Mountain Wheels: BMW’s otherworldly X6M blends power and prowess
2015 BMW X6M
Powertrain: 567-HP 4.4-liter turbocharged V8 engine; eight-speed automatic transmission
EPA figures: 14 city, 19 highway
Deride the massive, awkwardly proportioned and tremendously unconventional BMW X6M super-SUV all you want, with its Frankenstein-inspired squareness and imposing stature.
But tell me you do not feel the earth move when the 567-horsepower twin-turbo V8 kicks in, the eight-speed automatic clicks like tap shoes, and you pass seven vehicles in a half-block-long passing zone, uphill, at what might have been four times the posted speed limit. Really, it’s an out-of-body experience.
And flying even more squarely in the face of physics and the general laws of the universe, this 5,185-pound mass of German metal sticks to corners and brakes in a competent, completely stoppable fashion. It is indeed from a place beyond reason.
Sure, the oft-maligned X6 base platform does share the less-than-subtle shape and aesthetic stance of the made-famous-by-TV Pontiac Aztek (or, more kindly, the Toyota Prius — like both, the small, upwardly angled rear window is particularly hard to see out of).
But you get past that pretty quickly when you consider that the running gear and details are all pretty much the same as the equally out-of-the-park X5M super-ute: fantastically rigid suspension, the cockpit fuzzing and the fat-tired hooliganism, all like an M5 on stilts, or maybe wearing a large box as a Halloween costume.
Are there folks out there desperately seeking the upmost in scale and performance, in a package that makes the Mercedes-Benz G63 seem totally rational? Sure, I guess. Now they have a pretty solid option, when lesser 500-or-so-horsepower machines won’t quite do.
From its menacing face and oversized air-breather grille — pretty important considering the amount of heat generated by that almost motorcycle engine-sounding lump under the hood, over-revving each time you start it up, and spitting out blurts of obscene exhaust noises — the X6M is no ordinary vehicle. The second layer of grille and air inputs kind of make it look like two M5s stacked on top of each other.
True to M form, once you slip inside that Alcantara and real carbon fiber-lined cabin and settle into seats as brutal and bracing as those in the Apollo command module, you have the option of micromanaging the standard mechanical malice in four additional ways, including three degrees of throttle, suspension and steering input.
Even the shift knob is extremely complicated, requiring some familiarization with its up, down and side-to-side functionality, but it’s quite critical considering you’ll probably want to use it or the giant wheel-mounted paddles to control some of that eight-speed magic on your own.
The car’s ungainly posture and, on my tester, a mix of 285 and 325 21-inch tires, really doesn’t seem to be the right kind of platform for this much motoring adventure, precise as it can be despite the scale, but you’ll be quite impressed when it starts happening.
That said, the X6M’s huge footwear is indeed very heavy and squirrely during in-town jaunts, the suspension is brutal even in “comfort” mode and the bursts of throttle, no matter how you try to tone them down, always leave you seven car lengths ahead at any green light.
That’s also a fantastic thing for anyone who’s spent their life with less than 567 horsepower on tap. Keep your foot into it and the roar that accompanies the appearance of triple-digit speeds on the head-up display can indeed make this a life-changing vehicle. BMW has wisely limited that to 156 mph.
What was most impressive was the engineering that allows the X6M to carve, not careen, off a tightly curved mountain road — I speak of my summertime testing here, just to be straight — and the credible way the vehicle is able to corner, sway, weave, bob, dip, hold and dodge along.
Again, those massive brakes are a huge part of the package, and I found that judicious manual down-shifting also played a big role in containing any over-excited moments.
But the wonderful thing was the way the X6M’s steering, contained in one massive and meaty, hand-stitched wheel, becomes ever the more intuitive, and the big test becomes one of seeing how fast you can actually get the vehicle going.
It’s all not quite anyone’s definition of normal. I think that’s the point, and it’s all quite well done, once you embrace the vehicle’s polarizing physique.
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