Setting new standards
If you really enjoyed something, wouldn’t you want to spend as much time as possible with it? How does over 4,000 test kilometers behind the steering wheel of BMW’s new 555bhp X6 M sound? Oh yes, join us on our latest epic drive exploring the abilities of one of the most remarkable vehicles ever built.
There is still some lingering criticism about the unique 2+2 BMW X6, especially now during the economic crisis affecting the world over. Perhaps people need focal points to redirect their anger and vulnerability. The principal issue is the four adults capacity, and then there is the fairly large carbon footprint of such a swift leviathan. But there is no denying, however, that the SUV has vastly deep abilities that we would covet anyhow regardless of the problems that surround our lives. The sheer performance figures on paper and, more importantly, in reality, set new standards in not just the genre, but even for sports cars. For at least the time we shared with the BMW X6 M, C! Editor-in-Chief James Deakin and I detached ourselves from the world’s troubles and simply concentrated on the mechanical wonder that took us on the US journey, over the beginning of Autumn, from San Francisco, California to the Yosemite Valley, Las Vegas, Nevada thereafter, and the Grand Canyon and finally to Laughlin, Arizona before heading back from whence we came!
I have already logged a significant amount of seat time on several BMW X6’s on both US coasts and already sang from the mountain tops on how great these cars are, yes, even with its girth, its thirst, and that pesky 2+2 seating configuration. I agree, too, that its looks are very debatable as well. I like it; I find the X6 very handsome and macho. I don’t use a driver in the Philippines or anywhere else and would be proud to have the X6 as my only car in the garage. Combined with the capacious trunk and very comfortable interior, the X6 is very usable, even practical, vehicle to start, but in its M variant, I now can’t have it any other way. It’s not just the ethereal power from its innovative bi-turbo direct injection 4.4-liter V8 producing an additional 155bhp over the standard xDrive50i. It’s the culmination and integration of all the new engineering magic that makes the X6 M the best in the family, the quickest, the fastest, the best looking, stops the best, handles the best, most composed, most comfortable, best trimmed and kitted, and even the cacophony sounds the best!
Can you tell how passionate I am about it yet? There is absolutely no turbo lag and I had no issues with the uprated yet still traditional six speed Steptronic automatic transmission. It’s Achilles’ heel? Fuel economy. However, we were able to miraculously extend its rated overall fuel economy after the epic adventure to 18.1 mpg which I can accept, or justify, or exhaust myself trying!
For the newfound and relentless power, BMW employs twin-scroll turbos, M-spec pistons, new camshafts for the variable-cam timing system, and a recalibrated ECU with a second low temperature radiator with an electric coolant pump to improve intercooling. The transmission was also strengthened to handle the significant power-up that also shifts with more crispness and response. The X6 M also has launch control for those insane times that you want to show off to friends or decimate would be naysayers. When activated, the standby status is confirmed by the “starter’s flag” symbol in the instrument cluster. The M-treatment is very thorough across the board, as usual; brake calipers and discs were upgraded accordingly, as well as suspension and rolling stock.
The xDrive system also got M-attention, naturally, since it’s responsible for managing all that power over every possible terrain. Since the X6 M is a true M-edition, it also got the all electronic wizardry common to all M-vehicles, like MDM (M Dynamic Mode), which lets the driver choose maximum performance settings for the systems using the fourth generation iDrive interface (which is also new, similar to the new 7-series, and also at its best) which can also be activated via a single M button on the steering wheel. The MDM mode tailors algorithms to control suspension, steering response, throttle, and the dynamic safety systems in unison. One thing that I must note, if you truly want all the abilities of the X6 M but require the extra passenger capacity, there is an X5 M edition, too, however, unlike in their standard editions, actual performance capability are amazingly identical!
The upgraded Adaptive Drive suspension, by the way, uses high-speed FlexRay data transmission protocols, which transfers data through the vehicle’s on-board network at an extremely fast rate, which is the reason why the X6 M’s reactions are not only considerably more athletic, but simultaneously more comfortable compared to not only its brethren, but also compared to the Porsche Cayenne Turbo S. For example, if the front wheel hits a bump, the system responds quickly enough to compensate before the rear wheel reaches the same bump. BMW is the first carmaker in the world to use FlexRay as regular technology.
The X6 M also uses, as standard, BMW’s EfficientDynamics engineering strategy. These include in-demand control of the electric fuel pump, an on-demand compressor for the air conditioner, and a flow-controlled supply of hydraulic fluid to the Active Roll Stabilization system. By operating these features specifically on demand, energy waste is reduced. The engine fulfills the requirements of the US LEV II standard as well as the EU5 requirements in Europe.
One feature that does take a it more time getting used to is the electrohydraulic parking brake which features the Autohold (Auto H) function. Auto H is a convenience feature that holds the vehicle in position as soon as it comes to a full stop at an intersection or in stop-and-go traffic, without requiring the driver to hold constant pressure on the brake pedal. As soon as the driver touches the accelerator again, the brake is instantly released. The Auto H function is easy and painless; it’s the actual engagement of the E-brake that can be annoying as it takes a couple of seconds to engage and it’s very sensitive. I would still prefer a simple yet attractive physical hand brake while retaining the Auto H feature.
