- Available for £37,000
- 4.4-litre petrol V8, twin turbocharged
- Superb drivetrain
- Previous model's mechanical issues sorted
- Handles better than you'd think
- Excellent practicality in the X5 M
What is a true BMW 'M' car? That argument has been rumbling for quite a time and will doubtless go on for a good while yet, but it was brought into sharp relief by the arrival in the BMW range of the F85/F86 M versions of the X5 and X6 SUVs.
Remembering that M stood for Motorsport, and that the first M car (the M1 of 1978) achieved high sporting distinction on both road and track, doubters scoffed at the X5 M and the X6 M. How many of them were you likely to see in a competitive environment, they asked? Not counting the roads around Harrods on a Saturday night, that is.
These objections were perfectly understandable on one level, but the world has changed an awful lot since 1978. If you left the fact that these are gigantic SUVs out of the equation, and your definition of motorsport boiled down to horsepower and acceleration, you could make a case for the F85/F86 X Ms simply by lifting the bonnet and pointing at the 4.4 litre M TwinPower V8 engine with its two twin-scroll turbochargers. The 567hp and 553lb ft figures were bonkers enough on their own, as was the 4.2sec 0-62mph time, but what was really impressive about these beasts was the effortless repeatability of their face-melting performance with even the doziest of drivers behind the wheel, pretty much irrespective of conditions.
Or of weight. 4.2 seconds is Golf R and Mercedes A45 facelift performance territory, don't forget, but those two are 1,600kg cars. The 2013 BMW X5 M was all that plus the weight of a Mk 1 VW Polo with someone at the wheel. Thing is, at these levels of power and torque, weight is almost secondary to the ability to put as much grunt as possible through to the road, and that's where the X Ms really scored.
Their entire 553lb ft torque maximum was available across a near-3,000rpm spread, and brilliantly managed by a fast-shifting 8-speed auto and intelligent all-wheel drive. Despite their power advantage over the M1 being theoretically cancelled out by the weight disadvantage - more than twice the power, and not far off twice the weight - BMW's fastest ever SUVs were more than 1.5sec quicker over the nought to sixty than the M1. In context, that's a huge gap, marking the massive advances in tyre, transmission and traction technology between 1978 and 2013 - and inserting a good-sized spanner into the 'that's not an M car' argument.
If your need was for an SUV that would rip the metaphorical head off most sports cars, with little or no skill required on your part, the F85/86 X5 and X6 M cars delivered big time. All you had to do was put on your biggest boots and (within reason, obviously) go for it: the big BMW would see you right.
We should also bear in mind that, unlike the M1, these X Ms could carry five people plus their luggage and return an official combined mpg figure of 25.4mpg. Compare that to the 20.3mpg of the previous-generation '09 X5 M (which was even heavier at nearly 2.4 tonnes) and you've got another indicator of technology's relentless forward march.
Retreating as gracefully as we can from the 'M car or not' argument, let's get on with the reality of M motoring, X5 and X6 style. For the sake of easier reading we'll talk about the X5 M throughout and only single out the (largely identical in all but bodyshape) X6 M if there are specific issues relating to that model.
SPECIFICATION | BMW X5 M & X6 M (F85/F86)
Engine: 4,395cc, V8, 32v, twin turbocharged
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 567@6,000-6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 553@2,200-5,000rpm
0-62mph: 4.2 secs
Top speed: 155mph (restricted)
Weight: 2,350kg (X5 M), 2,340kg (X6 M)
MPG (official combined): 25.4
Wheels: 10x20 (f), 11.5x20 (r)
Tyres: 285/40 (f), 325/35 (r)
On sale: 2013 - 2018
Price new: £88,300 (£93,530 X6 M)
Price now: from £37,000
Note for reference: car weight and power data is hard to pin down with absolute certainty. For consistency, we use the same source for all our guides. We hope the data we use is right more often than it's wrong. Our advice is to treat it as relative rather than definitive.
ENGINE & GEARBOX
BMW's 4.4 litre V8 is the heart and soul of the X5 M. It's a thing of wonder. First appearing in 1996 as the M62/N62, the 4.4 resurfaced in 2008 as the 'hot vee' direct injection N63. Previous engines routed the exhaust manifolds outside the cylinder banks with a single intake manifold in the valley. The N63 went along a more compact route of mounting the exhaust manifold and turbochargers between the cylinder banks.
