truck's limits themselves. That's another first for an M product - and another philosophical change for BMW M.

On Sale: Now
Base Price: $89,725
Specs: 4.4L twin-turbo V-8, 555 hp, 500 lb-ft; 4-wheel drive

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