October 16, 2017


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When is an SUV not an SUV? That’s a question posed by the BMW X6 M, which has limited off-road capability and not much utility but a lifted ride height and extraordinary performance ability. Take a moment to let this sink in: The 567-hp X6 M’s 3.8-second zero-to-60-mph time nearly matched that of the 560-hp M6 Gran Coupe. The 5190-pound X6 M also stopped from 70 mph in just 153 feet, bettering the 795-pound-lighter M6 by 15 feet (though that M6 may have had some glazed brake pads). And it circled our skidpad at 0.98 g—0.06 g beyond what the low-slung sedan was capable of. The X6 M’s performance isn’t just astounding for a crossover SUV; it’s astounding, period.

While the sticky rubber does wonders for the X6 M’s grip, the thin sidewalls take a toll on the hunchbacked hatchback’s ride quality. The X6 M’s suspension is jarringly stiff. Standard adaptive dampers with three modes offer Comfort, Sport, and Sport+ settings, but they only alter the suspension’s compliance from graphite to granite.

In any setting, though, the X6 M’s chassis reacts predictably and with minimal body roll, abetted by a quick-reacting all-wheel-drive system that not only can send as much as 100 percent of the engine’s torque to the rear axle, but also can apportion torque between the two rear wheels to combat understeer and aid cornering. Stab the throttle, and with the stability control switched to its most permissive setting, this all-wheel-drive SUV can even be goaded into a drift—try that in your mom’s crossover. Better yet, don’t.

Throttle sensitivity can be altered among Eco, Sport, and Sport+ settings, and there are three more to adjust the speed and logic by which the torque-converter-equipped automatic swaps cogs. Manual control of the transmission is available by tapping on the X6 M’s stubby shift lever or by flicking the aluminum paddle shifters mounted to the backside of the meaty steering wheel.

As is common in modern BMWs, the X6 M’s electrically assisted steering is devoid of any substantial feel or feedback. It’s relatively quick in hand despite a 17.9:1 overall ratio, and the driver can adjust the steering’s weight via—yes—three different modes. To keep X6 M drivers from being overwhelmed by the multitude of performance settings, BMW provides a pair of steering-wheel-mounted buttons that can call up two different customizable combinations.

Although the powertrain offers an Eco mode, you’ll probably be unsurprised to learn that fuel economy is not the X6 M’s strong suit; EPA estimates are 14 mpg city and 19 mpg highway. We got 16 mpg during the course of the X6 M’s stay with us, matching the feds’ combined figure. The bulky BMW did manage to beat its EPA rating on our 75-mph highway fuel-economy loop, however, returning 21 mpg.

With a starting sticker of $105,095, the 2017 BMW X6 M costs $3400 more than its mechanically identical X5 M counterpart. And yet the X6 M sacrifices 9 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seat in use and 17 cubes with the 40/20/40 split-folding bench tucked away. Additionally, the X6 M loses an inch of rear-seat legroom and just under an inch of headroom compared to its boxier brother. Buyers of BMW’s fastback crossover likely would argue that those compromises and the X6 M’s additional cost are small sacrifices made in the name of additional style.

Although we prefer lower, lighter high-performance cars to high-performance SUVs, there is something to be said for a vehicle that offers so much performance in such an unlikely package. But the X5 M offers similar genre-busting capabilities, and we struggle to wrap our heads around the concept of paying more for the less practical X6 M.


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