THEY say that everything is big in America, especially cars and BMW most certainly builds their biggest cars in their only US plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
And to launch their big, all-wheel drive, twin turbo BMW X6 M SAC (Sports Activity Coupe) a bunch of motoring journalists were taken to the neighbouring state of Georgia, home of not only CNN and Coca-Cola, but also the famous Road Atlanta race track where we could put this innovative bit of automotive engineering through its paces.
Why do I say innovative? Because the X6 M something totally different to come out of the BMW stable. Most of us are well aware of their excellent coupes and sedans, then came the X5 SAV and we all thought that they lost the plot.
And what do we make of the X6 SAC? No one ever thought that BMW could come out with something as outlandish as this, but they did.
BMW purists already had their fair share of shock and awe when they brought out the X6 M. They couldn’t grapple with the idea that some M cars now came with turbocharged power and all-wheel drive.
The M Division are the “go-faster” people for BMW when they want a bit of extra oomph in their products. Starting as BMW M Sport, they have been a long time subsidiary of the BMW Group, and have been involved in motorsport since 1972.
In fact, some of BMW’s technological innovations have come from the M Division.
Back in the day when Formula 1 ran turbo engines, BMW also turned to M Division for state-of-the-art turbocharged engines for several Formula 1 teams.
So why the fuss over the turbocharging?
As I see it, all things need to evolve and improve, otherwise they go the way of the dinosaurs.
We have seen huge paradigm shifts in the way manufacturers design, make and sell cars. So don’t look at it as a bad thing, just look at all that extra horsepower that the sweetly turbocharged V8 engine is making.
And a truly remarkable engine it is. Derived from the original X6 xDrive50i engine, the 4,395cc V8 puts out an outstanding 555hp at 6,000rpm, around 150hp more than the original.
Maximum torque is also an equally impressive 608Nm and comes on consistently from 1,500rpm all the way up to 5,650 rpm. This means power comes on as fast as you can stomp on the gas pedal and remains there until the needle reaches nearly three quarters of the way on the tacho.
This kind of performance statistics puts the X6 M well within sports car territory in an SUV-sized vehicle. The X6 M achieves a 0-100kph sprint in 4.7 seconds and has a top speed limited to 250kph.
Mated to the 4.4 litre power unit is a six-speed auto gear box with a choice of full auto or manual, via the gear lever or paddle shifters. Of course big smiles, silly grins and hoots of joy are always prevalent when shifting gears via the paddle shifters.
All that power is produced with the assistance of a pair of twin scroll turbochargers that sit in the V-section in between the two rows of cylinders.
Conventional turbocharger systems are normally placed away from the engine, which require longer pipes and exhaust manifolds which result in greater distances for the exhaust gases to travel to the turbochargers resulting in delayed power output.
Having the twin turbos sitting in between the cylinder banks solve that problem.
The exhaust manifolds are in itself a marvel of modern automotive technology. It is a unique crossover configuration that is typical patented BMW innovation, coming straight out of Star Trek or based on some kind of advanced alien technology. It draws exhaust gases from both cylinder banks directly into the turbochargers. This is as simple as I can explain it without drowning you in a sea of jargon and marketing talk.
The more I look at it, the more overwhelming the technology becomes. I just like the fact that it works and it has proven itself on the racetrack.
With a constant flow of exhaust pressure turning the turbines with great efficiency, the twin turbos are able to develop a maximum boost pressure of 1.5 bar creating all that amazing power and torque.
The exhaust gases then pass through to a pair of straight pipes that terminate at a common muffler and then on to a set of chrome tipped quad exhausts, which is a signature of M Division vehicles.
Oh, what I would give to hear those quad exhausts sing their unearthly tune again. There is little at this moment that can compare to the exhaust note of an X6 M engine.
It starts off with a low-end burble that is common in V8 engines and is a tune that most Yank motorheads are familiar with. As you lead-foot the gas pedal, something changes in the exhaust characteristics and the familiar V8 growl gives rise to a vicious howl that while not disturbing, is something unheard of before. Remember what I said about alien technology?
Analysing that tune, you will find that it is a combination of twin scroll turbocharger and those crossover exhaust manifolds. I like to think of it as speaking American Redneck with a sophisticated German accent.
When the needle on the tacho starts to climb, so does your most primal senses. Just be sure to wind down the windows when you drive off with the X6 M to get the full measure of aural pleasure.
What can I say about BMW handling that hasn’t already been said?
BMW has always produced technologies to improve handling in their cars that most car manufacturers would sell their mothers for.
For all the media hype that the X6 has gone through, the X6 M does remarkably well despite weighing in at a hefty 2,305kg.
But the X6 M has both brawn and brains. Coupled to the intelligent xDrive all-wheel drive system is a plethora of alphabet soup systems that keep the vehicle on the straight and narrow. DSC (Dynamic Stability Control), HDC (Hill Descent Control), DBC (Dynamic Brake Control), CBC (Cornering Brake Control), ICM (Integrated Chassis Management), just to name a few. All those systems and the massive amounts of power made it easy to throw around the heavyweight X6 M like a hot hatch around the Road Atlanta race track.
But it’s still a two and half tonne car and you cannot beat the laws of physics and gravity. A two and a half tonne vehicle has a lot of inertia and it just wants to go straight, especially at high speeds, no matter how much you turn the steering.
Fortunately for me, all the safety systems were activated and pulled in the reins before things got out of hand. This was only at times when I underestimated the sharpness of the turn.
But in most cases, the stability and traction systems actually make the X6 M such a pleasure to drive hard.
Once I managed to read the racing lines right, the X6 M’s stability and traction controls only makes it easier to throw it around even more.
The X6 M really makes you feel like a champion on the race track.
The M version of the X6 is lower by 10mm and has stiffer springs, which means that the ride is a little stiffer than usual.
Inside the X6 M is luxury that is typical of all M Class vehicles. Soft, supple Merino leather cover the substantially sized seats. I found that the seats had the right amount of bolstering and grip that kept you in your place as the car went through its high-speed turns.
BMW’s improved iDrive controls most of the vehicle’s systems and the Heads Up Display projects speed and navigational cues directly onto the windshield. The driver and three passengers now each have their own climate zones, in front as well as in the rear.
So the question you have to ask yourself is why would I want one?
Well, if you ever wanted a hard-charging and fast sports coupe but found that you couldn’t really fit much into it, or how it rode so low, then the X6 M is for you.
Not only that, you also get all the performance and power to push around the SUV-sized X6 M, just like you would a sports coupe.