BMW X6 M first drive review: Sports car performance in a SUV-like body

The versatile SUV-like body of the X6 M contradicts the incredible performance under the sheet metal. ©Ron Moorhead

The versatile SUV-like body of the X6 M contradicts the incredible performance under the sheet metal. ©Ron Moorhead

There are a many mid-sized sport utility vehicles that are functional, versatile, luxurious, competent, and can even handle minor off-highway excursions. However, there are very few that are a full-throttle blast to drive on a race track. We mean a race track competency that would rival many sports cars. In fact, we can count them on one hand and have a digit or two left over.

Oh sure there are plenty of mid-sized SUVs on the market, in fact, the market is saturated with entries from economy to luxurious. Very few would we be comfortable hitting the 11-turn ribbon of fast asphalt known as the Circuit Of The Americas, outside of Austin, Texas, like the BMW X6 M. This vehicle, which BMW calls a Sport Activity Coupe (SAC), displays incredible attributes at speed.

The "M" means power and lots of it when attached to any BMW.

The “M” means power and lots of it when attached to any BMW.

Of course, what really makes this BMW X6 M so capable at COTA is that wonderful letter M attached to the badging and what it means under that sleek sheet metal. As a matter of fact that little letter tells you it is ready to put a smile on your face in a M-asterful way.

BMW happily declares M the fast letter in the world. Which, we may not be so sure this is the fastest but it sure is one of the most well known and considered to be one performance junkies lust for. The X6 is BMWs entry into the mid-sized SAC category and one that comes on big with BMW style and attributes equal to nearly all its siblings in the BMW lineup. The X6 M takes this to a new and higher level.

Styling is a mixture of SUV styling and a touch of European four door hatchback. The roof line drops as it flows rearward ending at a rear hatch that opens wide to provide an opening that accommodates easy loading of cargo.

The X6 M design continues in BMW fashion, from the dual kidney traditional grille and the dual headlamps surrounded by halo daytime running lights to the clamshell hood. The four door configuration offers room for four adults. The fold down 60/40 split rear seat offers versatility with many cargo carrying configurations. The rear hatch tailgate opens wide allowing easy loading even of more unusually shaped objects.

Designed following the seats found in BMW race cars, The front bucket seats hold you firmly even through the fast corners at COTA.

Designed following the seats found in BMW race cars, The front bucket seats hold you firmly even through the fast corners at COTA.

Like all BMW interiors, the X6 exhibits a cockpit that is more in line with a sports coupe rather than a utility vehicle. With the M version the interior is aimed toward even more intense performance. The front bucket seats that are designed with super-sized bolsters both the cushion and the seat back. These were welcome as we powered through the 11 turns of COTA faster than you would believe possible. With each lap we nestled deeper into the seat becoming more comfortable with each corner.

Modifications coming with the M designation includes adjustable suspension system, performance orientated throttle response and transmission adjustments. These adjustments allowed the tremendous power from the V-8 to come on quickly bringing us swiftly to speeds of more than 130 miles per hour.

Our co-driver, Bill Auberlin racing at the 2015 12 hours of Sebring 12.

Our co-driver, Bill Auberlin racing at the 2015 12 hours of Sebring 12.

The M TwinPower Turbo technology consists of dual Twin-scroll turbochargers and cross-bank exhaust manifolds outfitting the 4.4-liter V8 gasoline engine. Power reaches the tarmac via a new 8-speed M Steptronic transmission equipped with steering wheel mounted paddle shifters, a welcome addition for quick shifting. Following an operation philosophy that is closer to BMW’s dual clutch systems this automatic closely mimics the gear changes of a manual gear box.

This drivetrain combination launches the X6 M to 0 to 60 times in the very low 4 second range and a top speed just above the 138 mph we reached. These are performance numbers that are expected of an engine that produces 567 horsepower and 553 lb-ft. of torque with the ability to get that power to the road through all four wheels.

The X6 M has plenty of performance under its skin and plenty of storage under its large lift gate, adding fun to all your adventurers.

The X6 M has plenty of performance under its skin and plenty of storage under its large lift gate, adding fun to all your adventurers.

While we feel we are a pretty good drivers, having spent a great deal of time on race tracks both in competition and testing modes, our driving abilities seemed downright second rate compared to those of BMW pro-racer Bill Auberlen. Currently, Auberlen is piloting the BMW Z4 GTLM race car in the TUDOR United Sportscar Championship and gave us some good tips on getting the X6 M through the corners faster than we thought. Certainly the specially designed Michelin Pilot Super Sport UHP tires assisted in sticking to the track surface.

Combining track performance with the ability to handle everyday driving tasks is something BMW has done for a long time. With the advent of electronics it could be argued to be much easier to do. The BMW X6 M is equipped with a plethora of electronic controls that make performance and safety a priority. Aiding the melding of performance and everyday driving a three-stage Drivelogic system allows the driver to select between optimum economy, comfort or Sport for performance, settings.

Other systems such as Dynamic Performance Controls which distributes power to the correct wheels with the most traction and Dynamic Stability Control, which via numerous sensors reads how a vehicle is being driven and adjusts to keep you safely on the road without incident.

There is no doubt vehicle engineering has come a long way in allowing us to have our performance cake, as it were, and eating up normal everyday life all with one vehicle. The BMW X6 M is one vehicle that is amazingly adept at keeping us happy doing the mundane daily tasks we need to do, while at the same time giving us the ability to have fun via multi-levels of performance.

Specifications on next page.