BMW X5/X6 M on road and track: now this is commitment
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2020 BMW X5 M
- Incredible engineering exercise
- Composure at high speed
- Still lots of luxury inside
- Lesser M Performance models muddy the waters
- Sportier modes too aggressive for the road
- Hard to justify the concept and sound sane
BMW’s M-developed X5 and X6 models are made from half engineering excellence and half overkill.
Nobody really needs a 2.3-tonne SUV to be totally track capable (which is what really separates a genuine M-vehicle from lesser BMWs). But mega-SUVs are a big thing these days and so BMW needs to be in the game. If you’re going to be in, why not go all the way… and beyond?
Not to be confused with the likes of less extreme “M Performance” models like the X5 M50d or X6 M50i, these are the full-phat versions. Confusing we know, but look for the standalone “M” designation as your guarantee of quality/insanity: X5 M, X6 M. See how that works?
These paternal twins are only now offered in New Zealand in Competition specification, with the 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 cranked right up to a ludicrous 460kW. Both will do 0-100km/h in 3.8sec, although you still pay a bit more for a bit less: the X5 M Competition is $219,900, while the lower coupe-style X6 M variant is $225,600.
We spent a day in both on some challenging roads south of Auckland and topped our time off with a few laps of the Club Circuit at Hampton Downs.
This is not an SUV (let’s talk singular, because the X5 and X6 are identical in all but roofline and 15kg weight) you just get in and drive. BMW M has always had a penchant for complexity and this is no different.
Yes, you can just simply cycle through preset modes. But hit “Setup” and you immediately get 11 individual options that can be mixed and matched across five categories. Plus additional settings, like the shift aggression of the eight-speed automatic. You can even choose the level of brake pedal response, for heaven’s sake.
Once you’ve sorted out all of that for your favourite roads (it could take years), you can programme your favourite combinations on the bright red M1 and M2 buttons that sit proud of the steering wheel.
But for road driving, it’s probably better to play around with engine and steering and leave the rest alone. On backroads, anything beyond Comfort for the suspension feels pretty edgy.
Besides, technology picks up the slack. The chassis favours the rear in normal driving and there’s an Active M Differential to manage all that torque. There’s loads of extra bracing in these M-machines and the Adaptive M Suspension Professional chassis keeping the big fella flat and stable.
The lateral grip from the mixed-size tyres, AWD traction and body control give the X5/6 M a surreal cornering feel. It’s possible to arrive at a corner mighty (too?) fast, but the combination of hardware and software just send you around flat and unfussed.
Your only real chance of upsetting this SUV’s equilibrium is a track workout.
Before we hit the Club Circuit, a word of advice from our minder (well, probably the cars’ minder to be honest), factory-certified BMW senior driving instructor Mike Eady: over-drive these things into corners and the height/weight will result in squealy understeer. Go slow in, and the power, incredible AWD system and monster tyres will make magic happen as you accelerate out.
And so it proves. Speed and magic and then more speed as you pass the apex and apply the power.
Yes, it can feel wobbly when you really press on – but so does any road vehicle on a circuit.
The X5/6 M is far from the only crazy-fast SUV in town. But I’m not sure any rival really embraces the circuit ethos with such commitment. No, it doesn’t really make sense and something like an M50d is a much more pleasant (and still swift) road vehicle.
But if you must take your SUV to the extreme, this is the one.
BMW X5/6 M COMPETITION
ENGINE: 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8
POWER: 460kW/750Nm, 0-100km/h 3.8sec
GEARBOX: 8-speed automatic, AWD
PRICE RANGE: $219,900-$225,600