BMW X6 – Please, Don’t Hate Me. I Can Explain…


By Alex Ricciuti

08.09.2008

It was that time of year again and I was looking for a car big enough to carry everything in our house. For a two-week holiday with a young child, we had to bring a stroller, a travel bed, a changing mat, 850 diapers, all his clothes because he completely soils a shirt after wearing it about 3 minutes, his favorite teddy which is about 8 feet tall, etc. Long story short, the X6 was just large enough for it all.

The X6 xDrive3.5i, that is, and the name pretty much provides you with all the drive train details right there. An all-wheel drive, 3.0 liter, twin-turbo engine churning out 300 hp and 400 Nm (300 pounds feet) of torque married to a six-speed automatic with manual-shift mode. I was worried about fuel economy but I had read that the in-line six was easier on the front suspension and made the X6 more nimble than the heavier V8 engine. And considering it’s massive weight, 2,220 kg, this Hulk-like coupe is remarkably agile, further proof of the always exemplary engineering efforts of the lab coat gentlemen (and gentlewomen?) at BMW.

Now, let me stop right here and address the issue of its styling and of some of the reviews the X6 has already gotten. When you first look at the X6, where the X seems to stand for excess, you’re not sure where this vehicle is coming from. Is it a sedan/coupe inflated to SUV proportions? Or is it an X5 sculpted to look less like an SUV and more like a cartoonish, mean-eyed machine? Even a generally positive review in the FT.com referred to it as a ‘beast’. And many others have commented on it’s looks, often derisively, or have questioned whether the X6 has any practical value. Having spent two weeks with the X6, it’s sleek-monster looks grew on me from an initial reaction of “Uh?”. And the power and comfort were, well, typical BMW. Not to cheat you out of my invaluable opinion, but I really don’t have any convictions about the X6 styling one way or the other. And maybe that tepid response says something all by itself. Tell you what. I’ll report. You decide.

What the X6 does have is mucho techno machismo. It has one of the most advanced rear differentials in the automotive world where the DPC (something called the Dynamic Performance control) continuously regulates the steam pumped to the rear to maximize handling and traction. And I was able to test all this over the San Bernardino Pass in Switzerland where we scrambled up and down the hairpin switchbacks with the ease of a marathoner doing a lap around the block. The permanent 4×4 helps the X6 handle surprisingly close to a 5 series, to the point where you have to stop and pop yourself out of the cabin to make sure you are still driving an SUV.

This vee-hickle (putting on my Southern accent, that comes solely from listening to Johnny Cash, which means I sound like a weirdo Canadian who moved to Tennessee two weeks ago and is trying excessively hard to fit in), has all the engineering acrobatics and technical precision we’ve come to expect from a BMW. The brakes are phenomenal and make the Mack truck-like X6 feel like a bicycle for the few seconds it takes to bring it to a halt from a high speed. Anti-lock and stability and traction control, woven with steering and suspension control, well, keep things under control. The system, I believe, is all run by a Hal 9000 computer/control freak which exerts a Catholic-school nun sternness just to make sure us humans are kept in check, you know. Control being the key word here in case you missed it. Dave? Dave? What do you think you’re doing, Dave? Why don’t you just let me do the driving, Dave? Wouldn’t it be so much easier that way? Daisy…Daisy…But hey, that’s just me. I’m kind of old fashioned that way. If I want to spin out of a curve and go flying off a cliff that is my prerogative, isn’t it?

And, on a side note, I finally got gist of the head up display. It projects dashboard information such as speed or navigation instructions onto the lower end of the windshield. At first, you see this as a driving hazard distracting you from looking at the road. But once you get used to it, you realize that it takes less time for you to focus your eyes on the display and then shift your sight back to the road than it does to look further down and closer to you to read the speedometer on the dash. Good, I got it. A feature that’s very helpful in saving you a split-second in reaction time which does, in fact, qualify as a safety measure when you’re driving at break-neck speeds which BMW models often demand.

Interior finish on the X6 is BMW standard – that is, sporty, refined, conservative, reserved. The X6 seats only four (on sultry leather) which truly makes it a luxurious sport-ute without much utility to it. The sloping hatch gives it a cozier, womb-like rear seating experience, as in an elevated sedan, which the X6 essentially is, resulting in considerably less trunk space than the X5. But it has a horse-high seating position — about 84 centimeters from the ground to the driver’s hip (the X5 is about 51 cm).

Having recently driven the Jaguar XF, I realized how stilted and restrained interiors are not only on BMWs but on German cars in general. The Jag made me feel like I was sitting in Alistair Cooke’s study from Masterpiece Theatre. By contrast, German cars give you the impression that you’re sitting in your boss’ company car. Hardly democratic but not exclusively chic either. Audis are known for having slightly livelier interior designs than the competition, but for me, I put that down mostly to the red lighting in the display panels. With BMWs, interiors are all pretty much the same, which, I believe, is intentional. You’re buying the brand, a BMW, and certain things are standard. Like designer clothing — only the sizes vary.

As for economy, well, the X6 does have a drinking problem. BMW’s own on-board computer was telling me my mileage was 15.4 liters per 100 km and I wasn’t being much of a lead foot. I took it easy, hell, I was paying for the gasoline myself.

But would I recommend it? Yes, of course. BMW has been doing great lately, with a slew of products that come in as close to what they promise as possible. Though, I’m not sure how this car will find its buyers. It’s really an X5 for those jaded, self-absorbed, insular rich folks who will say,” Oh, everyone has an X5!” If you are looking to get one, by all means, do so. It’s BMW at its technological and mechanical finest. But what does this SUV do for you except seriously injure your pocketbook that you can’t get by getting a more discreet 5 series (or even a 7)? That you have to answer for yourself. I reported. Now, you can decide.

Alex Ricciuti is a freelance writer and automotive journalist based in Zurich, Switzerland. He writes frequently for Automotive News Europe. He also blogs on all things automotive at eurocarguy.blogspot.com.

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Author: Chris Haak

Chris is Autosavant's Managing Editor. He has a lifelong love of everything automotive, having grown up as the son of a car dealer. A married father of two sons, Chris is also in the process of indoctrinating them into the world of cars and trucks.

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2 Comments

  1. Sorry, it’s fugly. I’m sure it’s a wonderful thing to drive around, but it is just strange-looking. BMW has lost the plot on this one.

  2. Ugly or not, the BMW faithful will buy it. Brand power is just as strong as M Power for BMW.

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