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BMW X6 xDrive50i M Sport

Germany’s ‘Big Three’ may come under fire on occasion for their questionable niche vehicles. Mercedes-Benz has the R-Class and do we really need the Audi A7 Sportback? Just a stone’s throw from Stuttgart and Ingolstadt, however, Munich-based BMW have some fairly odd-ball concoctions of their own.

The BMW X5 was seen as an avant-garde vehicle when it was first introduced in 2000 and since then we’ve seen the introduction of the X1, X3, 5 Series GT, 6 Series Gran Coupé and this, the BMW X6. The X6 didn’t make much sense when it was first launched in 2008 and it doesn’t make much sense now, unless of course you sniff out its context.

Dubbed by BMW as a ‘Sports Activity Coupé’ (SAC), the X6 endeavours to combine the attributes of an SUV with the appeal of a coupé. Pretty? Not especially. Macho, aggressive and ‘look at me’? Definitely. It reminds me of a wildebeest, with a front heavy stance and its visual bulk tapering off towards its tail end.  Like the wildebeest too, the X6 is intimidating, leaving onlookers a little uncertain about whether to just ignore it or keep one eye on the lookout, just in case. In fact, the X6 is such a hulk that in M Sport guise the only thing which looks a little small are its wheels and tyres. Consider this, however, they’re 20-inch items and dwarf those of the Ferrari F12 Berlinetta in front, at 275/40 vs 255/35, and equal the supercar’s 315/35 rubber at the rear.

That front-heavy analogy applies to the interior too. There’s loads of head and legroom in front, a wide view of one’s surroundings, as well as all the modern conveniences one might expect in a car just north of the R1-million mark. Due to the tapering roof line, however, the rear headroom is limited and, even though it offers 570-litres, the cargo area is longer than it is tall, which can restrict the choice of luggage. The view through the tailgate is narrow too and the lack of a rear wiper could prove irksome when sea mist or dust clings to the rear window.

Having climbed out of the new BMW 125i M Sport that we reviewed last week and into the X6, the dashboard and switchgear feels like it’s ‘getting on’ by comparison. The same could be said if we’d stepped from the new 3 Series into the ‘big 6’, but let’s not be too hard on the SAC, because after all, it has just received a mid-life update and is into its fourth year of production. Other than the plasticky-feeling operation of the rotary dials when compared to the latest 1 and 3 Series, the interior of the X6 remains a contemporary affair.

Luxury car manufacturers are often accused of having a rather ‘thin’ level of specification on their vehicles, with options lists that quickly escalate the price. While the list of available options for the X6 is suitably long, the xDrive50i is well equipped straight out of the box and includes: automatic tailgate operation; rearview camera with topview; electronically operated sunroof; anti-dazzle interior and exterior mirrors; electronic seat adjustment with memory function; front and rear park distance control; rain sensing wipers; automatic headlights; sat-nav; bluetooth; 6-disc DVD changer. Here again however, the X6 is beginning to show its age slightly, with the artificial intelligence of the adaptive cruise control and auto-dimming headlights, not as intuitive and subtle as the systems in BMW’s latest cars.

Beneath the luxurious interior, however, lie some trick mechanicals, which could easily go unappreciated. Driving the X6 is a case of ‘what you put in, is what you get out’ and if all you want to do is waft around then you’re unlikely to ‘get it’. Drive it like a city runabout on a daily basis and the hard M Sport ride, bulky dimensions, limited rear view and space, are likely to have you questioning why the X6 is in your driveway. It definitely won’t be for a lack of attention though. No, it’s wild at heart this X6 and, like the wildebeest, it likes to run free with the wind blasting over its back.

Massive grunt is provided by a twin-turbocharged 4.4-litre V8 that pushes out 300 kW and 600 Nm to all four wheels via BMW’s xDrive all-wheel drive system. BMW’s superb 8-speed automatic transmission links torque to tarmac and can be operated by paddles, a sequential-mode shift lever, or left to its own devices in ‘normal’ or ‘sport’ modes.

The V8 has a fantastic burble in the low to mid rev range, before taking on a raspy note as the tacho rises to the 7 000 r/min red line. Together with the lack of turbo-lag and continuous shove of torque provided by the seamless shifts of the gearbox, the X6 is both rapid and responsive. From a standing start it’ll leave most cars in its wake as it makes its way to 100 km/h in 5.4 seconds; that’s enough to blow off any pesky boy racers in their Volkswagen R or Renault Sport cars.

The X6 defies its 2.2 ton kerb weight in the corners too. There’s little doubt the sheets of rubber are being put to good use, but a host of electronics also work hard to make the X6 so rapid and enjoyable at high speed. Active Steering reduces the steering input required to turn the big SAC around town, but at higher speeds it offers less assistance and a more direct steering response. Coupled with this is Adaptive Drive, which analyses and automatically limits body roll in the corners by stiffening the stabilisers on each axle. Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) counters over- and understeer, by applying or reducing to torque to whichever wheels have the most grip.

It’s when you start to explore the X6’s engine and chassis beyond city limits that it makes sense. The traction control will cut torque quite abruptly if you start to wind things up, but with the DSC in sport mode, you can have quite a bit of fun. The X6’s dynamics are such that under hard braking the tail feels light and can move around ever so slightly, but the huge rear tyres and xDrive system never allow the driver to feel nervous in this regard.

With all the hard work to do in front, the X6 tends to understeer when pushed towards the apex, where after the all-wheel drive hooks up traction to each wheel and the X6 drives hard out of the turns. The DSC system is responsible for one more important function, electronic brake fade compensation. The 385 mm and 345 mm ventilated brakes at the front and rear are already excellent, but the anti-brake fade system maintains braking performance long after the brakes have been heated and you can actually feel it increasing pedal pressure as you climb onto the brakes during enthusiastic driving.

It’s a blast this X6. When driven for enjoyment, with a touch of practicality and a whole lot of road presence, it’s in its element. It may look like a close relative of the SUV, but it’s actually something of a frustrated sports car.
What we like…

  • The M Sport package, both inside and out.
  • Intimidating looks.
  • Gloriously smooth V8 and its soundtrack.
  • Intelligent 8-speed ‘box that auto-blips the throttle for rev matching on down shifts.

What we would like…

  • Rear DVD screen to be mounted within the head rests and away from the front arm rest.
  • The electronically operated tailgate to close via the button on the dash too.
  • Engine stop/start and Eco-Pro mode for when you do get stuck in traffic.