2010 BMW X6M

The M-badged version of BMW's sometimes compromised, always confident sports activity vehicle is put through its paces.

The BMW X6M delivers the full "M" package which means more power, better handling and a garish interior, as well as all the negatives of the original X6.
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Methinks that BMW doth protest too much. The company has long contended that it would never build an "M" version of its sport utili?, oops, sports activity vehicles, the implication being that an SUV by any other name was an inappropriate starting point for the purest of pure driving machine. Of course, when the market said otherwise and other companies - Land Rover and Mercedes in particular - started selling overpowered and sometimes supercharged SUVs, BMW was almost forced to respond in kind.

Nonetheless, Bavaria's best has fudged a little with the designation. Unlike its various sedans and coupes that wear the most desired of lettered aftermarket tuning badges before their model designation - M3, M5 or M6 - the company's SUVs, oops there's that SAV thing again, wear their iconic "M" after the standard badging, as in X6M. You may well think that I'm picking nits but the subtle implication is that, while the breathed-on sedans and coupes are disassembled and re-engineered from the ground up, the suffixed "M" infers that its wearer has added a sport kit to the standard item.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The X6M may not have a completely new engine - à la V10 M5 - but its new twin-turbo arrangement certainly qualifies as significantly re-engineered and most certainly overpowered. For one thing, BMW solves the crowded plumbing that is typical for twice-turboed systems by nestling both compressors inside the engine's vee where the intake manifold normally resides. As well, the exhaust system is a unique arrangement where two of the four cylinders in each bank feed each turbocharger. BMW says the arrangement smoothes out the powerband. I say it creates a wonderfully exotic "bundle of snakes" exhaust plumbing, easily deserving of its "M" in the preposition rather than the post. If you need any further evidence that BMW wasn't fooling around with the X6M, know that its 4.4L V8 is boosted to the tune of 22 psi, a truly staggering level of force-feeding for such a large engine.

The only thing that matters, of course, is the end result and, again, in this forum, the super-duper X6 delivers the full M experience. There's 550 horsepower on tap, which is more than enough to get anyone's attention. More importantly, its 677Nm of torque arrives at a stupendously low 1,500rpm (it also hangs on till a still-fairly-astonishing 5,650rpm). If you're contemplating extraordinary throttle response, you'd be right. One hundred kilometres per hour appears in 4.7 seconds, an alarming number in light of the X6M's 2,305kg curb weight. It's like finding out the two-ton tubby you always see lounging next door can sprint the 100-yard dash in less than 10 seconds.

The other thing that stands out is that the X6M's enhanced handling - and it is indeed enhanced - imposes very little penalty in the comportment department. In fact, its suspension compliance is actually superior to the first generation of the X5, which rode like a true buckboard. This, despite wearing huge performance radials hung on equally impressive 20-inch rims that weigh only slightly less than manhole covers and damping firm enough to all but banish roll during cornering. Indeed, at a previous track testing session around Road Atlanta's rollicking racetrack, the X6M behaved much more like a lithe sports coupe than an SUV, oops SAV, even handling the track's famous "gravity cavity" with aplomb. The credit goes all to the M division's alterations; without BMW's famed motorsports division's ministrations, chances are the X6 I'm driving with such elan would have ended up off the race track, say in neighbouring North Carolina. Factor in some very powerful four-piston front brakes and some very effective stability management systems and you have one very rapid, if slightly ungainly looking, sporting machine.

Like many of the M division's products, the X6's interior is changed in both subtle and garish ways. The blood-red leather that clothes the seats and dash, for instance, would almost certainly fit into the garish category while the carbon-fibre shaded leather that trims the doors would be the subtle. And although they require extra dosh at even the X6M's $99,900 MSRP, the power closing doors are a luxury touch beyond the normal M-produced sedan. Ditto for the electrically closing lid.

Of course, this last is both the X6's cause celebre and its greatest compromise. The sloping, coupe-like bonnet gives the X6 its unique, dare I say sporty, stance but also reduces the truck space. Surely a utility vehicle with no more boot space than a sedan is as oxymoronic as the automobile industry gets, yet the X6 for all its compromises - it's sporty but with a high centre of gravity; it's a utility vehicle that can't carry anything - remains quite popular. There's nothing about a 555 horsepower version - save perhaps the 100 grand price tag - that's likely to diminish its allure. motoring@thenational.ae