Motor vehicles serve many functions in our modern lives. At their most basic, they allow us to travel from points A to B with relative speed and maximum flexibility. Whether driving to the local Costco or from Omaha to Los Angeles, they convey us with efficiency and convenience; the personal physical manifestation of freedom and movement. But they also fulfill other complicated and varied aspects of our human condition. They delight, whether with design or performance or outright utility. They inform as to our value system, as their manifest variety consciously or subconsciously broadcast personal choice and values in a visible way. They serve as social statements, as vessels for ambition and class status. They engage all of the senses save taste, though I won’t judge if some fair reader includes this aspect in his or her own personal vehicular satisfaction canon. Cars tend to fit a mold, and we chose the mold that fits our particular psyches.
And then there are those vehicles that exist just because they can; what of these automotive unicorns or platypuses, these singular rarities? They exist because some crafty senior engineer or product planner in some far-away design headquarters convinced his colleagues and superiors that doing something just because they could is a worthwhile end to itself; who hasn’t wanted to sit down as her desk one day, regardless of profession, and asked: What if? And then, why the hell not?
I recently had the unexpected good fortune to spent three days with one such product, from the beautiful minds of gloriously demented engineers and designers at BMW: The X6M.
First, the engine. Let me sum up by quoting NASCAR icon Daryl Waltrip: “My car is just all ate up with motor.” The X6M is motivated by a nonsensical 567-hp, 553 lb-ft of torque, 4.4-liter, twin-turbo V8 that spins from zero to eleven without a sniff of lag or hesitation. Nigel Tufnel would approve. It’s extraordinary, and feels fully capable of launching satellites or pulling tankers into dry-dock or making mincemeat out of impacted tree stumps. It drags the 5200-pound vehicle from 0-60 in a silly 3.7 seconds, which somehow feels even faster in a vehicle with this mass. It warps the mind…
…and is actually a little frightening because at some point you’re going to have to turn the lovely M-steering wheel, with its perfect thumb detents and tactile shift paddles controlling the silky 8-speed automatic transmission and elegant tri-toned colored stitching, and how on earth could this much mass at this much speed be in any way contained? Quite well as it turns out. Quite well indeed.
The only car I’ve ever driven that grips as viscerally as the X6M was a high-strung Subaru WRX STI, an analog little honey badger that clawed at the tarmac with silly and possessive abandon. It’s rally-tuned AWD system gave the impression of the steering wheel being connected to four giant cat paws, ripping and grasping the pavement with possessive dexterity. The X6M provided much the same sensation, only with a level of refinement and poise entirely absent from the rally car. Unflappable, and actually a little disconcerting, as anything this large shouldn’t be able to corner with the resilience, confidence, and tenacity of an M3 Coupe (my benchmark vehicle). But yet it does. It corners damn near flat, an amazing sensation especially when perched this high up, which tricks your inner-ear to sense a roll and then further tricks your inner ear by never rolling. Stereocilia be damned; this thing is planted.
I have a friend who was fortunate enough to drive an X6M at the BMW launch event at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, under the tutelage of no less a hotshoe than Bill Auberlen, whose day job is to race an M6 GTLM for BMW Team RLL. My pal gets slack-jawed when describing the handling of the beast at speed on an FIA-approved circuit; words seem to fail him that physics could be cheated so well and handily. As he bluntly put it: “If I was single, an X6M would be parked in my garage without question.” (And if you saw his garage you would understand the magnitude of this statement.) I only spent three days with the machine motivating around city and suburban streets, almost always in the wet, with little chance to really ring it out, but I can attest to it’s unimpeachable ability to stimulate the adrenal glad. The thing is a riot; a hoot; a schoolboy’s first kiss; Christmas morning with fresh-squeezed mimosas.
The question of design is never far from the discussion of this class of vehicles, and the X6M (and entire category of “lifestyle” SUVs) is nothing if not controversial. With it’s rakish fastback profile, the X6-series of BMWs trades in much of the “utility” aspect of an SUV for something more overtly sporty and aerodynamic. So why then not just drive a car? Well, because.
I’m fortunate that also parked in my garage is my wife’s current generation BMW X5, the diesel model, which is wonderfully smooth and powerful and refined and altogether useful, a luxury vehicle on stilts that will haul our dogs or swallow large artwork (my wife’s trade) with ease, all while covering vast distances with extraordinary comfort. I find the lines of the current X5 to be pleasing in the extreme, and parked side-by-side with the X6M I must say the fastback looks a little whimsical and truncated. But on the road, the streamlined rear end, with dramatic tumblehome and bulging haunches fairly well shouting “why yes, I do own this particular stretch of pavement,” starts to make sense. When it’s in motion I totally get it.
Of note is that my wife loved the thing. And when I say “loved,” this is a woman whose husband has driven her to more car dealers and races and events and occasions than most people would stomach in a lifetime, and she’s become a harsh critic of all things vehicular. (She once described a Nissan GT-R, née “Godzilla,” as “a tad gauche.” Cut right to it.) She played with the X6M like a puppy with a favorite toy, proclaimed it brilliant, and didn’t stop smiling for hours. A convert.
So what to make of a two-and-a-half-ton SUV with little utility, with arguably too large a motor and sports car handling? At $117k as driven, it’s certainly extravagant and luxurious and memorable in the cabin (I recommend the Mugello Red leather), with superb fit and finish and an aristocratic sense of occasion. But does the X6M make sense? Would I even want one?
The X6M is a rolling Id, automotive engineering without a social filter, a product of many creative minds with no value other than shear, unadulterated joy. I loved every minute of it. Yes, please; I’ll take mine in Long Beach Blue.