First Drive: 2015 BMW X6 M

SUV? Crossover? BMW's X6 M is a car that defies convention

The 2015 BMW X6 M’s 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 delivers on the performance promise of the premium BMW M-Sport sedan experience. Ultimately, the SAV is let down by its diminutive interior and increased ride height.

The crossover conundrum: representing two mutually exclusive qualities, the functional convenience of a utility vehicle and the nimbleness of a sports sedan. It’s a precarious balance that often makes a vehicle a jack of both trades, yet master of none.

When it came time for BMW — which marks the 40th anniversary of being “The Ultimate Driving Machine” this year — to tackle the oddity that is the crossover vehicle, you can be damn sure which way it’ll tip the scale.

In fact, the Bavarian automaker made no illusions to where it stood on the matter, ditching “SUV” and “CUV” altogether for a more fitting segment of its own creation: the Sports Activity Vehicle (SAV).

The result? A car that defies convention. Add a heaping of M division magic and you get the X6 M: a vehicle that bends your perception of reality.

M Performance graduate

The 2015 BMW X6 M is one of two cars in the X lineup to graduate from BMW’s M performance branch, the other being the X6’s mechanical twin, the X5. It comes packed with a 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 that produces 567 horsepower and 553 pound-feet of torque. All this feeds to the M-tuned xDrive all-wheel drive system via an eight-speed steptronic automatic transmission.

This second generation X6 M takes everything from the previous version — its style, engine output, fuel efficiency, and performance dynamics –and raises the bar even higher.

While the X5 M carries forward the utilitarian spirit of an SUV, the X6 M distinguishes itself with a sloping fastback-style roofline, indicating straightaway that performance is its purpose. The front-end sports a menacing fascia with an abundance of wide breathing cavities designed for cooling the beastly powerhouse. This, with its bulging musculature, makes the X6 M looks like a vehicle that would be suitable for the most elite of Darth Vader’s storm troopers. BMW’s distinctive kidney grille houses the M-specific double bars, while the large intakes below pack flaps that reduce lift.

X6 M looks like a vehicle that would be suitable for the most elite of Darth Vader’s storm troopers.

Interior quality of the X6 M carries forward the BMW promise of luxury as well as sport. Every touchpoint across the cabin has a rugged elegance, from the Marino leather seats to the Nappa leather dashboard, all accented with aluminum trim and carbon-fiber panel inlays.

When I slid into the driver’s seat to take the X6 M on the road, the sport intentions of the seats were apparent, being more stiff than comfortable. The multiple points of adjustment evened things out, however. Just as the car is monstrous on the outside, so seems the steering wheel and gauge display. They both seem so disproportionately big to the rest of the interior. This doesn’t detract at all from their functionality.

Dynamic, above all else

BMWs are notorious for the myriad ride adjustment settings that can be made, allowing drivers to customize the engine response, steering, and suspension. Even in full comfort, cruising feels solid yet not so stiff as to feel unforgivingly harsh. The X6 M just continues as if on a steady track, not relenting to any body roll and also absorbing any cabin-disturbing bumps along the way.

2015 BMW X6 M drivers

That’s not to say the X6 M can’t gallop when spurred. Even at its most sedate, the car cooks up some sprinting power and streaks steadily across the interstate. The vehicle’s untapped potential just felt limited, even by the wide margins the 80 mph speed limit of this particular stretch of Texas highway allowed. The X6 M demanded a chance to show me what it could do, and that wasn’t going to be answered on the road; it was going to be answered on the track.

Austin’s Circuit of the Americas is a track purpose-built for Formula 1, intended specifically to return the sport to the U.S. since its departure in 2007. The key-shaped 3.4-mile course is a series of hairpins, S-curves with a multi-apex, high-speed bend, and two straightaways — the longest of which can allow an F1 racer to reach 200 mph. Finding myself about to tackle it from behind the wheel of a crossover, BMW or not, felt like an exercise in absurdity.

With M Dynamic Mode engaged, any concerns that this would perform like an SUV were quickly banished.

Yet with Sport+ dialed up and M Dynamic Mode engaged, the X6 M kicked up towards the steep incline of turn 1, and any concerns that this would perform like an SUV were quickly banished.

M division fitted its own set of twin scroll turbochargers to the 4.4-liter packed under the hood of the X6 M. This, as well as some other tweaks, gives the car a broad, more usable torque range between 2,200 to 5,000 rpms. The X6 M launches from 0 to 60 in a flat 4.0 seconds, and in the sprint to the first corner, it doesn’t feel like I’ve reached a fraction of the car’s potential. Beyond the first hairpin is a rapid downhill run that breaks into a wide right-hander towards the S-curves. This plummet was to be the first test of how much I had to believe in the X6 M’s capabilities.

The car’s body roll was seemingly nil as it bore the weight on its left while accelerating quickly toward the winding curves. As it rocked through them to the next set of turns, the X6 M never got in the way of itself. The xDrive all-wheel drive system can split the torque 100 percent back or forward on the fly, and due to electronically actuated multi-clutch packs, the car can shift the torque as needed to reduce or eliminate understeer. I could almost carve bends with a sports car’s poise, flicking through gears as the head-up display let me nail perfect upshifts.

2015 BMW X6 M right side v2

Opening up on the long straight emulated the sensation I felt on the highway. Here, however, the only restriction in place was the length of the track ahead. With instant power on demand, I reached 140 mph with ease, and I could feel the vehicle continue to climb effortlessly as my attention was fixed on the hard braking ahead.

With a slight shimmy, the six-piston fixed front calipers and single-piston floating rear calipers bit down hard, firmly bringing the X6 M down in speed, readying to fire up into the next set of high-speed bends.

The X6 M did it. It did everything I expected and more. With every lap I gave further trust to the vehicle, braking later and giving the X6 M a chance to hold on through turns. For every moment I thought I wouldn’t stop in time, or for every corner I felt I’d overshot, the BMW swept me up and pulled through. Was I in a crossover? I had forgotten. At this point I was in a sports car and all that mattered was going faster.

The X6 M kept going until the tires gave way to a day’s worth of abuse. For all it had done, the BMW could’ve kept going for more. Its cooling system kept the car from showing any indication of overheating. The brakes worked just as well for run after run. The X6 shrugged the track off and could just as easily be ready to drive home, if not for more rings around the circuit.

M5 beater?

As impressed as I was, I was still left with the mystery of the sport activity vehicle unanswered. BMW set upon building an SUV that handled like a sports sedan and boy did it succeed to an impressive degree. Yet, regardless of how “activity” replaced “utility” in its mission, the vehicle inherently purports to be something more capable than a sedan.

It’s in this case where it wavers, since the sloped rear glasshouse makes the capacity beyond the front seats nothing of which to be boastful. Yes, its ride height and all-wheel drive would handle adverse conditions, but anything outside of mild rain or snow would most likely be cause for concern. After all, this is a running shoe, not a hiking boot.

The X6 M starts at $103,050 and my test vehicle totaled $117,050 — the Bang & Olufsen sound system and other options upped the bottom line. If you want a car that staggers in its capability, yet equally befuddles in its purpose to exist, the X6 M is the vehicle for you. But if you’re willing to pay a six-figure sum for a BMW with a 4.4-liter twin-turbo that delivers on the promise of the BMW M Sport sedan experience without any pretense, opt for the M5.

Highs

  • Astounding sports car performance in a beastly package
  • Top-notch cabin suitable for luxury and performance
  • Stylish, intimidating presence

Lows

  • Great wannabe sedan, not-so-great SUV
  • Minimal cargo space
  • Will be the ire of taller rear passengers
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