Two years ago when the all-new M3 was unleashed into the press fleet, I naturally planned a road trip into the mountains to enjoy it's near racecar-like abilities. The M3 marries seriously stiff handling and a 418 horsepower, high revving V-8, sending power to very wide tires designed for the warmth of summer. Being May, the threat of snow while rocketing over two high altitude summits should have been minimal. You can imagine my horror to see snow falling ahead, even beginning to accumulate on the road surface. Driving in snow is nothing new to me, but in a car with such a volatile mixture of inadequate rubber and overly aggressive horsepower in a very expensive package that I did not own, definitely got the adrenaline pumping.
With BMW's latest M-badged vehicle hitting the streets, many journalists have seemed a bit confused by the Bavarian carmakers thinking. The X6 is a strange enough vehicle on it's own, but to produce an M version has baffled many as to the target market for such a vehicle. However, surviving my snowy encounter at the wheel of an M-powered machine, the X6 M makes perfect sense to me. Its an AWD SUV that portrays the most extreme of BMW's performance intentions, so you can still enjoy the performance of an M-badged BMW while heading to the ski resort in the dead of winter.
It was this same line of thinking that saw the creation of another similarly controversial vehicle – the Porsche Cayenne. Porsche were tired of seeing 911 owners jumping into Land Rovers as soon as weather went south, and so created a vehicle to fill a growing void. While the Cayenne Turbo S is the flagship of a large line of SUV's leading the way in terms of out right power and price, the GTS is the Cayenne built for the driver. If a 911 Turbo owner bought a Cayenne, it would be the Turbo S. Then the GT3 owner will buy a GTS. The GTS is here because a true driver cares little about quoting horsepower and 0-60 numbers to fellow poser's, a true driver drives for the pleasure of doing so. A true driver enjoys a vehicle that communicates well with the driver, and is engineered to give that “at one” feeling with them.
Both these vehicles are high performance special editions of standard vehicles, but the characteristics that they provide to the driving enthusiast means this comparison would be disgraceful without the inclusion of another vehicle that also portrays the same dedication to performance driving. The Infiniti FX50's abilities propels it into contention with its more prestigious and expensive rivals.
Its the performance and feel that set these vehicles apart. So lets start with acceleration.When your goals is to make a 2,400 kg vehicle perform like an exotic sports car, building big power is a must. The X6 M leads this category with a 555 hp twin turbo 4.4L pumping out 150 more hp then the rest. With cross-bank flow situating the turbos between the two head, boost is built quickly and the BMW emits an odd yet harmonic two-toned scream from the four rear pipes. Despite the increased bulk of the X6 M, the power to weight ratio does not lie, soundly beating both the Porsche and Infiniti. The GTS's mill has been messaged with and extra 20 hp over the S, which like 5.0L unit of the FX, has a more linear and predictable power curve than the BMW. However, while the driveability of the normally aspirated engines are preferred, the massive output from the BMW wins this round.
With all that power producing breakneck speeds, a proper drivers vehicle needs to be brought under control quickly with a great amount of stability. All three of our test vehicles came equipped with race inspired braking systems larger than the wheels on many cars. Featuring multi-piston aluminum calipers biting into discs as large as 15 inches on the BMW, these vehicles are no slouch when it comes to stopping power. We did not get solid numbers in term of stopping distance, however we found that the weight of both the BMW and Porsche proved to put these vehicles at a disadvantage to the Infiniti. The X6 M and GTS started to loose feeling under heavy and extended use. For street use all three cars brake magnificently, but the FX seemed just that little bit better.
Acceleration and braking are all important performance factors in sports cars, but its the handling and feel that will determine if a crossover can compete with a sportscar. The Cayenne is supposed to be every bit as dominant on a track as the 911, likewise, the X6 M should live up to the standards held by all M vehicles. Both companies have done a wonderful job making the handling part a reality. The X6 M has extremely firm suspension that goes into racecar mode at the touch of the “M” button. The Porsche is equally potent, but with less flamboyancy, as a softer ride coupled with adjustable ride-height makes carving up a corner a little less demanding. Also, it is the only vehicle that comes with an available manual gearbox, something I require in a true drivers car.
That being said, the FX50 had the best feel of the three, even if you're stuck with an auto. While the BMW and Porsche have exceeding abilities, they still feel like SUV's in the end. The FX50 may look big, but when you get inside, it wraps around you and tells you what the car is doing by feel. When you throw the FX50 into a corner it's light weight, low center of gravity and and car like feel inspires confidence. It just feels at home on a winding mountain pass, as much as any sportscar.
Despite how good all the vehicles are at tearing up the tarmac, a winner still needs to be chosen. If money wasn't an option, I would pick the Cayenne GTS as I think it is the most beautiful of the bunch and offers me a manual gearbox. If I was going to be spending all my time at the track, I'd have the X6 M. It's technology and it's tenacity speed inspires aggressive driving; it truly is the racecar of the bunch. However for me, I'll be enjoying rough surfaced roads winding up and over mountains. The FX50 finds that sweet spot between road vehicle and high-performance handler, without sacrificing to much to make up for the size of the vehicle, and all at the best price. While the FX50 looks like its taken a few smacks from the ugly stick, its “car-like” feel, predictable “toss around” nature and good communication with the driver makes it my favourite.