BMW X6 xDrive35i Steptronic (2008) Driving Impression

BMW X6 2008

Polarising… that’s a polite word to describe reactions to the new controversial BMW X6. “It is absolutely stunning,” was overhead just as much as, “was it designed/inspired by SsangYong?” You get the point… Based on the very successful X5 SUV, but boasting swoopy coupe-like styling, the BMW X6 creates an all-new niche. Or does it? Heard of the SsangYong Actyon, anyone? Listen to BMW’s reasoning, however, and it starts to make rather a lot of sense. Vehicles such as Porsche’s Cayenne and the Range Rover Sport don’t sell because they’re massively practical or off-road capable. Road-biased handling, performance and a huge dollop of look-at-me appeal are the key ingredients. And the BMW X6, possesses more of all of those…

BMW X6 has love me, hate me attitude

A picture tells a thousand words… but perhaps doesn’t quite manage to convey the drama of seeing a BMW X6 in the metal for the first time. The face is very reminiscent of the X5, but from there on backwards it is very different. What gets you first is the masculinity of the thing – the wheels are large 19-inch items and the bodywork bulges like pumped-up muscles over the arches. The roofline is pure coupe, and the rear screen very large and very steeply raked. Contributing to the imposing presence is the surprisingly high ground clearance of 215 mm. The interior is not nearly as dramatic, being pretty much standard X5 fare in terms of its facia design. This is not necessarily a criticism. The quality is very good, and the minimalistic approach admirable. Stand-out features include very neat paddle shifters and BMW’s classy and easy-to-use (with familiarity) pistol-grip gearlever.

The BMW X6 wheelbase is a very lengthy 2 933 mm, but even so some will be concerned that the rakish roofline would have impacted interior space. Good news… it’s not the case at all! Yes, BMW has tailored the rear seat for two only, but headroom is surprisingly good, and so is the legroom. Even the boot is big, so BMW’s interior packaging experts should truly be applauded. The BMW X6 could quite comfortably fulfil a family vehicle role, provided it is for a family of four. Although BMW offers a vast list of personalisation options, the standard features package is comprehensive and includes four-zone climate control, auto lights/wipers, cruise control, leather upholstery, electric seat adjustment, keyless entry, front/rear park assistance and a really top-notch audio system. You pay extra for satellite navigation, however. Six airbags are fitted, but more eye-popping is the number electronic driver assistance systems – more on those later.

Very Speedy

Although this BMW X6 uses the same 3,0-litre, turbocharged, six-cylinder that does such brilliant things in the 335i, take note that this muscular SUV weighs in at a hefty 2 145 kg. Nevertheless, through lots of electronic wizardry, the BMW X6 xDrive35i is a massively fast vehicle. It sprints to 100 km/h in 6,7 seconds and has a 240 km/h top speed, but most impressive is the flexibility of the engine – the full 400 Nm of torque is available from 1 300 to 5 000 rpm. The excellent six-speed automatic transmission plays a big part in the responsiveness of the drivetrain – the gear ratios are truly well-matched to the engine. And perhaps best of all, the refinement is superb. There is a price to pay for the exceptional performance though… you’ll do well to average 12 L/100 km!

The benchmark by which all performance SUVs are judged remains Porsche’s impeccable Cayenne, and BMW has certainly thrown everything in its arsenal at the X6 to try and make sure that it can corner with the Porsche. It utilises self-levelling suspension with a multi-link arrangement at the rear as its platform, but then adds a raft of confidence-boosting electronic systems. Dynamic Performance Control (DPC), for example, is a new attempt at recreating the effects of a limited slip differential at the rear. DPC is integrated into the Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) system along with a number of other features.

And let’s not forget that the BMW X6 is a full-time all-wheel drive vehicle… The xDrive system distributes its power via a multi-plate clutch and, while the power split is usually 40:60 front to rear, it can divert power instantaneously to where it can best be utilised. The emphasis is not on off-road ability, of course, but on traction and grip when the surface deteriorates or gets slippery. And boy does it all work – the BMW X6 feels phenomenally stable at speed, and yet also remarkably agile for such a big vehicle. It runs the Cayenne very, very close in terms of providing dynamic thrills. Where the Porsche beats it is in its suppleness. The Cayenne boasts the ability to corner like a sports car, but to also ride like a luxury sedan. The BMW can’t quite pull off the latter feat as convincingly. But it’s very close.

BMW X6 - Verdict

“Don’t judge a book by its cover,” the saying goes. The BMW X6 appears to have offended some observers by its mere existence, but these traditionalists must get over themselves. The dramatic looks hide a surprisingly practical cabin (for four), and the X6’s dynamic ability and performance are very close to being best in class. You’re not going to go very far off-road, of course, but luxury SUVs haven’t been about that for a very long time. We suspect the BMW X6 will do very well, and that other brands will inevitably follow in its wide wheel tracks.

We like:

• Quirky looks • Excellent engine • Grip and handling • Surprisingly comfortable, spacious cabin (for four)

We don’t like:

• Quite pricey • Ride slightly too unyielding

Fast Facts:

Engine: 3,0-litre, six-cylinder, turbopetrol Power: 225 kW @ 5 800 rpm Torque: 400 N.m @ 1 300 rpm Transmission: Six-speed automatic Wheels: 19-inch alloy Top speed: 240 km/h 0-100 km/h: 6,7 seconds Fuel economy: 12,1 litres/100 km


Also consider:

Porsche Cayenne V8 S Tiptronic: Remains a fearsomely desirable and extremely capable SUV that is particularly impressive when driven with purpose. Plus, the cabin is beautifully made and it can even go off-road.

Range Rover Sport 4,4 V8: A clear target for the BMW X6, even though they go about luring their buyers in very different ways. This V8 model’s power outputs are similar and it is bigger inside as well as more capable off-road. Not as adept on tar, though.

Mercedes-Benz ML500 7G-tronic: Brand new on the market, more expensive and not as overtly sporty, but no longer as bland either. First indications are that the ML is a potential class leader in the SUV segment, but it is unlikely to appeal to the individualist in the same way as an BMW X6.