When we tested the BMW X5 M last month, we thought it was a seriously mean machine. But now we've met its brother, the 2010 BMW X6 M, and found something even nastier. The X6 M is a piece of automotive engineering that shouldn't exist, its total lack of practicality suggesting it is more about art than function, the automotive equivalent of Mount Everest--BMW built it because it could.
If you stripped away the body, you would find a car nearly identical to the X5 M, the same 4.4-liter V-8 surmounted by twin turbochargers, which is sort of like putting bow ties on puppies. They're already cute; they don't need the embellishment.
The M cladding hides a roaring beast, an engine that even without turbocharging would still be quite powerful.
Upholding its engineering reputation, BMW fits the 4.4-liter V-8 with its double-VANOS continuously variable valve timing and direct injection, making for an engine that produces plenty of torque at low speeds. The twin turbos, one for each bank of four cylinders, force air into the engine at 22 psi, cranking up overall engine output to 555 horsepower and 501 pound-feet of torque.
The result is a thrumming, barking beast under the hood that gives the X6 M breathtaking acceleration. BMW claims 4.7 seconds to 62 mph, and we more than verified that timing by hitting 60 mph in 4.38 seconds, using the car's M mode and putting the six-speed automatic transmission into Sport. On another run, manually shifting with paddle shifters, our time was 4.68 seconds, showing that we can indeed be replaced by a mechanical device.
During a typical timed run, we lined the car up, then mashed the gas pedal. Unlike some cars with complicated suspension and traction control technology, the X6 M unhesitatingly leapt forward. Acceleration continued on a smooth and linear path, with no turbo-lag. At each gear shift, the exhaust let out a deep bass rumble as the engine rapidly changed speed. During our manual-shifting tests, tapping the right side paddle produced a quick upshift, but we frequently didn't catch it in time, as the tach needle quickly headed into redline territory.
Given the similar power train and chassis, the X6 M should be virtually identical to the X5 M. But here's the difference: where the X5 M sports the passenger and cargo-friendly body of an SUV, the X6 M's roofline, sloping radically down toward the hatchback, tortures rear-seat passengers with minimal headroom. Cargo space is also limited to things that can lie flat.
We like coupes and fastbacks, but not when they are the size of an SUV.
The X6 M seems designed with the sadist in mind, a person who would welcome people into the back seat, grin, then proceed to drive like a madman until the rear-seat passengers were suffering neck pains that would keep a team of chiropractors in business for 50 years. And on arriving at a destination, said sadistic driver would look in the cargo area and say, sorry, couldn't fit your suitcases in, guess you'll have to live in those clothes for the next few days.
This purported sadistic driver will be able to do plenty of damage to the rear-seat occupants, as the X6 M can maintain grip at amazing speeds in the corners. Driving it over wet mountain roads, the car craved speed, begging for more power on every turn. On a long sweeper we got it up to what we felt was a comfortable speed, but, as the X6 M started to lean, we pushed the gas harder, making it regain its flat cornering poise. On the tight corners, rising hairpins, and the like, the X6 M eagerly scrambles up and around. It's a big dog but it gets around like a terrier.
How does BMW make a car weighing more than 5,200 pounds handle so well? The answer is something called Adaptive Drive, a technology that monitors, in a matter of milliseconds, side and longitudinal g-forces, speed, steering angle, and ride height. It takes this data and adjusts the antiroll bars and dampers to counteract forces that threaten to get the X6 M sideways when it is being pushed hard.
Of course, this car also features the M button on the steering wheel, which immediately sharpens throttle response and makes the suspension more sport-worthy with a simple touch. Fitting the high-tech theme of the X6 M, this button is kind of like a macro: you can program it through the car's settings menu. In this menu, you can make the M button put the dynamic stability control, electronic damper control, and power into sport modes, while having the head-up display change from showing just speed and navigation information to a colorful virtual tachometer.
The head-up display, when in M mode, shows the tachometer as a colorful band.
The six-speed automatic transmission also has a sport setting, but it's not controlled by the M button. You need to pull BMW's funky-looking shifter from Drive to Sport yourself, which also substantially affects the car's performance. Where Drive mode feels benign and sluggish, Sport uses sensors to look for opportunities to downshift. Get up speed in a straight, then bang on the brakes as you plow toward a turn, and this transmission puts itself into an appropriately low gear, usually second, and holds it as the tachometer pushes redline, shifting up only before fuel cutoff.
