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The New BMW X6M - First Drive

Greg Emmerson
Oct 20, 2009
Photographer: BMW

I'm sitting behind the wheel of the BMW X6M in the pits at Road Atlanta. The track is open and I'm summoning the courage to do what's necessary.

Eurp_0911_01_z+bmw_x6m_first_drive+front Photo 2/11   |   It's not often you see SUVs lining up to lap Road Atlanta, but BMW M is confident in its new offspring

The reason I'm worried? This 5324 lb vehicle (5368 lb X5M) has 555hp and, despite the 15.6" front rotors with four-piston calipers, I foresee a very large crash in my immediate future.

Despite the first auto transmission ever fitted to an M car, we're told the X6M lapped the Nordschleife quicker than an E46 M3. What's more, it accelerates to 60mph in the same 4.5sec as the M5 V10. But surely that means I'm going to hit something very fast.

Remembering my first encounter with the regular 400hp X6 V8 (et 7/08), it defied physics by doing things its bulk should make impossible. And the X6M is even heavier. This can't be a good idea.

Eurp_0911_07_z+bmw_x6m_first_drive+brake Photo 3/11   |   Huge 15.6" front rotors and four-piston calipers were specified for 5324 lb X6M

Exiting the pits, I found the carpet with the right pedal. Sure enough, the acceleration is astonishing, especially because you sit up high. You can watch one of our laps on the Videos page at but it doesn't do justice to the pace. After the first left turn, you run downhill through the esses and climb up the other side. The megalith gained tremendous speed on the descent, and every sinew in my body told me we couldn't make it uphill. You could feel the weight and momentum wanting to pull you off course, yet the chassis shrugged it off and did exactly what you asked the active steering to do.

Each lap was like a little gift from God - you know it shouldn't do what it did, but you're really happy it did. Your brain says crash but the car says not!

Admittedly, the feat is again testament to BMW's electronics and chassis engineers (just as it is in the regular X6). However, we were driving with the DSC switched off to make life harder for ourselves, and still the X6M excelled.

Eurp_0911_02_z+bmw_x6m_first_drive+engine Photo 4/11   |   New heads, turbo, exhaust manifold, intercoolers, exhaust, software and compression has released 155hp over stock to reach a staggering 555hp and 501 lb/ft

The percentage of X6/5M owners (it's actually X6 M, but the space seems extravagant) who will venture onto a racetrack is probably infinitesimal, but M GmbH wanted to show it was possible. And hammering past 145mph along the back straight, with the huge brakes scrubbing off the speed at the bottom, you knew this was an M car. Nobody else could build something this insane with such finesse.

We were on the track because we could, not because we should. And what better place to explore the rear-bias of the M's first all-wheel-drive model?

The engine power pushes the AWD xDrive system hard, but the Dynamic Performance Control governs torque distribution between the rear wheels. Then there's the Dynamic Stability Control, Servotronic speed-sensitive steering and Integrated Chassis Management. And don't forget the self-leveling air springs at the rear, as well as Adaptive Drive with its Active Roll Stabilization and Electronic Damping Control (M- EDC), with the latter allowing Normal and Sport modes. It's these systems, tuned by the M division, that allow the X6M to do what it does, providing the sort of handling you don't expect from an SUV.

Eurp_0911_03_z+bmw_x6m_first_drive+front_driver_side Photo 5/11   |   The New BMW X6M - First Drive

While the X6/5M will never be regarded as the purest M car, it bears the traits of its forebears and the X5M, in particular, shouldn't be a total surprise to BMW enthusiasts. Back in '99, BMW Motorsport built the X5 Le Mans to illustrate the SUV's potential. It boasted a 700hp version of BMW's Le Mans-winning V12 LMR engine (you can link to a video of this incredible machine at Blogs).

While the LMR V12 was detuned for the SUV, the 4.4 liter V8 in the X6M has been boosted by 155hp over stock. It also claims a mountainous 501 lb/ft from 1500-5600rpm. Engine mods over the X6 V8 include new cylinder heads and reduced compression (from 10:1 to 9.3:1). With its reverse flow heads, the exhaust valves are on the inside of the vee, feeding the turbos in the middle. The gases are routed through a new CCM manifold that links cylinders from both sides of the vee to the turbos, ensuring constant boost pressure for the new twin-scroll turbos.

The system proved so efficient, the engineers reduced boost from 1.5bar to 1.2bar (18psi) for the M version. Accompanied by bigger intercoolers, exhaust and software, the X6M beats its nearest rival, the 550hp Porsche Cayenne Turbo S, by 5hp. Yet BMW will undercut the $125k Porsche by $35k ($39k for the X5M).

For your $89725, you get a truck that can bend the laws of nature, pull a rabbit from its trunk. You also get a deep front spoiler, side skirts, mirror caps, characteristic M vents in the front fenders and quad tailpipes. Inside is a wonderful leather interior with heads-up display and a variable tacho that responds to engine temp. Each car is equipped with 20x10/11" wheels that carry the same 275- front and 315-width rear tires as the X6's 19" wheels. BMW did admit the 300 UTQG Bridgestone Dueler HP Sport run-flat tires have the hardest treadwear rating ever offered on a M car, yet they didn't seem short of grip, withstanding the track abuse staggeringly well.

The new X6M is a mind-bending machine, and one that BMW is proud to stand behind. What's more, both these M cars will be built alongside all X-models in the Spartanburg, SC plant - a few hours from Road Atlanta.

Anybody buying a new X6/5M can take delivery at the Spartanburg facility if arranged through a dealer. It includes a tour of the Museum, instruction at the BMW Performance Driving School, and your vehicle will then be delivered to your local dealer.

By Greg Emmerson
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