The BMW X6 blurs the line between car and SUV and for this reason is known as a crossover. The X6 is much more car than sport-utility. We think of it as a high-riding car, a four-passenger, four-door coupe, a combination sports car and SUV. We call it a coupe-like SUV thing. Or an SUV-like coupe thing. BMW calls the X6 a Sports Activity Coupe.
For 2010, the BMW X6 M joins the lineup, which includes the X6 xDrive35i and X6 xDrive50i models. M is easier to remember, but the other models are nice to drive and there's no need to cite these model designation.
The new BMW X6 M uses a more powerful version of the 4.4-liter V8 from the xDrive50i model tuned to a whopping 555 horsepower. X6 M comes standard with BMW's xDrive all-wheel-drive system, stiffer suspension, sport seats, and various exterior cues that show this vehicle means business, and that its business is performance.
All BMW X6 engines are twin-turbocharged with inline-6 or V8 power, and all provide ample power for everyday use and even for towing. The V8s make 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. The new X6 M handles and stops even better.
Inside, the ambience is upscale, with lots of leather and soft-touch surfaces. BMW's iDrive control system is standard. Now in its fourth generation, iDrive can still complicate some interior controls but this version is easier to use and more intuitive. It also features programmable buttons to provide one-touch control of some of your favorite functions.
Front-seat passengers have plenty of room. Drivers of the M are hugged by thickly bolstered sport seats. M drivers also get a sporty M steering wheel and unique gauges. In all models, visibility to the rear is restricted by a small, flat rear window. Two rear-seat occupants should be comfortable, 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 defies categorization. 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 50i and M models. We recommend the six-cylinder 35i model.
New for the 2010 X6 are some equipment upgrades and changes in the packaging. A power tailgate and HD radio are now standard, and automatic high beam headlights are offered as a stand-alone option. The rear-view camera adds a Top View feature and X6s with iDrive get the fourth generation of the system, which includes an 8.8-inch screen and an 80-gigabyte hard-drive to hold navigation information and music files.
Coming in fall 2010 is the X6 ActiveHybrid. The hybrid will be powered by the same twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8 from the xDrive 50i, a nickel-metal hydride battery pack, and two electric motors inside a dual-mode hybrid transmission. The transmission, which was developed with GM, Chrysler and Mercedes, uses three planetary gearsets and four multi-plate clutches; BMW calls it a seven-speed automatic. BMW says the X6 ActiveHybrid can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds and it will get about 24 mpg.
The BMW X6 was the first of its kind. Until Acura introduced the ZDX, there were 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. The M model sits 0.4 inch lower than the others.
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. The two main line models have fog lights in the air intake openings, but the M does not. The M also has a different, more angular lower fascia.
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 M differs from the other two models with BMW's signature gills behind the front wheels and with a unique 20-inch wheel design.
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. Again, the M model has a unique appearance. It features a different lower fascia with an integral rear diffuser that surrounds quad exhaust outlets.
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.
No matter the model, 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. Base models have white needles and the M has red 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 provides eight programmable buttons so specific radio stations, navigation destinations, and telephone numbers can be accessed instantly.
iDrive, now in its fourth generation, is controlled via a round aluminum knob on the center console. With this generation, the system has Menu, CD, Radio, Tel, Nav, Back, and Option buttons surrounding the control knob. The previous generation had only a Menu button. This system controls navigation, communication, climate, and entertainment functions. It can still require several steps to perform various functions, making tasks like finding a new radio station overly complicated, but we find the latest generation easier to use than its predecessor. We also found that it becomes easier once you get used to it.
For 2010, BMW adds a Top View display to its rearview camera. The top view also allows you to see the side of the vehicle when backing up, making it easier to parallel park. In this case, more information is more helpful and not distracting. The navigation system also comes with an 80-gigabyte hard drive this year, 15 gigs of which can be used to store music files.
