It’s hard to argue with the merits of a good old fashioned SUV. Over the decades they have been a lot of things to a lot of people – a lifeline in the less civilised part of the world, a family car and a source of comfort and prestige for all but polar bears and cyclists. They’re just rubbish at going around a corner, which for the enthusiast is driving Valhalla. So up until recently it was virtually impossible for a genuine petrosexual to find the appeal in a car whose every attribute goes against the fundamentals of sheer driving pleasure. Or joy or something.
BMW’s M division – their in-house motorsport turned tuning division, is all about driving pleasure. Ever since it was founded in 1972, the ‘M’ chaps have chipped away at the bits of a BMW that have no business at a race track. And then added considerable amounts of power to it until it was every bit the Bimmer they’d like to have on a racetrack.
‘Considerable’ is wildly inadequate a term when dealing with the power levels on the new BMW X5M and X6M – the two cars are mechanically identical, save for the extra 10 kg that encumber the 2.35 tonne X5M. Both the cars are powered by a 4.4 litre twin-turbo V8 which produces 575 bhp – the highest figure for any AWD Bimmer. Along with that comes 75 kgm of torque, which has been upped by 7 kgm from the previous model, kicking in very early and spreading itself out over a tremendously wide powerband.
Kept side by side, the cars make for a haunting vision. Both are aggresively styled, in-line with the modern crop of ‘M’ powered BMWs. The X5M is comparitively restrained and more functional in design, offering more headroom at the back with greater storage space. The X6M wears its track-bred mannerisms on its sleeve, which reflects in its coupé-ish silhouette and gaping air-dam.
Given that their true performance credentials could only be verified on a race track, that’s where I found them, standing noticeably taller than the crew members of the legendary ‘M’ pack – the M3, M4, M5 and M6 Gran Coupé. It seemed entirely possible that their on-track antics would be completely eclipsed by the maginificense of the M3 or the M5, or all the other cars from the pack which held a huge anatomical advantage over the two lumbering giants. I reckon, BMW knew this and weren’t fazed by it at all. If the M3, M4 and the M5 are global benchmarks for useable performance, what better yardstick to compare their X sized siblings to?
Despite weighing well over 2 tonnes, the cars are lighter than their normal counterparts. Despite the Chennai heat nibbling away at the section 285/385 tyres, the AWD system does not relent, allowing the car go flatly into a corner and come out looking composed. The evidence lay in the the way a regular X6 pace car dug into the tarmac while the X6M ahead of me remained much flatter thanks to the automatic self-levelling air suspension at the rear with an anti-dive mechanism installed.
Power delivery is instantaneous, dispensed with the aid of BMW’s special 8-speed double clutch M transmission unit providing sharp, precise shifts and propelling the car down the pit straight edging closer to its 250 kph limited top speed. How SUVs of such proportions do not wobble way into a grassy patches besides the track is baffling, but the improved, fade-free discs aid immensely. Just as you expect the car to skid, roll, or struggle to come to a halt, the X6M and the X5M astutely attack the next corner, prompting bewilderment. There is just a whiff of roll before the car’s anti-roll mechanisms kick in, prompting a slide (whose longevity can be tweaked by switching the Dynamic Stability Control mode off.
For purists, cars like the X6M and the X5M are a source of great confusion. They pack high performance tyres which aren’t particularly great off-road, and they don’t really offer coupe like performance. But what’s remarkable about BMW is how close they come in infusing each car with the spirit that defines the ‘M’ division. Even if they aren’t perceived or used in that manner, the X6M and the X5M are benchmarks for how close large, high riding SUVs can come to being genuine track tools.