Boarded the bomber to Atlanta, Georgia the other day to drive the BMW X6M. It’s being launched in North America because that’s where it is being built, alongside standard versions of the X6 and its mechanical identical sibling, the X5, at BMW’s ever growing Spartanburg factory in South Carolina.
Taken at face value, this is a terrifically exciting car . . . er, sorry, crossover. What with 547bhp from a twin turbocharged 4.4-litre V8 and a trick four-wheel drive system that includes an advanced planetary drive torque vectoring system, it’s every bit as rapid as the existing M5 (BMW quotes 0-62mph in 4.7sec) in a straight line.
As a round of hot laps on the Road Atlanta circuit also proved, the X6M also proved hugely competent in the handling department – more responsive and a good deal more forgiving than either the Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG and Porsche Cayenne Turbo when you get stuck in. Given that it has 2265kg to control, the way the high riding five door liftback can be flung about is quite incredible. Its brakes are also very impressive.
Earlier, on the way to Road Atlanta, I’d marvelled at the overall refinement BMW had engineered into its latest M car. The ride, aided by masses of wheel travel, has an underlying firmness but it’s anything but harsh. At a typical 75mph highway cruise, engine noise is well isolated, aided, no doubt, by the turbochargers, which tend to dampen out mechanical influences. And despite its tall stance, wind roar doesn’t grow to irritable levels even when you push the pace up.
All good and well. But this is not an M car. At least, not in the mould of the M3, M5 or even the recently discontinued Z4 M. Okay, so the X6M manages to combine the seeming opposing qualities of an off-roader and sportscar better than any rival I’ve driven in the last 20 years. But does that in itself qualify it to wear the illustrious M badge? I think not. It's fast, no doubt. But there's a spurious lack of involvement. You also have to question whether it does enough over an above the X6 xDrive50i to warrant it being bestowed with M status.
We’ve been here before, of course. Remember when Mercedes-Benz added the R63 AMG line-up. Back then we said much the same thing – bloody fast and hugely capable on the autobahn but hardly worthy of AMG branding. Where is it now? You won’t get Mercedes-Benz to admit it, however, it seems the R63 has quietly gone out of production due to a clear lack of buyer interest.
Will it be the same for the X6M? Time will tell, of course. One thing’s bleeding obvious though. Where the M name once stood for Motorsport, it’s now more a case of Marketing. My worry in all of this is just what damage the introduction of models like the X6M will do to the reputation and image of the M3 and M5. By attempting to broaden the reach of the M brand, BMW risks alienating the very customers that have helped make it what it is today.
X6M? Great car, wrong badge.