BMW’s M division has been actively hinting about the introduction of electric propulsion for some time now, but it clearly thinks the traditional combustion engine still has some decent life left in it – as witnessed by the launch of the new BMW X6 M, the German car maker’s most powerful and fastest-accelerating production SUV model to date.
The new performance BMW SUV builds on the various strengths of the already highly capable BMW X6 M50i, launched in the UK late last year. It also shares its mechanical package with the arguably less flashy but more versatile BMW X5 M, alongside which it is assembled at BMW’s Spartanburg factory in the US state of South Carolina.
But rather than provide the X6 M with the electrified drivetrain that the times we live in might tend to prescribe, M has given it no lesser an engine than the twin-turbocharged 4.4-litre V8 used by the latest BMW BMW M5. In standard guise, the highly strung petrol unit, which uses a cross-bank manifold as well as M’s double Vanos variable camshaft timing and Valvetronic fully variable valve timing to give it a high-revving character, kicks out a meaningful 592bhp. However, with different electronic mapping, among other unspecified changes, it gains a further 24bhp, taking the output of the Competition model sold in the UK to 616bhp at 6000rpm. In both cases, torque peaks at 552lb ft between 1800rpm and 5800rpm.
This gives the new flagship X6 model some 49bhp more than its predecessor and a stout 93bhp more than the X6 M50i. For added perspective, it is also 74bhp more than that served up by the Porsche Cayenne Coupe Turbo and 24bhp more than that offered by the Audi RS Q8 – both of which use the same twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 petrol engine in differing states of tune.
Drive is channelled via an eight-speed torque-converter automatic gearbox with steering-wheel mounted shift paddles to an M xDrive four-wheel drive system that accommodates an M differential to apportion drive individually between the rear wheels. Together, they are engineered to provide the X6 M with a distinct rear-wheel-drive bias. In the words of M: “It only brings the front wheels into play when the rear wheels aren’t able to transmit any more power to the road and additional tractive force is required.”
Suspension changes over the X6 M50i include a substantial brace at both the front and rear for greater rigidity, increased track widths, extra camber for the front wheels and subtle tweaks to the active roll stabilisation system, which uses electric motors to suppress lean in corners. Standard wheels are 21in up front and 22in at the rear, with 295/35 ZR21 and substantial 315/30 ZR22 tyres respectively.
How does the X6 M perform on the road?
If you’re looking for finesse, you best look elsewhere in the M line-up. Although the X6 M is engaging, its driving appeal is not exactly centred on its delicacy of control. Rather, it is the brutish nature of its power delivery and the ability of its gearbox and four-wheel drive system to place its reserves to the road in any one of its various driving modes that make it so memorable.
The M5’s powerplant endows the new BMW SUV with the sort of relentless energy associated with only a select group of top-flight supercars, as evidenced by its official 0-62mph time of just 3.8sec.
Remember to tick the M Driver’s Package option when you order and you’ll also receive the bragging rights to a 180mph top speed. In addition to this, the Competition model emits a delicious baritone exhaust note that growls with anger on the overrun in its most potent driving mode.
Backing up the new M model’s sheer pace is its monumental grip. Although it hits the scales at 2295kg, the X6 M’s ability to string together a series of corners at speed is quite stunning. You can sense the drive being transferred between the front and rear axles as the M xDrive system and M differential work together to find optimum purchase. And even with a nominal 213mm of ground clearance, it remains reassuringly flat, with only moderate body roll on all but the most aggressive of direction changes.
The steering is typical of recent models from M, with unnecessarily high levels of resistance at low speeds and, despite being quick and direct, almost a complete lack of any meaningful feedback at higher speeds out on the open road. In everyday driving, the X6 M is every bit as easy to live with as other new X6 models, with the key exception that its ride is overly firm, even in its most comfort-biased mode. You’d really have to love the big BMW to put up with the constant harshness.
Inside, the cabin is nicely styled, of suitably high perceived quality for the price and quite spacious up front, even if the boot falls short for outright load-carrying capacity, at a nominal 580 litres. The changes brought to the exterior also serve to instantly set the most powerful third-generation X6 model apart from its lesser siblings, giving the SUV coupé a determinedly aggressive appearance.
Many will see it as a dinosaur – the last of the pure-combustion-engine breed. And yet it’s hard not to admire M’s engineering achievements in creating the X6 M.
Yes, it’s pricey – some £17,780 more than the arguably more rounded X6 M50i. But you might just be looking at a future classic – 284g/km of CO2 and all.