With Mercedes cranking out AWD versions of their AMG products and Audi finally bringing their AWD “RS” products to America, it was only a matter of time before BMW have in and added some front-wheel motivation to their M5. Just kidding. BMW maintains that the M5 will forever retain RWD. This means the M5 will focus on dynamics and not acceleration. BMW’s answer to this deficiency since 2010 comes in the form of the X5M and X6M cousins.
Why are we looking at the 2013 X6M when 2014 is bringing an all-new X5? Easy, the X5M won’t roll into town until the 2015 model year we’re told and the X6 has yet to be officially refreshed putting its new body back to the 2015 model year in all likelihood. If you want a fast AWD BMW and can’t wait for the refresh, act now.
What is the X6M? I’m glad you asked because I still haven’t decided. BMW would like you to think that it is a new class of vehicle called the SAC or “Sports Activity Coupé.” For some reason I have trouble calling a 5-door crossover that weighs a feather under 5,400lbs a “coupé,” but that’s just me. On a technical level (and to answer the real question at hand) the X6 is an X5 without the third row of thrones and a “liftback” and not a hatchback profile. The steeply raked rear window and overall shape of the X6 make it look smaller on the outside than it is. The X6M is one inch shorter than the M5, four inches wider, nine inches taller, and a full 1,000lbs heavier.
Identifying the X6M from the “common” X6 is fairly easy. BMW swaps the hood for a version with a “power bulge” (not functional as far as I could tell) and a new bumper with openings large enough to swallow a Geo Metro. Out back we have quad exhaust tips and aero treatments that scream “look at me!” The most important difference is almost lost in the X6M’s proportions: this SUV wears some seriously wide 315/35R20 rubber on 11-inch wide allow wheels. More on that later.
For a vehicle with a $92,900 starting price the spartan interior of the X6M surprised some of my passengers. It shouldn’t. The X6 wears the same 7-year old interior as the 2006-2013 X5 with only minor tweaks which you’ll mostly find in the back. Up front we have the same injection molded dash as the X5 and X5 but BMW swaps the wood out for brushed aluminum. Call me an old man at heart, but I think a dark stained wood package would be better suited to the X6M’s sports/luxury mission.
Front seat comfort is excellent, but again it should be in something this spendy. The comfort level is thanks to BMW’s 20-way power “M sport” seats which allow the seat to contort in more ways than you would think possible. (BMW makes these same seats available on nearly their entire lineup and it’s worth the cost to upgrade.) Out back you’ll notice something is missing at first glance. The X6M is a four-seater by default. If you want the middle rear seat that was lost in the X5M to X6M transition, you’ll have to pay an extra $350 on-top of the $4,050 premium for the X6M’s sloping backside. Apparently stye doesn’t come cheap.
About that liftback; from the X6M’s profile you might assume cargo area would be limited, but at 25.6 cubic feet the luggage compartment is more than adequate for a party of 5. (Although notably lower than the X5M’s 35 cubes.) You might also mistakenly assume the X6M would have more interior room than the M5 sedan but you’d be wrong there too. The M5 somehow offers more legroom and headroom front and back than either the X5M or X6M, something to keep in mind if you’re SUV shopping simply because you’re a tall person.
iDrive has come a long way since its introduction, and although complicated at times, it’s still the ultimate in-car attraction for my inner nerd. Keep in mind that the Swansong edition X6M doesn’t get latest version of the system found in the new 3-Series. The key differences are improved integration with the heads up display and a media button on the iDrive controller reflecting the relative importance of CDs and media devices in this century. Don’t fret, the older iDrive system runs the same software as the new version meaning the X6M still has all the smartphone app integration you can handle and now fully supports voice commanding the tunes on your USB/iPod. Like the rest of the BMW portfolio, you can Tweet, Facebook, Wikipedia and SMS message while you drive (with the $250 apps option). Compared to Audi’s MMI, iDrive lacks the Google satellite view mapping but the system is more responsive, more intuitive and more polished. I’d like to compare it to Mercedes’ COMAND but that would be like comparing a Space Shuttle to the Model T. For our in-depth look at iDrive, check out the video review.