As third gear can take the X6 M up to 100 mph, it's the go-to driving gear, able to handle most situations. The Sport mode uses second for the harder turns, when the tail of this all-wheel-drive behemoth rotates out. The transmission has a very capable automatic mode, but we did some of our own shifting, too, slapping the paddles around, finding reasonably fast gear changes. The paddles also work in standard Drive mode, useful when you want extra oomph for passing, but will switch back to automatic if you leave them alone for a few seconds.
This screen gives a graphic representation of how much torque is being applied to each wheel.
All this power and performance takes a horrible toll on fuel economy, as you might expect. EPA on the X6 M is a gut-wrenching 12 mpg city and 17 mpg highway. We managed to pull 15.8 mpg out of it, but that involved ample gentle freeway driving mixed in with pounding it over mountain courses.
As a helpful feature for driving roads with frequent elevation changes, BMW supplies maps for the navigation system with topographical features and really remarkable rendering. Next to Audi, BMW has the best-looking maps in the business. This navigation system stores its maps on an 80GB hard drive, the biggest you will find in a production car.
This map not only shows the curves in the road, but also elevation changes in topographical detail.
We were quite pleased with the navigation system's routing function, as it dynamically avoids traffic. On one journey, the system told us to take a road that didn't seem to be in the direction we wanted to go. But as we wanted to test the system, we let it have its way, figuring it would end in beautiful disaster or a happy surprise. And, after some miles, it became clear the car knew where we wanted to go, taking this alternate route to avoid some traffic jam nastiness.
As the X6 M uses a hard drive for map storage, BMW makes 15GB available for music storage. And in this car, we needed it, as the iPod/USB port wasn't on its option sheet. iPod connectivity comes with BMW's Premium Sound package, which wasn't included on our X6 M. You would think that, in a $90,000 car, a USB port could be thrown in as standard. The car did have an auxiliary input and HD radio. No satellite radio, although that is also an available option.
A full seven-band equalizer can be found in the X6 M's settings.
Lacking the Premium Sound package, we were stuck with the standard 12-speaker, 230-watt amplifier audio system, as opposed to the 16-speaker, 600-watt optional system. But where we've found BMW's premium systems to produce very heavy sound that steps all over the high frequencies, this standard system seemed much more balanced. With the lower wattage amp, we did need to turn the volume way up on occasion, but the sound was very refined, letting us hear the light details in multilayered recordings. Bass was adequate, but not excessive.
There is another way to get iPod connectivity without opting for the $1,400 Premium Sound package: you can get the $150 Smartphone Integration option. BMW says it works with the iPhone and similar devices, allowing access to music, recharging the device, and improving cell reception.
Short of that option, Bluetooth phone integration is standard, and fairly good. This system imports your phone's contact list when you pair a new phone, making it available on the LCD. Unfortunately, you can't use voice command to dial by name, as you can with Ford, Lexus, and Kia models.
The 2010 BMW X6 M is one of the more impractical cars we've driven, the X6 body design having the stance of an SUV but none of the interior room. However, it is also incredibly technically advanced. From engine bay to suspension, BMW poured the expertise of a small country of engineers into its development. That a heavy pseudo-SUV can carve corners and blast to 60 mph in well less than 5 seconds like the X6 M is nothing short of a technical marvel. Too bad about the fuel economy.
The cabin tech is also very good, although we wish BMW wouldn't nitpick over each option. Fortunately, navigation and Bluetooth do come as standard in the X6 M. There are a few useful driver aid features, such as a rearview camera, head-up display, and automatic high beams. But what's missing in the X6 M are features such as blind-spot detection, adaptive cruise control, and lane drift warning, which are features that can be found in much less expensive cars.
|Model||2010 BMW X6 M|
|Power train||Twin turbocharged 4.4-liter V-8|
|EPA fuel economy||12 mpg city/17 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||15.8 mpg|
|Navigation||Standard hard-drive-based system with live traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||Standard MP3 compatible single in-dash CD; optional six disc CD/DVD changer|
|MP3 player support||Optional iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||USB drive port, satellite radio, HD radio, internal hard drive|
|Audio system||Optional 600-watt amplifier, 16 speakers|
|Driver aids||Optional head-up display, rear-view camera, top-down camera|
|Price as tested||$92,625|