Before BMW released the gargantuan X7, the audacious 7 Series facelift and, most recently, the utterly-divisive grille treatment of the upcoming 4 Series coupe, the X6 premium SUV coupe was easily the Bavarian firm's most controversial model. The 3rd-generation X6 will arrive in South Africa soon, ostensibly spearheaded by the flagship X6 M derivative; is the newcomer still a love-it-or-hate-it offering?
Gucci. Prada. Balenciaga. The BMW X6. All are considered style icons, right?
Apparently so, as this is the 3rd-generation version of the BMW X6, a genre-defining luxury SUV coupe (or, in BMW speak, Sports Activity Coupe) which, in its new-look guise, has followed a similar trajectory as those aforementioned high fashion brands. It is bolder, more polarising – and arguably gaudier – than ever before.
Whereas the 2nd-generation X6 was clearly a "brother of X5" looks-wise, the new version is plenty of distinctive road presence.
Style is just one part of the equation when it comes to the G06-generation BMW X6 – it also has plenty of substance, some surprising smarts, and a level of charm to it, too. However, does the Munich-based firm's premium SUV coupe have what it takes to remain a standout offering in the rarefied boutique luxury "off-roader" space, considering rivals such as the Porsche Cayenne Coupe, Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe, and Audi Q8?
The bold – and the beautiful?
The X6 has always been a car that you either "get", or you don’t. When the 1st-gen model was launched in 2008, its design was widely considered "too out there", the 2nd-generation – which many thought might not happen – was comparatively derivative of its X5 sibling (but still no beauty queen) and this (3rd) one, well, I guess it's landed somewhere in the middle. Clearly, enough people out there understand the intent of the X6, because BMW has built and sold about half a million X6s over the years.
In M Sport guise, the X6's rear apron features extensive dark cladding around the stylised exhaust tip cutouts.
The G06-generation X6 still has that now-trademark sloping roof design, a dead giveaway that you’re not looking at a BMW X5, but there are also some new, more aggressive design elements (to especially the front of the car) that are clearly intended to make it appear more sporty, macho and – undoubtedly – more appealing to Chinese buyers.
As BMW’s Chinese website (translated by Google) puts it: “The distinctive design philosophy outlines a stern gesture, and the dazzling light curtain grille shows its handsome temperament, and it gives off a stunning charm between movement and silence.” Purple prose indeed.
Would you believe the uprights in the grille come with their own LED detailing? Talk about purposely drawing attention to oneself...
That illuminated kidney grille is an intriguing part of the look: hidden LEDs add an extra bit of visual bling to the front end, though if that’s the shape of your kidneys you’d best get to the doctor in a hurry. Below is a bumper with big air intake sections, and the headlights feature a distinctive, on-brand LED signature.
The roofline aside, it looks pretty smart in profile. It’s bigger than ever before, measuring 4 935 mm in length (on a 2 975 mm wheelbase), 2 004 mm in width, 1 696 mm in height and the claimed luggage capacity has increased by 30 litres to 580L (or up to 1 530 litres with the 40:20:40 split-fold rear seat stowed).
Some will find the familiar X5 cabin architecture welcome, others may find it too predictable in something as wildly-styled as the X6.
The rear is where the arguments will probably start. Not just because of the roof, but because the mix of horizontal and vertical lines is rather confronting. The new tail-light styling isn’t to all tastes, but it does add to that broader look, while the sharp, angular breather lines behind the wheels in the rear bumper are, well, eye-catching.
But one has to appreciate a bold car design for what it is: utterly subjective... you have to consider it relative to the styling of rival products in the market upon its commercial release. You might absolutely adore the look of this vehicle, or, like me, think it’s horrible. But things are more appealing and arguably more palatable on the inside...
If you're not going to fit the now well-known Swarovski-crystal transmission lever in an X6, you may as well not offer it at all!
Some regard the interior of the X6 too derivative and humdrum (considering its target market), but I appreciate just how close it is to the plush BMW X5 cabin design. The dashboard doesn’t have the same hard-edged high-tech look that, say, a Mercedes-Benz GLE does, but it still has a 12.3-inch display in front of the driver and a second 12.3-inch unit for media controls, and while there’s Apple CarPlay available, Android Auto is still omitted.
I actually admire how BMW has stayed true to its traditional interior design and not opted for excessive touchscreen controls for the climate control interface, or flat panel-style screens that dominate the dash. And there are neat elements such as ambient lighting to keep the kids happy, plus a voice control system with a “Hey, BMW” speech interface.
Rear occupants are afforded a comfortable bench seat with reasonable legroom, but, as expected, headroom is less than plentiful.
Indeed, the controls all fall easily to hand, everything is logically and ergonomically positioned for the most part (I found myself having to occasionally glance down at the central rotary controller to make sure I was pushing the correct button surrounding it), and the materials and finishes are of the quality you’d expect of the Bavarian marque.