Unfortunately, the not uncommon owner practice of wrapping the N63TT's downpipes and turbos in 'lava blankets' to minimise the effects of under bonnet heat tells you that this engine became known for living up to the dark side of its hot vee name. Problems included (deep breath): cracking coil boots which could knock on to spark plug damage; dirty camshaft position sensors creating engine malfunctions; faulty throttle bodies resulting in no extra speed when you floored the throttle; excessive oil consumption caused by worn valve stems, corrosion to the block's Alusil sleeves, or leaks from sump and valve covers; turbo wastegate rattle; smoke from cracked plastic vent pipes under the engine cover; and failing fuel injectors.
The engines in the first E70 X5/6 Ms used a new S63B44O0 version of that N63 engine with twin-scroll turbos and, for better volumetric efficiency, a pulse-tuned exhaust manifold. The gen-two F85 X5/6 Ms that we're looking at today were powered by a revised S63B44T2 engine, which was more a tuned 550i motor than a detuned M5 motor. It had more horsepower, a slightly narrower power band and, as the years passed, a better reputation for strength and reliability (odd vacuum leaks apart).
It's also very tuneable. A stage 1 JB4 remap will reputedly take power up to over 650hp. Add new downpipes and exhaust and that could rise to 730-750hp. Even on the standard pipes with electronically controlled flaps, an angry F85/86 sounds much better than the E70, but it could also give you quietly composed when required.
It's a high-performance engine, so proper maintenance is essential. Keep your eye on the oil. BMW told customers that there'd be no problem in keeping the whirry bits properly lubed even at the unfeasibly high 1.2g cornering forces these cars were capable of, but leaks from the sump in particular can be expensive to mend as they're a two-part upper and lower item on these cars, and replacing the gasket means getting a lot of drive parts out of the way first.
The auxiliary coolant pump that feeds water to the turbos after the engine has been turned off should keep going for a good while after switch off, and by a good while we mean at least 20 minutes. These pumps can go AWOL without you realising it as they are tucked behind the rad and run quietly. If the pump is faulty, which some of them are, and it's left in that state, the turbos will eventually cook the oil running to them. You can check that the pump is working by removing the small plastic inspection plate at the front of the engine cover and feeling the left-hand of the two hoses you'll find there for the telltale vibration of liquid passing through.
The presence of run-on items like this turbo cooling pump and also of the many cooling fans dotted about underlines the crucial importance of a healthy engine-off power supply. The X5/X6 Ms have two batteries to cover that, and ensuring they're in good condition is mission critical.
Replacing the old E70's six-speed box in the F85/86 cars was BMW's 8-speed M Steptronic automatic. It was a torque converter unit rather than a double-clutcher, but touching a paddle gives you full control and allows the engine to rev the gears out. The extra width of the 8-speeder's ratio set was instrumental in delivering the F85's much better fuel consumption figures. The Range Rover Sport SVR was dirtier by 40g/km.
By the time these cars came out, BMW's 'intelligent' xDrive permanent all-wheel drive system had been around for nearly a decade so it was pretty well sorted by that point and it has maintained an excellent record for reliability since. A very small number of transfer case issues have been reported, but as far as we're aware they're on other BMW xDrive models.
Incorporating a power divider with an electronically controlled multiple-plate clutch, xDrive distributed engine power at a front/rear ratio of 40/60 under normal driving conditions. Longitudinal corrections kicked in as required by changes in road or driving conditions, with up to 100% of available torque routeable to either axle. More powerful BMW models like these Ms used the diff-impersonating Dynamic Performance Control in combination with the DSC system (which brakes a spinning wheel to help it regain grip) to speed up individual wheels sitting on the other side of the axle from the spinning one.
Mechatronically beaten into obedience by the Dynamic Performance Control system, the previous-model '09 X Ms went round corners surprisingly well for such large vehicles, but they didn't steer very well and the quality of the air-sprung ride (with self-levelling at the back) was patchy to say the least.
The F85/6 cars were a distinct improvement, with a smoother (though still not perfect) ride and a generally refined demeanour, albeit less so on cars with the optional 21in wheels. Extra camber was built into the front suspension and the bearings were stiffened all round to make sure that the slightly unreal (for an SUV) cornering potential wasn't compromised. For most situations it's best to leave the chassis in Comfort mode, as this delivers the best compromise of pliancy and roll resistance.
You can actually trigger mild drifts in the DSC's Dynamic mode, if the idea of drifiing something as tall as this doesn't freak you out, but it's important to realise that even BMW can't perform miracles. There has to be a slightly weaker link on any car and on the F85/86 it's the steering, which is on the functional side of rewarding. Any additional sense of floatiness or poor centring on motorways has been attributed (by some BMW dealers at least) to the natural characteristics of the electric variable-ratio Active Steering option, which was first seen on the 5 Series way back in 2003.
