2009 BMW X6 Expert Reviews

Expert Reviews

2009 BMW X6

New Car Test Drive
© 2009 NewCarTestDrive.com

So called crossover SUVs are becoming more like cars and the BMW X6 pushed this idea further with the X6. BMW calls it a Sports Activity Coupe. The BMW X6 is a high-riding, four-passenger, four-door coupe, a combination of sports car and SUV.

The X6 is offered in two twin-turbocharged models, with inline-6 or V8 power. Both engines provide ample power for everyday use and even for towing. The V8 makes the X6 a hot rod, but we recommend the inline-6 because it has plenty of pep and is more fuel efficient. Shifter paddles on the steering wheel add to the sporty character of the X6.

We found the X6 handles well on the road and on the track. It's better than any SUV but not as good as BMW's own sporty coupes and sport roadsters. It corners with little body lean, but the stiff suspension makes the ride somewhat harsh, especially with the Sport Package and optional 20-inch wheels. We recommend buyers test these options before they buy.

Inside, the ambience is upscale, with lots of leather and soft-touch surfaces. BMW's iDrive control system is standard. It can complicate some interior controls, but programmable buttons are provided to ease control of some of your favorite functions.

Front-seat passengers have plenty of room, though visibility to the rear is restricted by a small, flat rear window. Two rear-seat occupants should be comfortable, too, provided they're not tall.

The rear hatch lifts up and the rear seat folds down to give the X6 a nice amount of cargo storage space. It's on par with other hatchbacks but isn't as good as an SUV. Also, the liftover is higher, so you'll have to lift cargo higher when loading.

The X6 was all-new for 2008, and only minor changes in equipment have been made for 2009: A power liftgate has been added to the Premium Package, and the Cold Weather Package now comes with heated seats for everyone, not just the front-seat passengers.

It's hard to pigeonhole the X6. It rides high, so it doesn't handle as well as a sport coupe, and it doesn't have the cargo and people carrying capacity of an SUV. Overall, it's a fine vehicle. Pricing is high, especially for the V8 model, so we recommend the six-cylinder model for anyone considering this vehicle.

The 2009 BMW X6 is offered in two models, both with xDrive all-wheel drive. The X6 xDrive35i uses BMW's twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 that makes 300 horsepower. It is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission that can be controlled manually via the shifter or a pair of steering wheel paddles. xDrive is meant for street use and lacks low-range gearing.

Model Lineup

BMW X6 xdrive35i ($55,900); X6 xdrive50i ($66,650)

Walk Around

The BMW X6 is in a class by itself. That's not a value judgment. It really is in a class by itself. There are no other raised four-door coupe/SUVs on the market.

The X6 shares its basic architecture with the X5 SUV (or SAV for Sports Activity Vehicle in BMW parlance), but it is modified for the X6. The wheelbase is the same, but the X6 is about two inches wider and the rear track is 2.2 inches wider. The X6's coupe-like body design also makes it three inches lower than the X5. The X6's raised ride height (with a ground clearance of 8.5 inches) means it is classified as a truck.

On the road, the X6 has a definite presence. For starters, there's the twin-kidney BMW grille. The X6 differs from the X5 and announces its performance character with lots of front end cooling. A small mesh grille is located beneath the twin kidney grilles and a larger lower air intake, also with a mesh grille, is found along the bottom of the front fascia. More noticeable are two massive air intakes that house round fog lights located beneath the cat's eye-style headlights.

It's from the side that the X6 makes its biggest statement. If you would only see the X6 from the beltline down, you'd think it's an SUV. After all, the wheelwells house massive tires, yet the wheel openings are so massive that there is plenty of air around the tires. It's the greenhouse, however, that defines the vehicle. The roof reaches the peak of its height just behind the windshield and steadily slopes down to the rear end where it culminates in a built-in spoiler. When viewed from the rear, this spoiler is part of the hatchback and it resembles the high trunk that debuted on the 7 Series.

The rear view shows a wide, rounded shape. It doesn't look quite like a sports car, though, because the rear end is fairly tall and chunky, not sleek and slim like a BMW 6 Series or Porsche 911. Nonetheless, like a sports car, the high rear end and sloped roof give the X6 the look of a predator hunched and ready to attack.

Interior

The overall ambience of the BMW X6 cabin is decidedly upscale. Just about every BMW has a nice, if somewhat staid, interior, but the X6 is more luxurious than most of the line. Soft-touch surfaces abound and the few plastics that are to be found are solid and tastefully finished. The standard dash is nicely padded, and is even nicer with the optional leather covering. Real wood trim is used throughout.

The driver grips a substantial steering wheel with aluminum shift paddles and looks upon a hooded instrument cluster that features a prominent speedometer and tachometer. Outlined in silver, the gauges feature black faces with white numbers and needles. Inset and shrouded, the gauges are easy to read, as is the digital trip computer information that is displayed between the two gauges. The trip computer information is accessed through a button on the turn signal stalk.

To the driver's right is the center stack, which features an 8.8-inch screen that displays the navigation map (when navigation is ordered) and other functions of BMW's iDrive control system. Below the screen are two vents, a set of climate control buttons, and the radio controls. The radio controls are set low, and we had to momentarily take our eyes off the road to adjust the radio. Standard steering wheel controls help here, though. BMW also provided eight programmable buttons so specific radio stations, navigation destinations, and telephone numbers can be accessed instantly.

iDrive is controlled via a round aluminum knob and Menu button that both fall easily to hand on the center console. This system controls navigation, communication, climate, and entertainment functions. The iDrive system can require several steps to perform various functions, making tasks like finding a new radio station overly complicated, but we've found that it becomes easier once you get used to it.

