AUSTIN, Texas — As we blast down the straightaway of the Circuit of the Americas in a 2015 BMW X6 M, we can’t help but think, “What a brilliant, dumb car.” Well, really, we’re thinking, “Brake. Brake! BRAKE!” And sure enough, this 5,185-pound sport/utility vehicle — sorry, sports activity coupe, per BMW marketing — slows just enough for us to screech around a hairpin, where we promptly nail the throttle and let the all-wheel-drive system and torque-vectoring rear differential figure out what to do with 553 lb-ft of torque.
Yes, the X6 M is back. If you are a purist who hoped M GmbH’s dalliance with SUVs would end in tears, prepare to be disappointed. BMW has sold some 9,000 X6 Ms and 10,600 mechanically identical X5 Ms worldwide since 2009, a healthy total considering both vehicles cost about $100,000 without options and that they launched at the same time as a global financial crisis. Offering a second generation of both models is thus a no-brainer.
What was not a given — and what even the E30 M3 diehards should appreciate — is that M engineers have used the success of the X5 and X6 M to invest more into making them true M cars. “With the first-generation, there were compromises,” admits Walter Haupt, chief vehicle integration engineer. The new trucks, he hopes, will make the M3 or M5 owner feel instantly at home.
The M familiarization program starts inside. We plop into racing-style buckets and take in a cabin filled with optional carbon fiber, orange leather, and exposed stitching. The difficult-to-use automatic shifter we know from regular BMWs has been replaced with the equally difficult-to-use automatic shifter we know from M3s and M5s with dual-clutch transmissions. This vehicle’s automatic is still of the torque converter variety — now with eight speeds rather than six — but M engineers have eliminated its idle creep so that it feels more like the dual-clutch transmission in other M cars. Really.
Other aspects of the heightened M experience are more substantive. The V-8, for instance, has been upgraded to the same one that powers the M5. The twin-turbo, 4.4-liter configuration is unchanged, but those turbos are larger and are supported by new internals — crankshaft, pistons, and connecting rods — as well as variable-valve-lift technology. That yields 12 more hp and an additional 53 lb-ft of torque, for totals of 567 hp and 553 lb-ft.
No surprise, the X6 M is pretty damn quick. BMW claims a 4.0-second 0 to 60 mph time. It does this with almost no drama: no wheel slip, no perceptible turbo lag, and with wonderfully smooth upshifts. It sounds subdued inside the cabin, despite the fact that the Sport+ mode opens electronically controlled exhaust flaps.
The BMW X6 M also stops and turns more like an M car. Larger front brake calipers grip larger rotors, which weigh less, because the M’s hubs are aluminum. The X6 M now has different upper control arms than the standard X6, which increase the camber of the front wheels. Polyurethane bushings connecting the rear subframe to the body replace rubber bushings. All these changes are less effective, however, than a simple tire swap. The last X6 M and X5 M used run-flat tires, as do most regular BMWs. This time, M developed grippier, non-run-flat tires with Pirelli and Michelin. The real-world bonus is that the softer sidewalls better absorb road imperfections. The real-world downside is that if you get stuck on the side of the road, you’ll have to rely on a can of fix-a-flat and hope the closest tire shop stocks 20- or 21-inch performance tires.
You don’t need to drive the BMW X6 M on a track to appreciate all these improvements, but you should, and you can, if you pick up the vehicle at BMW’s performance center in Spartanburg, South Carolina. At Circuit of the Americas, the queue of Long Beach Blue X6s looks rather ludicrous in the pits — like a family of platypuses preparing to dive into an Olympic-size swimming pool — but the experience behind the wheel feels perfectly natural. The steering, now electrically assisted, feels as sharp and nicely weighted as in any M car as we dial into turn one. The torque-vectoring rear differential, which carries over virtually unchanged from the previous model, still works wonders at getting this big vehicle to rotate under throttle. It is now ably assisted in this effort by the 21-inch Michelin summer performance tires, which maintain grip under extreme duress and, even when pushed beyond their limits, are progressive and predictable. After several admittedly sloppy laps, only the brakes remind you that you’re driving a heavy vehicle as the brake pedal begins to soften.
Let us be perfectly clear: The 2015 BMW X6 M is still a dumb car. It’s uselessly large, excessively heavy, and, even with a promised 20 percent improvement in fuel economy, won’t be terribly green. (U.S. fuel economy numbers have not yet been announced.) If you have more than $100,000 to spend and desire both the people-moving capabilities of an X5 and go-fast capabilities and looks of a BMW M4, we have a suggestion for you: Buy an X5 and an M4. Yet who are we kidding? We love this thing. For the truth is: Few dumb ideas are as well-thought-out as the 2015 BMW X6 M.
2015 BMW M6 M Specifications
- On Sale: Spring 2015
- Price: $103,050/$116,550 est (base/as tested)
- Engine: 4.4L, twin-turbo V-8/567 hp @ 6,000-6,500 rpm, 553 lb-ft @ 2,200-5,000 rpm
- Transmission: 8-speed automatic
- Layout: 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD crossover
- Weight: 5,185 lb
- 4.0 sec
- Top speed: 155 mph