The blue-calipered M Compound brakes fitted to these cars are quite a bit bigger than the E70's ones and they can be a bit squealy. If you're running the 21in wheels a set of Michelin Pilot Sports will cost you just under £1,200.
If you're looking for an X6 M specifically you might want to ensure that the car you're targeting has the £375 reversing camera option, as rear three-quarter vision below the lofty lower edge of the hatch glass is sub-optimal to put it mildly. Parking sensors were standard on both cars.
The powered split tailgate on the X5 covers a usefully large load area and there's additional underfloor storage. Hex screws attaching the underbody shields can come loose, but you've probably had similar on your (insert any car name here).
BMW has always had a knack for designing cabins that are as visually appealing as they are human-friendly, and the F85 and F86 continued that tradition.
Once you've heaved yourself up to the SUV's high entry position you'll find yourself sitting behind a classic M steering wheel in a classically sporty BMW interior. Some of the Merino leather colours and carbon fibre trim pieces that you'll find on the used market might seem a bit urgent, but the leather is high quality and the heated seats are very comfortable over long distances.
You get all the mod-cons you'd expect from a relatively recent luxury car, like wireless phone charging, wifi hotspot prep, digital radio, USB interface, a 20Gb iDrive infotainment system, auto lights and wipers and a brilliant head-up display that in Sport+ driving mode pings up info on speed, revs and gear selected. Inveterate configurators - which apparently many BMW M buyers are - will positively relish an array of system control buttons on the main console that others might find bamboozling.
You could accuse an X5/6 M of having a slightly isolating, detached feel, and maybe even criticise it for being too effortless, but you can never knock it for selling you short on eyeball-squishing urge. We've quoted the official 4.2sec 0-62 time here, but independent testers have gone faster than that with two hefty geezers, a full tank of fuel and the usual selection of Ginsters snack items on board.
The drivetrain is little short of a masterpiece. The engine goes hard, responds alertly and sounds great even at the farthest reaches of its rev range, which is unusual for a forced aspiration motor. If anything it could do with a bit more V8 gurgle at lower rpm but that's easily remedied by a dip into the exhaust aftermarket. The gearbox thrives on hard use and the brakes are more than up to the job of stopping these giant machines.
In terms of rivals, the Mercedes AMG GLE 63 S had 10hp more than the X5 M, but in real world driving the BMW's mighty torque put rivals like the RR Sport SVR and Porsche Cayenne Turbo (which had 55hp less power and slightly more torque, but not over such a wide rev band) somewhat in the shade.
Running costs? Although the official mpg is just over 25, realistically you're more likely to record something in the 20-21mpg range in normal driving. With an 85 litre tank that would amount to a potential between-fills range of around 350 miles. Road tax on a 2015 X5 M will be £555 a year.
As regards servicing, it's not as bad as you might think. These Ms are treated as normal BMWs, for which the standard intervals are routinely quoted as 10,000 miles or annually. BMW's Condition Based Servicing (CBS) system may tell you different, depending on how the car is being driven. Independents will tell you that 18,000 or two years will be fine. George at well-regarded German specialists PSC Autocentre in Cheltenham quotes £264 for a minor service and £381 for a major, which is far from scary for the level of performance on offer. Typically, independents will charge around half the dealer network's hourly labour rate, with BMW genuine parts also being considerably cheaper there.
Within the dealer network, BMW's Pay Monthly Service Plan will set you up with a £45 'easy payment' scheme for M cars. Consumables of course are not covered by any warranties, either new or through BMW's approved used scheme, and cars as big and powerful as these two are going to chomp through them like a grizzly bear in a chicken coop.
If you're convinced by the F85/F86 X/M package, and why wouldn't you be, your biggest problem will be a degree of scarcity in the used market. At the time of writing there were no X6 Ms in PH Classifieds and just one X5 M, this 2017 specimen in Beach Blue with Dakota Black leather at £43,950.
Looking elsewhere, we spotted another 2017 X5 M in grey with carbon trim and 24,000 miles for £50k on the dot. On the X6 M front we found a 2018 X6 M with 37,500 miles for the same money as PH's blue X5 M, and a 44,000-mile 2017 X6 M for £39,950. The coupe's generally lower prices reflect its lower level of practicality. There could be another reason for that though. See an X5 M and X6 M together and the phrase 'I don't fancy yours much' might spring to mind.
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