The BMW X6 M: The most fun you can have in an SUV?

Our motoring editor blasts the 600bhp bimmer around America’s Formula One Grand Prix track, and discovers that family-friendly cars have never been so fun.

Damien Reid April 2, 2015

The Circuit Of The Americas is the newest motorsport complex in the United States and it’s also home to the country’s Formula One Grand Prix.

Located in Austin, Texas, it has received rave reviews from across the board right up to most of the F1 drivers who love its undulations, long straights, steep hill on the main straight-a-way as the yanks call it and its long swathe of linking, flowing corners. So it’s been on my bucket list for some time to squeeze in a few laps around there and finally the invite came, by way of a car launch.

Naturally when you get on to a track it’s in something that feels at home on a race track like a sports car, a race car or a rev-popping little hot hatch, but an SUV? Really? It kind of tells you what this vehicle’s modus operandi is, that the launch for the BMW X6 M didn’t involve off-roading of any sort, but instead hot laps around a Formula One track, and I’m totally fine with that.

Especially as on our arrival, we managed to break the long-term drought currently being experienced in the Lone Star state and for the few days we were there, it bucketed down, flooding the surrounding region and turning the track into an ice-rink.

So in that sense, you could argue that we had the best car for the conditions being all-wheel drive and large enough to plough through puddles and yet still return the same levels of fun had we been in something more track focused like an M3 or M4 Coupé.

BMW selected the venue for us to try out the immense power of the new Motorsport version of the X6 and the soaking rain gave us plenty of opportunities to see how its traction worked in getting that power to the road under greasy, slippery conditions.

There were a few hair-raising moments as the car struggled to stay on line or let its tail wag on the exit of corners, but then again, according our independent data logger, we were hitting 212kmh on the back straight in blinding rain, through puddles.

The X6 M features the most powerful engine ever developed by BMW for an all-wheel-drive vehicle with its Twinpower turbo technology via a pair of twin scroll turbochargers. The 4.4-litre V8 produces a staggering 575 bhp from 6000rpm, which is up 4 per cent on its predecessor. Peak torque has been boosted by 70Nm to 750Nm that’s also up by 10 per cent and offers a meaty torque curve from just 2200rpm right through to 5000rpm. Power is driven through an eight-speed auto transmission and it hits 100kmh from zero in 4.2 seconds on its way to 280kmh.

Our chief instructor on the day was German DTM touring car racer, Augustus Farfus who called the shots from up front via two-way radio. This was welcomed as his car was impossible to see through the rain spray, so when he said ‘brake’ you jumped on them hard, when he said to keep going flat, you put your faith in his words and kept the throttle buried. So my faith was also placed in the six-piston brakes and BMW’s xDrive all-wheel drive system to make sure I didn’t spear off into the neighbour’s Dude Ranch. xDrive employs an electronically controlled, multi-plate clutch to allow fully variable distribution of drive between the front and rear axles. Its default setting gives the car a rear-wheel bias but it can transfer up to 100 per cent of its power to the front or rear wheels depending on where the traction is needed. 

For the enthusiastic driver, what this also means is that its rear-drive bias does away with understeer that’s often dialed into most cars and particularly SUVs from the factory. It now also features a display with arrows pointing at all four wheels visualising where the engine’s power is being sent.

This is a brilliant idea for trudging through slippery off-road conditions like sand, snow or mud so you can place your wheels optimally at a crawling pace but it’s not really something you need at the track.

Considering this is the M version of the X6 which means it has been fettled by BMW’s Motorsport division, it’s not surprising to see some electronic tweaks from BMW’s other high-performance models like Dynamic Stability Control make its way on board. The DSC counteracts understeer and oversteer with computer-controlled brake inputs but it also allows the driver to choose a Dynamic mode which lets the car slip and slide a bit for the sportier drivers. On our track, this was perfect as it let it slide, but not too far.

Mild drifts came into play before the driver aids kicked in and stopped me from going off completely. A secret key to its high-speed stability on this version are hidden aero flaps which are positioned in the lower outer air intakes that reduce lift at speed. It’s an idea borrowed directly from BMW’s motor racing parts bin.

Visually, the X6 M features large air intakes that feed air to 10 radiators, it also has the trademark side gills between the front wheels and doors as well as four exhausts peaking through the rear spoiler.

It features a new steering wheel developed exclusively for the X6 M and X5 M with gear shift paddles and the M Drive multi-function buttons while our test car also included the optional head up display which was brilliant under conditions that required the utmost concentration.

The other handy option fitted given the car’s size was the Park Distance Control which is ordered with the rear view camera for reversing and can also include the surround view application giving you a full 360-degree view of the vehicle from above.

The interior is as you’d expect with lots of leather embellished with polished alloy highlights and given it’s the M version, the trademark M tri-coloured stripes can be found in the leather inserts alongside hints of carbon fibre to remind you that you’re driving the sports model.

The whole car sits lower on fat, 20-inch or optional 21-inch alloys and comes in an array of BMW M specific colours that will ensure that it stands out from the rest in the shopping mall car park.


Engine: 4.4-litre V8 twin-turbo

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Power: 575bhp @ 6000rpm

Torque: 750Nm @ 220rpm

0-100kmh: 4.2 seconds

Top Speed: 280kmh