DRIVEN: BMW X5 M/X6 M Competition M xDrive M Steptronic

ZWARTKOPS, Gauteng – When launched 10 years ago, the BMW X5 M was not the first SUV to be fitted with an outrageously powerful engine, but it was the first to do it well. And it was a runaway success. The X5 M and X6 M celebrate their 10th birthday in 2020 and the two flagships are the third generation of the high-performance BMW M models in the luxury Sports Activity Vehicle (SAV) and Sports Activity Coupé (SAC) segments.

Super SUVs are all the rage these days as manufacturers try to meet customer demands for sportscar acceleration and power in a vehicle that remains practical and versatile.

It is fairly easy to fit a large, powerful engine into a range-topping SUV. Getting that vehicle to behave in a dynamically acceptable manner is the biggest challenge. The added weight that comes with a vehicle of this size only exacerbates the problem.

BMW fans were outraged when these high-riding models received the M treatment and even more so when they were fitted with turbocharged engines and all-wheel drive. Yet, the X5 M and X6 M have led the way for all M models and the range is all the better thanks to these technologies.

Following market research and analysis of past sales trends, BMW has decided to sell only the Competition variants of the X5 M and X6 M in South Africa, as is now the case with the M5 and M8 models. The Competition variants of these two models feature a significant power improvement thanks to a high-revving 4,4-litre V8 engine with M TwinPower Turbo technology that allows it to produce 460 kW and 750 N.m. The two turbochargers are positioned within the V and are made even more efficient thanks to a cross-bank exhaust manifold that virtually eliminates any lag.

These models each weigh approximately 2,4 tonnes but it certainly does not feel like it as they really do get up and go. BMW claims a 0-100 km/h sprint time of just 3,8 seconds, which equates to a 10 percent improvement over that of its predecessor, which took 4,2 seconds to reach 100km/h. The turbocharged V8 offers instantaneous acceleration but also linear power delivery throughout the rev range while a sports exhaust system ensures a fitting soundtrack.

Power is transferred to the road via an eight-speed M Steptronic transmission with Drivelogic; its gearshift characteristics can be adjusted using the Drivelogic button on the M-specific selector lever. M xDrive works in tandem with the Active M Differential at the rear axle and offers a rear-wheel bias in the default 4WD setting. The driver can also dip into the setup menu to select 4WD Sport mode, which alters the power split to give the vehicle a more rear-biased feel and helps to further eliminate the understeer often found on such vehicles.

Stopping power is courtesy of massive M Compound brakes; 395 mm discs are clamped by six-pot callipers behind the front wheels. The integrated braking system offers the driver two settings for brake pedal feel. By selecting sport, the brake booster increases pressure and the travel of the pedal is reduced for greater feel and quicker response under spirited driving conditions.

Under the skin is M-specific adaptive suspension with electronically controlled dampers, active roll stabilisation, M Servotronic steering and DSC including M Dynamic Mode. Competition models are fitted with M light-alloy wheels: 21 inches at the front and 22 inches aft. It is the first time any production BMW has been equipped with staggered wheel fitment and is said to further bolster the dynamic abilities of these models.

Engineers spent a great deal of time to ensure the chassis is extremely stiff as this has great benefits for the dynamism. Fortunately, this has not negatively impacted the ride quality. In fact, ride refinement is really rather excellent, those Elasto Kinematic dampers doing a great job both on track but also in smoothing out the bumpy back roads of Gauteng.

The combination of SAV proportions is paired with M design features to aid cooling and aerodynamics such as large air intakes, M gills on the front side panels, aerodynamically optimised exterior mirrors, rear spoiler, rear apron with diffuser elements, wheelarch extensions in body colour and twin exhaust tailpipes.

Interior highlights include a head-up display, M-specific leather steering wheel with red M1/M2 buttons and gearshift paddles and selector lever, specific displays in the instrument cluster, multifunction seats with integral head restraints and hexagonal quilting to the fine-grain Merino leather.

A setup button on the centre console enables direct access to the settings for the engine, dampers, steering, M xDrive and braking system. Two variations of this personalised configuration can be composed and activated at any time by pressing one of the two red M buttons on the steering wheel, which also make their appearance on the X models for the first time.

M mode, which was first seen on the M8, offers three tailored setup packages labelled road, sport and track to help take some of the guesswork out of the myriad options and tailor the vehicle for the conditions. For example, track mode turns off all assistance systems and mutes the radio.

We put both models to work around the tight 2,4 km Zwartkops Raceway and they definitely impressed. Considering their size and weight, both proved to be nimble at speed, stopping performance is excellent, the turn-in is improved, with just a slight hint of understeer if you lean on the nose too hard. However, the X5 M and X6 M Competition truly shine on the exit; you can get on the power early and the trick M xDrive and M rear differential ensure every kilowatt the engine produces is transferred into forward momentum as the vehicles shove you out of corners.

On the surface, these Competition models may seem focused and designed for the track and, while a lot of the technology seems to revolve around that concept, I doubt there will be many X5 M or X6 M Competition owners who will visit a racetrack in their car, which begs the question: what is the point? Well, because the car is infinitely adjustable – there are modes and settings within modes that allow you to tailor the vehicle to your needs, from the school run to lapping the track – and therein lies the beauty: with the turn of a knob, these track-focused athletes morph into a normal X5 or X6.

The X5 M and X6 M Competition certainly lead the charge among their German rivals and the X5 is probably the best example of a combination of power and practicality. Yet, when it comes down to outright dynamism, the Italians are still winning the fight. The Maserati Levante Trofeo and the Lamborghini Urus, in particular, remain clear class leaders if you are looking for a supercar on stilts and that’s reflected in their much higher list prices.

Author: Reuben van Niekerk (ReubenVN)

FAST FACTS

Model: BMW X5 M/X6 M Competition M xDrive M Steptronic
Price: R2 632 258 (X5 M)/R2 733 420 (X6 M)
Engine: 4,4-litre, V8, twinturbo-petrol 
Power: 460 kW @ 6 000 r/min 
Torque: 750 N.m @ 1800-5 600 r/min 
0-100 km/h: 3,8 seconds 
Top Speed: 290 km/h 
Fuel Consumption: 12,5 L/100 km 
CO2: 286/285 g/km 
Transmission: 8-speed automatic 
Maintenance Plan: Five-year/100 000 km

See Full BMW X5 price and specs here
See Full BMW X6 price and specs here

Article written by

CAR magazine