We’ve heard of niches, but come on – an SUV coupe? Sounds a bit roast beef with ice cream to us. But from June 2008, that’s what BMW has in store. The X6 is the latest addition to the maker’s SUV portfolio of X3 and X5, which is already the best-selling premium line-up in Europe. The X5 3.0d is, surprisingly BMW’s third best-selling single model outright.Will the X6 cross the Sahara?
The new X6 isn’t meant to be a mass-seller (no surprises there), but a stylish alternative to the X5 upon which it’s derived. Think of it as an off-road, 4x4 6-Series, they say. But is that too much for the motoring public to get their heads around, we say…
I can’t get my head around the new BMW X6!
Wait until you see it to complete the brain-scramble. It’s slightly larger than an X5, pumped up and bulging like Floyd Mayweather – but has a roofline that, from above the driver’s head, falls rearwards like it’s been squashed by a huge thumb. Yet still the bootlid is adult chest height. It’s undeniably dramatic, but with time, the bug-like stance grows on you, making conventional SUVs look boxy and twee.
The X6 is bound to create a hullabaloo, but we predict that in a year’s time the storm will have passed and other makers will be scrambling to follow suit. Remember Chris Bangle’s much derided ‘flame surfacing’ design mantra?
Inside, the cabin takes its cues from the X5 up front, so the seat is still set high (that’s why people buy ‘em) but having just two, individual rear bucket seats is more controversial. This is a huge car that can accommodate just four people – and tall adults will feel cramped in the back. The last car to attempt something similar was the ill-fated Renault Avantime…
Click ‘Next’ for full driving impressions
A BMW too far? Add your comments on this weird new BMW...
BMW’s xDrive 4WD system is already pretty impressive, and when you add Dynamic Performance Control, it’s even cleverer. This not only splits drive front to rear, but can apportion it between the rear wheels too, via twin electronic clutches and a fearsomely clever planetary gearset. And can do so on power, off power, even out of gear (if you so wish).
So, basically, instead of braking wheels to enhance control, ESP-style, it accelerates them. This ‘steer from the rear’ effect kills understeer and oversteer by speeding up wheels, almost as fast as you sense it. It’s not unlike a Mitsubishi Evo’s Active Yaw Control system and pulls off similar miracles.So the X6 handles well?
Unbelievably so. Direction changes completely belie its height and weight, and agility is something else. If you thought the Cayenne GTS defied logic, try this. The moment it sensed understeer on a streaming wet test track, you felt drive going to the rear axle to kill it; it deploys globs of torque with lightning speed. Result? Unbelievable cornering for one so heavy (the X6 is a scarcely believable 2.2 tonnes).
But it defies logic and handles in an extraordinary fashion. The X6 is taut, well controlled, chuckable and super-accurate. Big, but so easy to place, so responsive, it shrinks around you. The steering’s heavily weighted, mind you. Standard 19in wheels make it pattery in town, but the ride settles down at speed. Click ‘Next’ to read about the X6’s engine rangeWhat about the X6’s engines?
This is BMW’s first-ever all-turbo line-up. It’s headed by a 407bhp 4.4-litre V8 twin-turbo, arriving in November, with 442lb ft of torque and the kind of genuine effortlessness that demolishes a 2.2-tonne kerbweight. The 0-62mph dash takes a Porsche-worrying 5.4 seconds. For lesser mortals, there’s also the 306bhp twin-turbo 3.0-litre straight-six petrol.
Diesels, however, will take four out of five sales. Here, it’s the familiar 3.0-litre six, in single or twin-turbo guise. The latter is pretty swift, sprinting to 62mph in 6.9 seconds which is faster than a V8 diesel or supercharged V8 petrol Range Rover Sport. The diesels are staggeringly smooth and the twin-turbo has an appealingly cammy engine note; the standard six-speed auto is a silky thing, too.Bit of a convention-defier all told, then…
It is, even for economy. SUV-haters will be pleased to discover the V8 does 22.6mpg – terrible, but less so when you consider it’s a 400bhp SUV. However, the diesels do 34 miles to the gallon and, crucially, come in beneath the 225g/km CO2 ‘gas-guzzler’ threshold.
Only a manual diesel Volvo XC90 can do that (and nobody sane buys it, anyway). Yet the diesels are faster than almost any conventional rival, diesel or petrol. Click ‘Next’ to read our verdict on the X6
Judging by reactions on forums and blogs, many of you probably want to hate the X6. There will be many onlookers who no doubt will. But put SUV profligacy out of your mind, and it’s deeply impressive. Even if it does cost more than £42,000.
Why has the X6 converted us, when we too were sceptical about this niche too far? The way it drives is little short of incredible, and the pace on tap is something else. And those looks? Spend some time with the X6 and you start to understand it. It’s hard to forgive the cramped rear accommodation, but if you need the space buy an X5. If you want the style and an even more focused drive, try the X6. BMW has produced one of the most unlikely driver’s cars of the year.
For a fuller drive, check out the next June 2008 issue of CAR Magazine out at the end of April