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Test Drive: Twelve Months and 27,000 Miles with the BMW X6 M

The BMW X6 M might just be the most misunderstood vehicle on the road today. Judges at last year’s Robb Report Car of the Year event placed the high-performance sports-activity coupe (as BMW refers to the crossover-style sports car) at the bottom of the list—even a virtually unfinished Spyker C8 Aileron prototype made more sense to them than BMW’s latest offering.

Fortunately, the world’s top German manufacturer provided Robb Report editors the key to one of the very first X6 M models in the U.S. so that we could—collectively—make up our own mind about a car that has the engine of a sports car, the ride height of an SUV, and a love-it-or-hate-it exterior design. We spent the entire year examining the car’s strengths and weaknesses, racking up more than 27,000 miles on the odometer in the process.

Our first test—an extensive 7,000-mile road trip from Los Angeles to Texas to the Grand Canyon—might have been the most revealing. With the rear seats lowered, the X6 M provided just enough space (51 cubic feet) to accommodate a week’s worth of luggage and activity gear for two people, rendering this four-seat BMW crossover into a two-passenger cargo hauler. The car’s sport seats were not comfortable, but they were supportive, and the most redeeming quality of the X6 M became increasingly evident on the long stretches of abandoned Texas highway: Despite its size and appearance, this BMW is still fun to drive.

Pressing the throttle is thoroughly enjoyable, as it effortlessly brings the 555-horsepower turbocharged V-8 engine to life. Best of all, the car has torque like a diesel truck, with 500 foot-pounds at the driver’s disposal.  Paddle-shift levers on the steering wheel add to the sporty nature of the X6 M, and its 7-speed dual-clutch transmission is smooth, swift, and seamless. With a 0-to-60-mph time of 4.5 seconds, this BMW could easily be mistaken (on paper) for one of the German automaker’s smaller sports-car models. After just a brief moment behind the wheel, however, the ride height reminds you that it is something much more.

“The thing that spoiled me was the visibility afforded by the X6 M, to the extent that I have never had a car, long term, with such a commanding view of the road,” notes Robb Report’s automotive editor Robert Ross. “After a stint with the X6 M, I now understand the appeal of trucks, SUVs, and the ‘crossover’ category. As a sports-car driver, I loathe being surrounded by them—especially given the general (in)competence of the drivers whom they generally attract—but when the shoe is on the other foot, it’s a great perch of supremacy. Sitting up high, with 555 hp and superb handling at one’s disposal, is an intoxicating combination of inapposite attributes.”

However, in BMW’s quest to build a car that represents all things for all people all at once, the X6 seems to be missing a few key ingredients. The most obvious was the absence of a middle seat for rear-seat passengers. As a family man, the magazine’s editorial director Bruce Wallin was particularly perplexed by this deficiency: “One thing that I noticed more and more was the illogical exclusion of a third seat in the backseat. If this were intended—even in part—as a family car, why wouldn’t BMW offer an optional middle seat in the back? The lack of the third seat really limits the car’s appeal, in my opinion. There were a few instances when I couldn’t take the car because I had four passengers who I was driving somewhere.”

The BMW X6 M actually made more sense as a commuter car through Los Angeles, rather than as a people mover. This may be why BMW also offers a hybrid version of the X6. But the engine in BMW’s hybrid car serves a much broader purpose than the hybrid power train found in the Toyota Prius. BMW calls this model the ActiveHybrid X6, as it produces a whopping 480 hp from a similar turbocharged V-8 engine found in the M model. This ActiveHybrid X6 returns up to 19 mpg in the city, unlike the extremely meager figure of 12 mpg from the M model. Although they are very close in price, the buyers of these two X6 variants are likely very different. The ActiveHybrid is designed to handle the day-to-day, while the X6 M is purpose built for those willing to take the long way in order to exercise a more spirited driving route through the canyons.

Thankfully, the Robb Report editorial offices are virtually adjacent to some of the best driving roads in Malibu, California, so we were able to test the X6 M’s sport suspension and all-wheel drive on a daily basis. It is safe to say that we were never disappointed by this car’s performance abilities. This big BMW behaved like a sports car through the turns, throwing its weight around each corner with ease, while its impressive baritone exhaust bellowed along the rocky canyon walls.

Truth be told, the BMW X6 M ($89,200) performed admirably for the entire editorial staff. It was reliable, rare on the road, and really, really fast. Apart from the passenger’s door hinge loosening from excessive use, there was not a single problem with the car in more than 27,000 miles. To top it all off, the car had to visit the dealer only twice for regular maintenance, and those visits were free under BMW’s ultimate service warranty.

Those looking for a colorful alternative to the Porsche Cayenne or Mercedes-Benz ML 63 AMG, should strongly consider the BMW X6 M. Understood or not, this car has made the crossover segment bearable for anyone who would rather own a sports car but simply cannot. The BMW X6 M is the ultimate compromise, in the very best sense of the word.

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