D
on’t tell the BMW X6 M ($102,100) it doesn’t belong on the track. Don’t say it needs to be lower or lighter or look like every other car blurring by on the asphalt. Hold your judgement until you’ve sat in the cockpit, fired up the engine and let this beast prowl around in its native environment. You won’t get out of the car wondering where it belongs. You’ll know, by the first or second or third lap — whenever you’ve decided to actually lay down the throttle and charge into a curve — that this car, however massive it may be, navigates like a shark that smells blood in the water.

MORE TRACK-WORTHY SUVS: Porsche Macan | Audi SQ5 | Range Rover Sport

The X6 M is something of a novelty drive, and the car exists somewhere in a world of its own. Competition comes from the Audi SQ5, the Range Rover Sport, or the Porsche Macan Turbo, but the first two are oversized compared to the X6’s taut frame, and the last doesn’t match its power or prowess. The X6 M is an outlier, in the best sense. Hurling down the straightaway and then slicing through S-turns isn’t exactly what you expect from a people-hauler hovering at 6,500 pounds.

The lead car sped up, I gassed it, and the X6 M dropped back into third gear, powering up to the sharp left turn. Racing commenced.

When I arrived at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, TX, BMW took me for a slow walk around the car. They told me about all the low-temperature and high-temperature radiators (there are five separate coolant pumps) and called out a cross-section of the specially designed Michelin Pilot Super Sport UHP tires (an optional upgrade from the stock Pirelli P Zeros) that stick the car to the ground. They mentioned the amplified 4.4-liter V8 TwinPower Turbo engine, which saw an increase in horsepower by 4 percent compared to the previous model, reaching 575 horsepower, and torque by 10 percent, reaching 553 lb-ft. They talked about dropping the body 10 millimeters and how they improved the car’s stability through firmer suspension and re-engineered bushings and M-specific elastokinematics (essentially, programming the car to stay evenly balanced). They spoke about how it’s equipped to be paired with the M Laptimer app, which allows user to analyze their lap times via their iPhone. They pointed out the increased intake pipes and the exhaust manifold, which work together to get air into and out of the car faster. They showed the redesigned brakes, how they’re perforated, inner-vented and lighter. They talked about how they programmed the xDrive all-wheel-drive and Dynamic Performance Control to push power to specific wheels when they need it most.

Looking Past the Drive

As for life’s luxuries, the car is equipped with the standard set of ultra-luxe amenities one expects from a car that starts in the six figures. There’s fine-grain, Amara Brown Merino leather that contrasts with an Anthracite roof. Backrests bear the M badge. Power seats, premium audio, nav system and controls are appropriately distributed throughout the cabin. On the exterior, the Long Beach Blue metallic — named after the Gran Prix — electrifies the hard lines of the car. The wedge-like design of the X6 M differentiates it from the less streamlined X5 M, and the squat rear calls out the aerodynamic design.

The essence of all this is that BMW took a car that, based on stereotypes of weight and aerodynamics and stance, had no place being raced around the track, and gave it the Nürburgring treatment.

The engineering translates to an impeccable drive for a car this size. The X6 M is engineered to be a racer first and an SUV second, and BMW achieved what they set out to accomplish. Power’s never a problem for an M line, and the turbocharged V8 doesn’t lack anything in acceleration or top-end speed. On the track, the test of the car is more the handling.

After dodging out of the pits and onto the track and taking a few preliminary trips around in the Comfort setting, I found that the steering seemed unconventionally loose for a performance car. Thoughts wandered to trips to the grocery store, and I glanced back to the back seat, pondering how many tykes could fit back there comfortably playing on their iPads (three, with plenty of elbow room). The car handled smoothly and held plenty of punch on the gas pedal, but it felt soft and loose. Then, over the radio, the word came: go M2.

Under the Hood

bmw-x6-m-sidebar-gear-patrol

Engine: 4.4-liter V8 TwinPower Turbo
Transmission 8-speed M Sport Automatic
Horsepower: 575
Torque: 553 lb-ft
0-60 mph: 4.0 seconds
Top Speed: 155 mph (limited)
Base: $102,100

A double depression of the M2 button locked in Sport+ mode (there’s Comfort, Sport and Sport+), and the steering and suspension tightened in my hands. The car turned from casual cruiser to predator. Like a boxer dropping his robe in the ring, it shed any softness and buckled down for the fight. The lead car sped up, I gassed it, and the X6 M dropped back into third gear, powering up to the sharp left turn. Racing commenced.

One BMW spokesman said that the X6 M is best described as a “multiple personality vehicle” — a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that turns from calm to caustic at the quick tap of a button. He’s right, but the difference isn’t that distinct. The X6 M is more like a man with a hot-blooded disposition who’s prone to occasional outbursts of rage. And instead of cultivating anger management, the driver should solicit these spikes of fury; they’re a hell of a lot of fun to harness.

The car turned from casual cruiser to predator. Like a boxer dropping his robe in the ring, it shed any softness and buckled down for the fight.

During the drive, there was one sphincter-loosening moment — on the back straightaway, with the speedometer ticking toward 145 mph and the turn yard markers descending fast: 250…200…150…100. As my X6 M wobbled in deceleration, the one ahead of me, calmly composed and driven by BMW Performance Driving School Lead Instructor Matt Mullins, neared too soon. A skid into the rear of the $117,050 (as tested) car seemed imminent. So, panicking, I slammed the brake to the floor. “Ah”, the X6 seemed to say as the pedal lowered, “now you use me properly.” The car plunged to a lower speed, I shifted down to second, and Mullins and I fired out of the corner en route to Turn 12.