In the M model, drivers can also control the M Drive settings through the iDrive system. Chose the settings for the Electronic Damper Control, Dynamic Stability Control, Power (throttle mapping and transmission shift points), and Head-up Display in various iDrive screens and they will all be used when you press the M button on the steering wheel. These controls allow you to firm up the suspension, leave more room for play in the stability control system, increase throttle response, adjust shift points and add a rev counter warning in the optional Head-up display to inform you when to shift manually if you're using the automatic transmission's M (manual) mode.
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 M's sport seats have deeper bolstering, but we didn't find it too intrusive. 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. 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, but the lack of a center position limits the X6's usefulness for families.
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.
All BMW X6 models come standard with xDrive all-wheel drive, which varies the power between the front and rear axles electronically. The X6 was also the first BMW with 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. It's hard to feel the system operate, but we swear we could feel it pulling us through a corner on Road Atlanta in the X6 M.
All X6 models handle well, but they don'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-plus pounds. A 5 Series sedan, by comparison, weighs less than 4,000 pounds. However, the X6 handles better than it should for its size and weight, especially the M.
We've driven X6 M, xDrive 35i and xDrive50i. Both base models were outfitted with the Sport Package with Adaptive Drive/Active Roll Stabilization and 20-inch wheels with run-flat tires. The M comes with stiffer suspension settings, self-leveling rear springs, adjustable shock absorbers, specially developed power steering with Normal and Sport modes, and massive brakes. We found that all models have capable suspensions that combine with Active Roll Stabilization to help them corner flatter than any SUV. However, even the X6 M has more body lean and tire squeal than you'd get in a BMW 3 Series.
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 reacts harshly to sharp bumps and the ride is 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 407 horsepower from 5500 to 6400 rpm and 450 pound-feet of torque from 1750-4500 rpm. BMW says the V8 is capable of launching 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 X6 M uses a version of the same twin-turbocharged engine, but it has its own pistons, camshafts and cooling system. It also uses a unique crossover exhaust manifold that pairs cylinders on opposite sides of the firing order to produce a more constant air flow that results in even less turbo lag than the already impressive 50i engine. The result is 555 horsepower from 5750 to 6000 rpm and 500 pound-feet of torque from 1500 to 5650 rpm. On the road, the X6 M has the immediate grunt that the 50i lacks, and a stab of the throttle provides a further rush of acceleration. BMW says the X6 M can go from a standstill to 60 mph in just 4.5 seconds, and that number feels right. That's impressive for a 5324 pound vehicle. In fact, it's a tenth of a second quicker than the much lighter, though not turbocharged, M3.
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 306 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 cost difference between the inline-6 and V8, we'd recommend the 3.0-liter six-cylinder, as it makes as much power as we need and provides better mileage.
All 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. There is a Sport mode, though, that holds gears longer for performance driving. We found the transmission to be in the right gear 95 percent of the time during racetrack driving with the transmission in Sport mode and the M Drive in the Power setting. There is also an M mode that drivers can use when they definitely want to pick their own gears. Why bother, though. Just leave it in D, pick your gears when you want and let the transmission shift back to Drive when you aren't interested in shifting.
The gearshift is also a bit odd. Instead of the familiar gated PRNDL, it remains stationary and the driver hits a button and bumps it forward for Reverse, backward for Drive or to the left for the M (Manual) and S (Sport) modes. 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 also like the X6's brakes. A racetrack is the best test of brakes, and we heated them up pretty good in several laps of spirited driving. We drove the base models on a shorter racetrack with speeds that didn't exceed 100 mph and the brakes remained strong with no appreciable fade. The X6 M has larger brakes and we put them to the test on the longer, higher speed circuit at Road Atlanta. The brakes performed admirably initially, but began to fade after numerous full braking maneuvers from 140 mph. You'll never brake that hard that often on the street, though (at least you shouldn't). In anything other than these extreme conditions, the brakes are easy to modulate and the X6 remains composed and stable during emergency braking.
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. The new X6 M is a true hot rod that handles better than a tall vehicle should, but it's high price will keep it off of most shopping lists.
Kirk Bell filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drive of the X6 in South Carolina and Atlanta.