by Roger Biermann
Imitation, they say, is the sincerest form of flattery. BMW would know they’ve happened upon a hit with the BMW X6, by that logic, since Mercedes-Benz has recently replicated the hunchbacked SUV cum coupe. But at the top of the X6 tree sits the M-powered BMW X6 M, sharing underpinnings and drivetrain with the X5 M, and providing yet another German alternative to the Porsche Cayenne. Look beyond the polarizing styling, though, and beneath the surface the X6 M is testament that BMW’s M Division knows how to work magic that defies physics.
From inside, there’s no mistaking this as a BMW. The interior design and layout bears a strong family resemblance that makes it easy to get re-acquainted with. Supportive M sports seats offer excellent comfort and a surprisingly sporty driving position up front, leaving this feeling every bit a BMW sport sedan – with the obvious extra foot of height increasing forward visibility. Rearward visibility suffers though, the price to pay for that style-orientated sloping rear roof-line. The coupe-styling also has negative impacts on the rear of the cabin, where leg room is more than ample, but head room is severely compromised, particularly for taller passengers. Within BMW’s own stable there’s a more practical option, but the X5 M lacks the proclaimed style of the 6. But ingress and egress are suitably comfortable, and material qualities are far superior to those you’d find in the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT Trackhawk.
When hauling a 5200+ lb SUV around with sporting intention, certain adjustments to the suspension are required to stop it all going pear-shaped. In the X6 M’s case, BMW has sufficiently revised the air suspension to cope with the weight and height under duress of hard cornering. The support for the massive body defies physics, with the large SUV feeling more akin to a hefty sports sedan than an SUV. Levels of composure are sublime, and even sudden direction changes are handled without too much fuss. The steering – long a problem for BMW – feels suitably weighted for the X6 M’s size and proportions, though still remains decidedly vague - the curse of electric power assistance.
But the trade-off you’ll be making for the composure the X6 M displays is ride quality. Even with the adaptive suspension setting in its softest setting, the ride is jittery and firm, and really not pleasant on anything other than mirror-smooth surfaces.
Under the X6 M’s hood, you’ll find a 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8, bearing the S63 denomination. It’s the same engine shared in varying tunes with the previous and current BMW M5, but in the X6 M it gets outputs of 567 horsepower and 553 lb-ft of torque. Power is dealt to all 4 wheels via BMW’s xDrive system, via an 8-speed automatic gearbox sourced from ZF – the industry standard. The X6 M lives up to its performance pedigree with 0-60mph arising in less than 4 seconds, but it’s a pity the soundtrack is falsified through the speakers.
As the range-topping model, equipment is extensive. The X6 M features 18-way power adjustable M multi-function seats, a 10.2-inch touch screen featuring iDrive 5.0, dynamic cruise control, a Harman Kardon audio system, heated front seats, and automatic 4 zone climate control. The X6 M hasn’t been crash tested, though the mechanically identical X5 M scores 5 out of 5 stars from the NHTSA and best possible ratings of Good from the IIHS with Superior crash avoidance and mitigation ratings. Forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, and rain sensing wipers are among the standard safety equipment.
The BMW X6 M trades practicality for style and comfort for outright performance. It does the latter with exceptional physics-defying competence. As a performance SUV, this ranks right at the top of the pack, but the X5 M offers a more practical, perhaps better looking alternative in a mechanically identical package.