The screen also houses some innovative tech, including the excellent surround-view camera system, which can now also be teamed up to the downloadable Drive Recorder dash camera system, which uses all four cameras (front, 2x side, rear) to monitor the car’s surroundings. It’s a great safety feature, especially among the rest of technologies: autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot monitor, cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping assist and steering assist, adaptive cruise control, high-beam assist and parking sensors.
The X6's luggage area was never going to be as practical as that of its X5 brother, but it's more than big enough for a weekend's luggage.
Aft occupants are afforded reasonable comfort, with ample legroom and toe room for adults of my size (1.82 metres), though anyone taller than that might struggle for headroom; what's more, those beanpoles will need to watch their heads as they get in and out of the rear seat.
While the cargo space mightn’t be huge – the X6 is clearly not as practical as an SUV with a boxier backside – there is enough to store a couple of week-away suitcases for a couple, or a pram plus the excess baggage you need if you’ve got a youngster.
Although not part of the local launch line-up, I drove the xDrive30d derivative in Australia. It’s powered by a 3.0-litre straight-6 turbodiesel engine with 195 kW and 620 Nm, all of which is enough to slingshot this 2 110-kg bruiser cruiser from 0 to 100 kph in 6.5 seconds. In Mzansi, the entry-level version is the xDrive40i powered by a 3.0-litre straight-6 turbopetrol with 250 kW and 450 Nm. It will get you to 100 kph a second quicker, but it produces 170 Nm less than its sibling and is thirstier, so it's a bit of a strange choice...
BMW didn't fit the X3 M40i's 265 kW/500 Nm motor in the xDrive40i, so it has to make do with a 250 kW/450 Nm 3.0-litre straight-6.
Something tells me, however, that the all-guns-blazing M50i, with a thumping 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 producing 390 kW and 750 Nm and capable of finding the horizon in just 4.3 seconds, will be very popular in Mzansi. Of course, around May, the X6 M will arrive in standard (441 kW) and/or Competition (460 kW) configuration(s). Both engine tunings produce a similar peak torque number (750 Nm), and the motor will readily spin to 7 200 rpm. How fast, did you say? Depending on which version you buy/is offered in South Africa, the 0 to 100 kph sprint will be dispatched in around 3.8 or 3.9 seconds, which is absolutely astonishing for a 2 295 kg machine. It would take some stopping too!
All derivatives come equipped with an 8-speed Sport Steptronic automatic transmission and, of course, the fact they all have that little ‘x’ at the start of their nomenclatures means they're all-wheel driven. In Australia, the X6 is available with an integrated towing hitch receiver, and the towing capacity is rated at 750 kg for an unbraked trailer, and 3 500 kg for a braked trailer – though the tow-ball down-weight limit is 280 kg. Fuel consumption is claimed at 9.0 L/100 km for the 40i and 11.5 L/100 km for the M50i.
Not that it would matter all that much to image-conscious buyers, but the ride quality on 22-inch wheels and rubber is quite firm.
The drive to succeed?
I’ve long been a fan of BMW's straight-6 turbodiesel (every time I've driven an xDrive30d derivative I've come away thinking, “Would you really need any more than that?”). It’s a smooth, gutsy, refined and tractable motor, with a lovely character to the way it revs, and none of that clatter you find in other turbodiesel SUVs. The eight-speed auto does a tremendous job of choosing the correct ratio for the situation, and during my time in the 30d, the 'box shifted smoothly and smartly, no matter where I was pottering around town at urban speeds, thumping the throttle to get moving more rapidly, or sauntering on the highway. This is a drivetrain that simply ticks the boxes you’d expect of a luxury SUV.
It’s also very quiet inside the X6 cabin – at freeway pace (that's 110 kph here in Australia) – there was barely a hint of wind noise and road roar, even with the oversized 22-inch wheels fitted to the test vehicle I piloted.
As before, the BMW X6 is a great long-distance mile-eater; its 8-speed automatic transmission remains a highlight of the package.
There are other ways, however, that the X6 doesn’t quite feel as plush as it could. Those big wheels – fitted with 275/35 front and 315/30 rear rubber – can make the ride feel rather abrupt over sharp-edged sections of road, even though they don’t come wrapped in run-flat tyres. They instead run Pirelli P Zero tyres, which are superbly grippy and allow excellent handling in twisty sections, and the steering has lovely weight and feel to it, and is certainly more satisfying to steer than the previous-generation version.
Even with Adaptive M Suspension and Dynamic Damper Control set to Comfort mode, the ride was harsher than I expected. When the road smoothens out and the traffic clears, however, I revel in the chance to engage Sport, which sharpens the throttle response, plus it makes the 'box shift more decisively and the steering a trifle weightier.
The 3rd-generation BMW X6 certainly ups the ante in terms of aggressive design, and it is a smarter, more high-tech and arguably more agreeable model than any X6 that preceded it. I would personally suggest the Audi Q8 is a superior offering – if only because it’s not so divisive to look at – though I could be missing the point of this type of boutique luxury "off-roader" completely by saying that. Suffice to say, you won’t see me rocking a Prada tracksuit, Gucci day pack or Balenciaga hi-tops anytime soon.