There is a problem with car reviews of fast, expensive cars. Either you get a cold, clinical, rational look at something you’ll never be able to drive or own, or you get what is basically an automotive penthouse letter.
I’ve never really had to worry much about this distinction, because I’ve never really been in the position to review cars and I certainly haven’t been in the position to review anything faster than a ’92 Camry. This all changed with a particular BMW X6M.
To start off, let me say that I didn’t really do the kind of driving that makes up even the most half-assed car review. I can say with certainty that I never strayed above 2,000 RPM, and rarely passed fifteen hundred. Basically, I played chauffeur in Manhattan for a few hours. But I played chauffeur with five-hundred forty-seven horsepower. I cannot stress that enough. At one point, the owner took the wheel and floored it for a block, twin turbos spooled up between Midtown townhouses.
For that first split second, the acceleration was ordinary, nothing I hadn’t experienced chirping the tires from a deserted stop sign. But where any of those fast starts inevitably ran out of breath, this BMW seemed to break out, unhinged. All those car review clichés were there, from the pressed-into-the seat force to the cool, nonplussed comment by the man at the wheel.
“It’s got a nice burble,” he quipped. All I could offer through an ear-to-ear grin was “Yeah, yeah it does.”
So how did this happen? It all came about by chance, really. The owner thought the guy with the camera taking pictures under his car (that’s me) was getting ready to tow it, and that ended up with me in his apartment and an impromptu interview. That interview ended with him nonchalantly asking if I’d like to drive his X6M. So why did I want to take pictures of that particular car in the first place?
I have a theory about the X6M – it came out in the throes of the recession basically looking like the most excessive, wasteful car on the market. At the very least a Hummer looked like it could go offroad. The X6M so openly touted its lack of utility (the sloping roof), its lack of practicality (the low profile tires on massive rims) and its huge, gas-sucking engine.
The owner didn’t seem greatly perturbed about any bad reputation the car has outside or inside car-enthusiast circles. Any dislike that valets or people on the street might hold against his five and a half foot tall M-car come only because it’s an SUV, not because it is a particularly excessive, 171-mph rocket ship. Moreover, the people who do recognize his X6M for what it is all love it, not the least bit concerned by its heavyweight, 14 mpg stature.
In any case, my theory on the thing went like this: the X6M is the modern equivalent of those late sixties, early ’70s full-sized muscle cars.
Made obsolete by big-engined intermediates like the Pontiac GTO, full-sized muscle cars were too heavy to be top-rung competitors in street drags, but they had a presence and a character all their own, a small and dying niche.
The SUV-turned-coupe has that same style, only underscored by the cars the owner had cross-shopped it with: coming from a modified E46 M3, an S5 was ruled out for being a step down on the automotive pecking order, and both a Nissan GTR and an R8 were again decided against. First off, having a relationship with a BMW dealer meant that it was that much easier to pick up a lease and not have to worry about becoming a new customer for a rival brand. I guess these kinds of things factor into high-class purchases.
The second reason is what really had me sold on the car: with a low riding sports car in New York, you’re always getting pulled over by the cops, and you’re always dodging potholes. The X6M doesn’t get the attention of cops, the owner told me.
They just think it’s some SUV and they don’t notice it. Only people who know cars know what it is. There are only a few in New York. I was driving out to the airport and this old guy with long white hair was driving another X6M and he pulled up next to me on the highway and rolled down his window. He shouted “Press the ‘M’ button!” and we raced.
From the start I should have realized that this was a car that straddles the lines between complete ridiculousness and utter practicality. On the one hand, the owner says he can park in places a Civic would fit in. On the other hand, he has special insurance just for his tires. The huge rims have a reputation for just bursting traditional tires on sharp bumps, and only the much-maligned by the press run-flats reliable hold up to the over five-thousand pound weight. On the one hand it’s so compromised by the level of engineering required to make a car this big go, stop, and turn like a sports car that the owner garages it once snow starts falling. On the other hand, while it will take on Ferraris and Lambos to sixty (as fast as you can go in Manhattan, the owner attested, a claim that I feel he might well be qualified to judge), you can use the BMW as a daily driver.
It is the best car in the world. What do I like about it? Everything -the owner.
I used to firmly believe that the fastest cars are the ones you’re most willing to cane, with throttles you’re most willing to press to the floor. Sitting behind that 4.4 liter, twin-turbo V8 made me think I might lose that belief – might make me think that big power is the only way to make a real fast car. But talking to the owner, just breathing another five, ten miles an hour onto the gas pedal, and that full-bore block in rich Manhattan only toughened my resolve. The X6M is like no other car around in that it offers the prestige brand of BMW and that it can give so much speed so much of the time. It’s completely unflappable and I love it absolutely.