Performance SUVs are often the source of much debate. Do you need an SUV that can go from 0-100km/h in just 4.4 seconds? Surely you can get that from a performance sedan or even better, a sports car? After all, the point of an SUV is to be able to carry the family through town and then out the other side on the weekend. Most performance SUVs are rather reluctant to climb an ant hill let alone any of the massive areas of open countryside we have in SA.
But what about those people who love performance, but need an SUV to squeeze in all of the family’s paraphernalia. There was a time when the perfect answer was the BMW M5 Tourer, but that is no longer available , so how about an X5 or an X6 wearing an M-badge. So it was that I found myself in Austin, the capital of Texas in the US. Home to the Circuit of Americas that hosts the US Grand Prix, it was the location for the launch of the new BMW X6M and the new 2 Series convertible.
There is not that much to say about the 2 Series convertible. It is a 2 Series with a folding ragtop. With pricing starting at R486 500 for the 220i Sport, rising to R663 600 for the M235i automatic, it is likely to continue the success of its predecessor, the 1 Series convertible. It was rather cold in Austin, so the roof only came down for a few minutes, but the car we drove displayed all the typical Beemer characteristics in terms of handling and comfort. The wind noise with the roof up has apparently been reduced by half, which is great for the art of conversation and even with the top down, at low speeds because of the chill factor, the level of noise intrusion was good.
However the day was really all about the X6M. It certainly looks the part as far as M-cars go. It boasts a massive front air dam, which helps to channel air in to cool the 4.4l twin power V8. It gets wide wheel arches to house wheels that range up to 21-inches in size. The rear bumper is the size of a small Chinese car and contains plenty of sculpted aerodynamic bits, a large diffuser and those two sets of twin tailpipes. The looks are appropriate because that V8 pushes 423kW and 750Nm of torque through an eight-speed Steptronic transmission to all four unique forged alloy wheels, all of which are shod with regular performance tyres rather than runflats.
These wheels are connected to some clever and complex computers which can manage the xDrive system to send 100% of the torque to either the front or rear axle. The Dynamic Performance Control system can also split the drive between the two rear wheels. On a road drive past the ranches of Texas, all of this mattered little except for on one small piece of coiling road where the handling was superb. However, the BMW engineers told us that the X6M is “track ready” so the place to test it was on the Circuit of Americas. It was my first time at the track and watching F1 there on telly does not do it justice.
It is a very technical track with lots of hairpins, s-bends and a steep rise up into turn one before a hairpin drops back down again. I wanted an M3, but the X6M would have to do. And it did very well indeed. In regular mode, it roared and the Steptronic gearbox, with its M-treatment, provided rapid changes with no sign of lag. It sat well and even refused to cut the power in corners when all the nanny systems were on. Switch to one of the two M-modes, adopt the position on the paddle shifters and it breathed like a real M car. It might sit higher off the ground, but the level of grip was astonishing, even when rapid changes in direction were required through the multiple s-bends.
Push it hard into the corners and the body roll was surprisingly minimal, helped by the massive seat bolsters in the M-Sport seats that hold you firmly in place. Get it slightly wrong and you get the dreaded understeer, but you really have to get it very wrong because this thing can be surprisingly agile under pressure. The rear can go light if you are a late braker, but this allows the back end to step out and like the Porsche Macan, you can have a bit of drifting fun. Purists will debate whether a BMW SUV should ever wear an M-badge, but the engineers have done an excellent job of giving it the heart of an M. It looks the part, makes all the right noises and goes like stink.
Priced at R1 690 658 performance SUV driving does not come cheap and let’s be honest, you could buy an M3 and still have money left over to buy a decent regular SUV. However, if you want something big and brash to brag about then the X6M definitely fits the bill.