By now the suspense is killing you. After all, we haven’t even mentioned the M engine under the hood so here we go: Turbo lovers rejoice! Squeezed under the bulging hood beats a 4.4L twin-turbo V8 engine cranking out 555HP and a mind numbing 500 lb-ft of torque. While this engine is quite similar to the X6 xDrive50i’s 4.4L twin turbo V8, there are some significant differences, most notably the broader torque curve. The “pedestrian” 4.4L engine delivers 450lb-ft from 1750-4500RPM while the M-mill broadens the torque plateau to 1500-5650 and the difference is marked behind the wheel. Power is routed to all four wheels via a heavy-duty ZF 6-speed automatic transmission, BMW’s full-tine AWD system and of course, a torque vectoring rear differential. I have seen complaints from the forum fan-boys whining that BMW didn’t put their dual-clutch M transmission under the hood of the X6M, I have to agree at some level.
So why not an AWD version of the DCT tranny? In a word: towing. Despite the insane power numbers the X6M is rated to tow a stout 6,600lbs. With more torque on hand than most diesel engines, the X6M had no trouble towing a 5,000lb load that we hitched up making the X6M the second most practical performance vehicle I’ve ever tested right behind the X5M. As if common sense wasn’t enough, the manual reminds you to not use launch control while towing a trailer.
Let’s get some numbers out of the way. The X6M clocked a 4.04 second sprint to 60 with launch control, 4.3 seconds without and 4.5 seconds without launch control and not using the M power mode. What’s the difference? Aside from crisper/faster shifts, launch control adjusts the stability control system and allows the turbos to spool up to reduce turbo lag on launch. To put that in perspective, the last M6 we had our hands on ran to 60 in 3.75, last month’s CLS63 AMG did it in 4.1, and the high-power Jaguar XKR-S finished the task in 3.83.
What does that have to do with the X6M and why are we comparing sports cars and an SUV? Because of how close those number are. How is that possible with the X6M weighing so much more? It’s all about the grip. 0-60 testing a two-wheel drive high horsepower vehicle takes a certain amount of time and finesse. The X6M needs only a heavy right foot. Aside from the straight-line fun AWD brings, BMW’s torque vectoring rear diff makes the X6M feel incredibly confidant on winding mountain roads. The system allows nearly 100% of the power that would normally be sent to both rear wheels, to be directed to one wheel causing the X6M to rotate with near psychic precision. While TTAC doesn’t have access to a 300ft skidpad, you may be surprised to know that most publications that do record higher horizontal Gs in the X6M than in the M5 and M6. Say what? Thank those insane 315 width tires for that.
For most drivers, the X6M is going to be easier to drive hard on or off the track, up to a point. That 5,400lbs has to be kept in mind and when you have the X6M on very tight corners the curb weight becomes more noticeable. Even so the X6M and X5M are entirely capable of keeping up with the likes of a Porsche Cayman S given the right driver and the right road. Speaking of Porsche we haven’t said anything about the Cayenne yet. There are three good reasons for that. First, Porsche wouldn’t loan us one making the X6M win by default. Second, the Cayenne really competes with the X5M since it’s a traditional SUV shape. And last, the Cayenne Turbo S lists for nearly 50% more than the X6M. Ouch. Yes, the Cayenne is an incredible machine and in truth is the only real competition for BMW’s insane crossovers, but with price tags like that, we should be asking: is the BMW competition for Porsche? Probably not.
Over 816 miles we averaged a surprising 15.4 MPG in the X6M. Surprising how? Because that’s 1.4 MPG more than the EPA combined number BMW advertises, it’s also not terribly far off the 16.5 MPG we averaged in a week in the BMW M5.
The X6M is quite simply one of the finest BMWs available for sale. I just don’t understand why you would buy one. Sure it’s fast and handles well, but so does the X5M. My problem with the X6M isn’t the X6M itself, it’s that the X5M exists which is a far more practical crossover with none of the drawbacks the X6’s squashed posterior causes. All of that is before you even consider the $4,400 premium you have to pay for a 5-seat X6M over the 5-seat X5M and the loss of head and legroom over the M5. The X6M is absolutely incredible machine, but I can’t help thinking it’s a product searching for a market.
BMW Provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.
Specifications as tested
0-60: 4.04 (4.3 without launch control, 4.5 when not in M-Mode)
1/4 Mile: 12.44 Seconds at 113 MPH
Average Fuel Economy: 15.4 MPG over 816 miles