On the city streets of San Francisco and Las Vegas, the X6 M was very easy to maneuver despite its girth and C-pillar blind spot. The four way camera system called Top View, is displayed in the iDrive screen, may have begun as a novelty, but it is actually very helpful in docking this land yacht in tight city parking spots. You do get an urgent sense, though, that the X6 M needs to get on the open road as quickly as possible, as you can actually feel the fuel getting swallowed with the thirst of a brontosaurus. Once we would get on the highways and country roads, a different sense would take over; frustration. Those 555 Teutonic horses are so restrained that it was excruciatingly painful on US soil. You end up with the maniacal anxiety of looking at every mirror and ahead for the looming specter of highway patrol to swoop down and throw us in jail.
When we would get the confidence to open the taps with what would seem to be at least a couple of miles of carless road, thanks to the Almighty for my still 20/20 vision, the X6 M would eat tarmac with so much ferocity and exhilaration that you would swear that you were in a low flying jet plane. Acceleration is so linear and effortless, accompanied by such wonderful engine music, that it would bring tears to my eyes. Good eyesight or not, I didn’t have the outright bravado to definitively test my theory that our test unit wasn’t speed governed, even though we would sustain over 265 km/h, a good 15 km/h over the supposed noble 250 km/h BMW-imposed electronic police.
On sweeping curves, hilly terrain, and long straights in between our destinations, the X6 M never disappointed nor gave us concern despite riding tall. You always felt completely confident and planted. In fact, James and I deliberately kept finding ways to explore the limits of the car, perhaps too frequently due to the dull and droning pace set by both traffic and the fear of the authorities.
The first leg of our journey, from San Francisco to Yosemite, went well and according to plan, until we got less than 10 miles from our hotel in the valley. All of a sudden, James and I lost our usual festive spirit even after such a lovely and scenic drive, why you ask? We got to the entrance of the National Park only to be told that we had to double back and take an almost three hour alternate route to the valley because of a forest fire! Deakinitis strikes again! To make the most of the painful extra wasted time, James and I conducted our first battery of performance tests on the X6, which included off-road trailing and some soil-displacing! We had our good friends (Miguel Celdran and Aly Ansaldo) waiting at our hotel, Yosemite Lodge at the Falls, so we cut the initial testing short.
Let me tell you that the Yosemite National Park is as awe inspiring and beautiful as you have heard or read; do make it a point to visit it at least once in our lifetime. We had to keep our tight schedule so James and I only stayed one night. The next morning was another James Deakin moment of self-indulgence, as out of shape as I am and as much as I can be hard on him, he does work very hard and earns it, I joined him and our buddies on his latest passion: cycling. Our friends brought up their mountain bikes so we went and rented a coupe of our own and hit the routes. Naturally, I had to get the one bike that was broken, with a bad seat and a messed up right pedal, making my morning exercise just a bit more like torture! After a heavy and well-deserved breakfast, we parted ways and drove off to Las Vegas!
We seem to go out of our way to make our lives ever more challenging, so we had to get to Las Vegas within 10 hours to make our 8pm show, Cirque de Soleil’s “O” at the Bellagio, a treat after a brutal drive through the desert! We also had to check in to our rooms for the night at the Hotel Hooters! Yes, we should be guilty!
Back to the X6M, besides all the performance upgrades, the potential of the vehicle’s subtle exterior design cues are communicated through distinct special gills in the front fenders, a more aggressive front bumper with deep gaping intakes with omitted fog lamps, as well as model-specific 20” light-alloy wheels. At the rear, the diffuser is also more aggressively designed with soulful quad tailpipes. Keeping us awake behind the wheel during the majority of the journey at legal speeds was the premium high-fidelity audio system that features 16 speakers. In addition, our test unit had the brilliant Heads-Up Display programmed specifically by BMW M. This option enables the driver to customize the type and scope of data projected onto the windshield through settings available in the M Drive menu.
While we were in Las Vegas, James felt we hadn’t done enough desert testing, so we decided to courageously drive to literally the road less traveled to the Grand Canyon West Rim, a reasonable 120 miles way, which on paper is a shorter distance by a couple of hours compared to the traditional tourist spot on the South Rim. We found out why. We drove past the famous Hoover Dam on the way to Dolan Springs, or, how James would prefer to describe it; the most depressing town in the US, the place where even would-be suicidals would find too gut wrenching! Past that, we took the Pearce Ferry Road to 14 miles of completely dirt and sand to the Hualapai Reservation! At least 20 cars were freshly disabled on the side of the road for busted tires or worse on the way, so I guess we didn’t do so badly. To be perfectly honest, except for a couple of times that James left me to fend for myself against Texas Longhorns, cactus, falling on Joshua Trees, rattlesnakes, and enormous clouds of fine dust, the route turned out to be dramatically rewarding both for photography as well as driving fun! Our last desert test before heading back to San Francisco was on the very hot dry flats near Laughlin, Arizona where, once again, James had the mad glory of creating such massive dust clouds that, to this day, I have dust in our equipment because of his hubris!
At the end of this fabulous adventure through some of the best roads on and off through California, Nevada, and Arizona, that we had never ever driven on, we declare that the BMW X6 M is a magnificent super SUV that has no bounds or limits. It is the Swiss Knife of cars that embarrasses both sports cars and SUVs. We profusely thank BMW North America and Maricar Parco of ACC-BMW for allowing us to fulfill childhood dreams, bringing back the child in us (did it ever really leave?), and the opportunity to drive, at the moment, the most complete ultimate driving machine. Yes, it is that great.