The center console also features two cupholders covered by a shade in front of the shift knob, a small cubby to hold items such as change or a cell phone, and a deep console bin that is padded in leather when you order the leather dashboard. Knee pads on either side of the center console help keep passengers from banging their knees when the driver decides to charge hard into turns.

The driver's seating position is high like that of an SUV. There is plenty of head and leg room and the multi-adjustable seats should allow anyone to find a comfortable driving position. The front passenger has good room, too, but a long-legged colleague noted that the footwell's limited leg room meant he had to put the seat farther back than usual. Visibility to the rear is blocked by the sloped roofline, but the large mirrors help make up for that with a good view to the sides and rear.

The rear seat is fairly comfortable, though it only has seating for two, which leaves a lot of hip and shoulder room. Head room is generally good, though it starts to go away if you lean back or are quite tall. Leg room is good until the front seats are moved more than halfway back. Occupants in back have a handy center tray with two cupholders and a shallow tray with a rubberized bottom for holding small items. Getting in and out of the back is a little tough, as the door openings are small, requiring occupants to twist their ankles and turn sideways to slide in and out. Generally, the rear seat makes the X6 comfortable for four adults.

For cargo, the rear seat folds down 60/40 to create a mostly flat load floor. A pass-through for skis and other long items can be loaded without restricting passenger capacity. With the seats up, there is 25.6 cubic feet of cargo space, about the same as your average hatchback. That's appropriate because the X6 really is a hatchback. With the seats down, there's 59.7 cubic feet of cargo room, which is about the same as a 5 Series wagon. The rear hatch lifts in one piece, but the load floor is rather high and the coupe-like roof limits the height of packages that can be loaded. Overall, the X6 has the cargo flexibility of a typical hatchback, which is good, but it is not as spacious as most small SUVs.

Driving Impressions

All BMW X6 models come standard with xDrive all-wheel drive, which varies the power between the front and rear axles electronically. The X6 marks the debut of Dynamic Performance Control. DPC uses two planetary gear sets and two clutch packs in the rear differential to multiply torque to individual rear wheels. Sending more power to an outside wheel helps steer the vehicle through turns. We couldn't feel system working, even when we drove the X6 on a racetrack, but we can say the X6 handled impressively.

That statement is made with a caveat. While the X6 handles well, it doesn't feel like a sports car, due mostly to the high center of gravity. There's just no getting around mass, and the X6 weighs around 5,000 pounds. A 5 Series sedan, by comparison, weighs less than 4,000 pounds.

While we've driven V8 and six-cylinder models, all of them have been outfitted with the Sport Package with Adaptive Drive/Active Roll Stabilization, and 20-inch wheels with run-flat tires. We found that both the xDrive35i and xDrive50i had stiff suspension settings that combined with Active Roll Stabilization to help them corner flatter than any SUV. However, even with the Sport Package, the X6 has more body lean and tire squeal than you'd get in a BMW 3 Series. So don't expect the X6 to match the handling of a sports sedan.

We found the stiff suspension settings and short sidewalls on the X6s we drove can take their toll on rough roads. Even with the Electronic Damping Control in the Comfort setting, the X6 reacted harshly to sharp bumps and the ride was generally stiffer than many drivers would prefer for everyday use. We're guessing the standard 19-inch wheels and tires will help provide a softer ride, but they're still run-flat tires with short, stiff sidewalls, so we recommend you test drive the X6 before you buy to make sure you can live with the ride.

A 4.4-liter twin-turbocharged V8 engine comes in the X6 xDrive50i. It makes 400 horsepower from 5500 to 6400 rpm and 450 pound-feet of torque from 1750-4500 rpm. BMW says the V8 is capable of powering the X6 from 0 to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds. It certainly feels that quick. The 4.4-liter turbo doesn't have the immediate grunt from a stop of a larger V8, but after initial throttle application it makes power quickly and keeps it coming. Passing is a breeze, and the 4.4-liter V8 provides more power than you'll need for most purposes. Properly equipped, the xDrive50i can tow an impressive 7700 pounds.

The six-cylinder engine in the X6 xdrive35i isn't too shabby, either. It's BMW's twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6, which produces 300 horsepower from 5800 to 6250 rpm and 300 pound-feet of torque from 1400-5000 rpm. According to BMW, this engine makes the X6 capable of a 6.5 second 0-60 mph time, which is quite quick for a vehicle of this size. The six-cylinder returns decent EPA fuel economy ratings of 15 mpg City and 20 mpg Highway. With the towing package, the xDrive35i can tow a substantial 5940 pounds. Given the $10,750 cost difference, we'd recommend the 3.0-liter six, as it makes as much power as we need and provides better mileage.

Both engines work through a responsive six-speed automatic transmission. Drivers can shift manually via a pair of standard aluminum steering wheel shift paddles or through the gearshift. Tapping the paddles up or down shifts gears automatically; there is no need to put the gearshift in a sport mode. That gearshift, however, is a bit odd. Instead of the familiar gated PRNDL, it remains stationary and the driver hits a button and bumps it forward for Reverse or backward for Drive. Another button puts it in Park. It takes some time to get used to, but it takes up less space, which BMW uses for cupholders and small items storage.

Optional Active Steering varies the steering ratio based on speed. Active Steering makes the X6 easy to maneuver in tight quarters and keeps it stable at speed. We like it.

We liked the X6 brakes. A racetrack is the best test of brakes, and we heated them up pretty good in several laps. They remained strong, with no fade or pulsing evident. In hard stops on the track and the road, the X6 remained composed and stable, even coming down from more than 100 mph.

Like most BMWs, the BMW X6 is a fine automobile. It rides high like an SUV; it's fast; it handles well; and it's comfortable inside. Ride quality is a bit harsh, the price of admission is high, and compared to an SUV it has limited space inside for passengers and cargo.

Kirk Bell filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drive of the X6 in South Carolina.

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