Overall rating: 4/5
Divisive styling and overall concept aside, BMW's new X6 M packs a potent 575hp punch from its twin-turbo V8 and it backs that up with a chassis that feels rear-drive in its bias, but uses four-wheel drive and active roll control to ensure it remains composed no matter how fast you drive it. Even sceptics will walk away impressed.
In the Metal:
We realise that enough people will love the aggressive look of the X6 for it to make commercial sense, and that from some angles, in some colours, it does look attractive, but most of the time we found ourselves staring at it in disbelief, trying to find its good side. A 10mm drop in ride height for the X6 M helps of course, as do the huge 21-inch polished alloy wheels fitted to the test cars (20-inch items are standard), but while the metallic blue paint colour shown here is pretty special it seems to accentuate the scale of the X6 - especially at the rear - and no amount of scoops or vents or design flourishes can disguise that. Still, most will be too busy gawping at the massive quad exhausts to notice. Or care.
The interior, however, is sublime. Every surface, material and control is perfectly judged so the X6 M feels worth every cent of its sizeable price tag. Highlights include the sumptuous fine-grain Merino leather sports seats with contrast stitching (and electrically adjustable side bolsters) and the tactile gearchange paddles, but this car comes with the whole suite of M bits and pieces, including a special M steering wheel, stubby gear lever and more. There's no loss in space or practicality over the regular X6 either, so it's cavernous inside - and even more so in the boot, where there appears to be as much room under the floor as on top of it.
Self-styled driving purists won't like the X6 M, as it's tall and heavy. And an SUV. But there's no denying its considerable talent. Our first stint behind the wheel was at the Circuit of the Americas, outside Austin, Texas in the USA. This is a purpose-built modern Formula One circuit and to call it a challenge for the X6 would be putting it mildly. It features everything from tight second-gear hairpins to a 240km/h straight (in the X6 - after swallowing a brave pill) and sweeping corners that seem to go on forever, vicious direction changes and a particularly tricky section of ever-tightening apexes that are fiendishly difficult to perfect. The X6 M felt good on the first couple of laps. Its big Michelin tyres grip well, the massive brakes haul the car down from high speed well (and the pedal is easy to modulate) and it deals with the direction changes and the undulations of the track in a respectable manner with virtually no body roll, pitch or dive. It also feels very very fast. Let's not forget that there's a 575hp twin-turbocharged V8 engine under the bonnet.
Thankfully, few (if any) buyers of the X6 M will subject their purchase to such high-speed abuse on a circuit, which is just as well, as after a few more laps the tyres wilt under the strain and it's clear that the fronts are just too hot to maintain the pace. The car starts understeering where previously it was neutral and it requires a much slower entry speed to prevent the nose from running wide. By the end of our six-lap stints on track the brake pedal also felt a little softer, indicating that they too were rather warm.
As pointless as such an exercise might seem in this car, it did reveal a lot about the X6 M's on-the-limit behaviour. We got the chance to alter the chassis, steering and stability control settings in a safe environment and as ever in an M car the driving options are myriad and tangibly effective. For starters, there seemed zero reason to use any setting other than Comfort for the power steering, as the other modes meant more effort at the wheel. The transmission is a development of BMW's familiar eight-speed automatic, though the driver can select several modes of operation, while the speed and ferocity of the changes can also be altered. It's a highlight of the car, offering up smooth, relaxed changes on the road, or violent, instantaneous up-shifts at the other end of the spectrum - if so desired.
BMW's DSC stability control system has an extra mode between fully on and off called MDM (M Dynamic Mode) and this proves to be a lot of fun on road and track, allowing enough slip so the X6 feels more like a rear-drive car. There's little need to modulate all the power though, as the four-wheel drive system works with the suite of active safety sub-systems to quickly divide it between the wheels and slingshot the car out of the bend towards the next one.
We drove rather more sedately on the road... That's where the Dynamic Drive active roll stabilisation system comes into its own, theoretically making the X6 more comfortable when it's not being driven with 'enthusiasm'. It certainly never causes uncomfortable sudden jerks through the chassis, even over bumpy roads, but the firm suspension and low profile tyres limit how cushy it can be and over certain surfaces the whole car jiggles about on its springs a little. More noticeable, however, is the pronounced tyre noise when driving on concrete sections of road.
Speaking of noise, the X6 M's V8 engine isn't the most melodic. It's loud and purposeful for sure, but it sounds better from the outside than it does for the occupants - which is a shame.
What you get for your Money:
Now, we'll admit that the X6 M is an astounding engineering feat, effectively challenging the laws of physics. It's the top of the X6 tree and it certainly grabs attention and tells the world you've made it. It is also packed with all the luxuries that such a car should have as standard. Buyers may want to personalise it further using the BMW Individual service, but really, the base specification is fine. However, it comes at an eye-watering price of €172,240. That's over €35,000 more than the BMW M5 and more than double the price of the entry-level X6. Double. We'd be sorely tempted to go for the equally impressive X6 M50d model (a snip at €115,170) and dip into the options list to make it even more special. Or maybe the new X5 M, which shares everything with the X6 other than its divisive appearance - it's a bargain €166,790.
BMW's M engineers are particularly proud of the cooling system on the X6 M. A network of low- and high-temperature radiators work together to control the temperatures of the turbochargers, intake air, front brakes, transmission and engine and BMW is confident that it all works perfectly well no matter how much track abuse is meted out. Should be handy for those stressful school runs...
Buyers of cars like the new BMW X6 M don't bring their pride and joy to the race circuit regularly to play, but they are likely to buy into the race-bred image. BMW's M division, as ever, has added credibility to that by making its new range-topper more capable in the corners than it has any right to be. It's not as engaging as say a BMW M4, but for a two-tonne SUV it's blisteringly fast - and not just in a straight line.