For those who might have entertained a long-held secret desire to experience drifting a 555-hp, 2-1/2-tonne-plus crossover vehicle out of a racing circuit corner and on to its long backstretch, then charging up to 230 km/h before hammering on railcar-wheel-sized disc brakes to slow it enough to scramble around a sand-trap-guarded, tight left-hand turn, well, now you can with the latest overachievers from BMW's M division - the 2010 X5 M and the X6 M.
But be prepared to pay for the privilege. The more traditional looking X5 M will be priced at $97,900 and its uniquely styled X6 M sibling will go for $99,900.
A road racing circuit might seem an incongruous place to launch even performance-oriented models of what are essentially modern crossover versions of the once market-dominating SUV. But attaching an M badge to any BMW over the past 31 years has always meant it is capable of acquitting itself at the highest levels a road-legal vehicle can aspire too.
And, as BMW claims, the rather unlikely X6 M can lap the Nurburgring's Nordschleife circuit faster than the previous-generation M3.
The X6 M - M GmbH's first modern era, turbo-engined, automatic transmission-equipped, four-wheel-driver - certainly impressed me with its capabilities on a drive in the Atlanta area and a double-handful of laps on the always entertaining Road Atlanta circuit (no X5 Ms were available).
Its power - 0-100 km/h in 4.7 seconds, top speed 275 km/h - agility, overall poise, all-wheel-drive, electronic stability assists and simply huge braking capability, all experienced while driving at silly speeds, are all quite remarkable.
And its manners and ride comfort levels on the road barely hint at these abilities.
All of which still leaves one with cause to pondering the point of the exercise. Why put the go-fast M team to all the trouble of turning such a massive machine into something that could run with just about anything you might encounter at the average track day?
One answer is, because they could, of course. And another because Porsche's Cayenne, Infiniti's FX50, the Range Rover Sport and the Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG already were, after their own fashions. It's an admittedly small market niche, but these days car companies can't afford to leave any potential customer group un-catered to.
The X5 arrived in the late 1990s as an on-road versus off-road oriented (although it's also very capable in the rough stuff), five-door, five-passenger SUV type vehicle and was followed in 2007 by the second generation. The X6, a four-seater variant of this vehicle with an oversized coupe-like profile, was introduced for 2008.
The technical specs for the new X5 M and the X6 M are virtually the same, so which one a buyer chooses will come down to personal taste.
And if that choice is the X6 M, you can be sure their personality profile won't include any references to reticence or lack of self confidence. If you thought the "normal" X6 was a little excessive, well, the M-version is even outrageous.
On the outside, the X6 M look was deemed dramatic enough, so changes are limited to larger air inlets in a redesigned front air dam, M-badged fender gills, a unique rear air dam with dual exhaust outlets and 20-inch alloy wheels shod with 275/40R20 front and 315/35R20 rear tires.
The interior of the red X6 M tested came elegantly trimmed with black and white leather stretched over most of its surfaces. Equipment is lavish as you'd expect of a vehicle commanding $100k, including navigation and the latest entertainment and communication features.
Unique M equipment includes the supportive sport seats, leather-clad wheel, instrument array, dead pedal and sill plates. Options include such things as a head-up display (handy for impressing yourself on the straight-aways) and a camera system that produces an all-round visual display.
Under the hood is a 4.4-litre, twin-cam, twin-turbocharged V-8 that is rated at 555 hp at 6,000 rpm and 500 lb-ft of torque, which is available from 1,500 rpm to 5,650 rpm. Responsible for this level of output is a very clever, complex and compact twin scroll, intercooled, twin-turbo setup that nestles in the engine's Vee.
A specially programmed six-speed automatic, with paddle shifters, gets the power to an M-sized version of BMW's xDrive all-wheel-drive system. And it's applied to the pavement by a programmable M-suspension managed by recalibrated driving dynamics electronics that intervene at higher limits and a revised steering system.
The Adaptive Drive system provides electronic damping control and roll stabilization and lowers the vehicle 10 mm compared with a standard X6.
Monstrous disc brakes provide all the stopping power required, although they're hard pressed to deal with the vehicle's tonnage. Optional is a launch control system that automatically optimizes engine revs and wheel spin while the driver's right foot simply pins the pedal.
About all this complex package can't do extremely well is deliver good fuel economy, as it has to lug around the X6 M's 2,305 kg. European ratings are a prodigiously thirsty 19.3 L/100 km urban and 10.8 L/100km extra-urban, with a combined rating of 13.9 L/100 km.
There's just no way to pigeonhole this one. The X6 M is a decidedly different vehicle no matter how you look at it - I think the M guys should come up with a matching high-performance track trailer to take advantage of its three-tonne towing capability, for example - yet not without a certain top-toy-in-the-box appeal.
2010 BMW X6 M
Type: Luxury SUV
Engine: 4.4-litre, DOHC, V-8
Horsepower/torque: 555 hp/500 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 19.3 city/10.8 highway (EU test cycle); premium gas
Alternatives: Porsche Cayenne, Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG, Land Rover Range Rover Sport, Infiniti FX50, Audi Q7 4.2, Jeep Cherokee SRT8
- There's an illicit type of thrill in driving something this powerful, big and heavy
- The interior is a delight
- Well, it's not very socially responsible is it? But then who cares. Its fun factor is as huge as its size.
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