The BMW X6 is completely redesigned for the 2015 model year, marking the second generation of what BMW calls its first Sports Activity Coupe. Rear-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive versions are available.
Built on the same bones as the utilitarian X5, the four-passenger BMW X6 challenges traditional notions of utility vehicles with its low, coupe-like roofline and refined driving dynamics, while retaining a high seating position and increased ground clearance of an SUV. But while the X6’s sleeker shape certainly makes it more alluring than its more upright counterpart, it also makes it less practical, with reduced rear headroom and cargo space in comparison.
The BMW X6 performs better than most SUVs, staying surprisingly composed around demanding corners and over steep, rocky terrain.
Entry-level models are powered by a 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6, good for 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque. Choices include the rear-wheel-drive BMW X6 sDrive35i, and the all-wheel-drive BMW X6 xDrive 35i.
A 4.4-liter twin-turbocharged V8 powers the BMW X6 xDrive50i, with a hearty 445 hp and 480 lb.-ft. of torque. All variants get an 8-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters.
The new BMW X6 M takes things to whole new level. While standard versions of the X6 can’t handle the track like a true sports coupe, the X6 M is not only up to the task, it’s faster than many smaller, lighter performance cars. With a specially tuned version of BMW’s 4.4-liter twin-scroll, twin-turbo V8, the X6 M cranks out 567 hp and 553 lb.-ft. of torque. This permits the X6 M to bolt from 0-60 mph in just 4.0 seconds. A new 8-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters is standard. All X6 M vehicles use BMW’s xDrive all-wheel-drive system.
Perhaps more impressive than the speed and power of the BMW X6 M is the engineering wizardry that keeps this nearly 5,200-pound vehicle centered, stable and highly tossable in the most extreme conditions. A bevvy of mechanical and electronic components work together to make the X6 M feel surprisingly nimble and responsive on the racetrack, including a sport-tuned suspension and chassis, a sophisticated all-wheel-drive logic system and an optimized stability control system. Exhaust and cooling systems have also been upgraded and modified from the base X6.
Inside, the 2015 BMW X6 gets vast improvements in interior design and materials over the previous versions, as well as new standard features. Among them: a digital instrument cluster display, Bluetooth audio streaming and an automatic tailgate. Rear seats get increased headroom and two more inches of rear legroom, making the second-generation, 2015 X6 a more realistic choice for carrying backseat passengers.
A new suite of optional safety features make their way to the 2015 BMW X6, including lane departure warning and a pedestrian and collision warning system; the Active Driving Assistant uses active cruise control and a front camera to automatically start and stop the car in slow-moving stop-and-go traffic. BMW’s Night Vision can detect people and animals on dark roads and display their outlines on the center display screen.
Thanks to improved efficiency and aerodynamics, the 2015 BMW X6 achieves better fuel economy over the outgoing model. The rear-wheel-drive X6 sDrive35i achieve 19/23 mpg City Highway, while the all-wheel-drive X6 xDrive35i is rated at 18/27 mpg City/Highway, up from 17/24 previously. V8-powered X6 xDrive50i models achieve 15/22 mpg City/Highway, up from 14/21. Fuel economy for the 2015 X6 M are 14/19 mpg, an improvement from the previous generation’s rating of 13/17.
BMW X6 models are at their best when loaded up with pricey options such as the Dynamic Handling Package, which uses torque vectoring control to automatically vary the power sent to each wheel for maximum stability and traction. Optional air suspension, the adaptive M Sport suspension and active steering noticeably improve performance and handling, but add thousands to the sticker price.
Until now, competitors to the BMW X6 were virtually nonexistent, but other manufacturers have begun to try their hands at this segment, including Land Rover with its new Range Rover Sport and Mercedes-Benz with its all-new MLC-Class.
Highly sculptured lines and dramatic creases give the 2015 X6 a bolder look over its predecessor. The signature BMW twin kidney grille, headlight assemblies and hood are shared with the X5, which was redesigned last year. The front end is more upright compared with its predecessor, creating an almost shark-nose profile. Headlights are now connected to the front grille. Round, third-eye LED foglights sit below near the outside corners. Like all BMW X vehicles, the front bumper and lower air intakes create an X shape.
From the side, the 2015 X6's more upright proportions are evident, with its long hood, short overhangs and low roofline. Defined lines give the X6 a multi-dimensional quality. The side air breather, the vertical air outlet behind the front fender, channels air from the wheels down the side of the car for improved aerodynamics. A deep, sculpted rising character line arches from below the rear door handle and seamlessly into the wraparound taillights. A variety of 19- and 20-inch wheels are available, depending on the model.
In the rear, the X6 is high and wide, with broad shoulders and a high trunk. Broad wraparound LED taillights create BMW's signature L-shape. Horizontal trim pieces in the rear bumper help to break up the X6's height. Dual, integrated exhaust tips are round on base 35i models, and rhomboid-shaped on the V8-powered 50i.
The cabin of the 2015 X6 is tasteful and modern, with many improvements in materials and finishes compared with the outgoing model. Soft-touch surfaces abound and the few plastics that are to be found are solid and tastefully finished. A variety of finishes and trims on the instrument panel creates dimension, without looking too busy (a pitfall to which some BMW vehicles fall victim).
Like all BMW X vehicles, the X6 has a high seating position that gives drivers and passengers a commanding view. Leather upholstery is standard, and seats are comfortable and have a wide range of adjustability. Sport seats with the M Sport package have extra bolstering for better support around corners.
As with all BMW's, the cockpit is driver-oriented, with all controls within easy reach, from the center stack and standard iDrive console to the multiple buttons on the thick steering wheel. A new digital instrument cluster display comes standard on all models, and changes color scheme depending on mode, blue for eco-plus and red for sport.
Navigation and BMW's widescreen freestanding color display come standard, as well as BMW Apps and BMW Online, which allow users to access a variety of applications and real-time information via their compatible iPhone or Android-powered smartphones. A touchpad surface on top of the iDrive rotary knob makes it easier to enter information by drawing letters and numbers, instead of scrolling through what sometimes seems an endless screen of characters.
In addition to the entertainment and information options, the BMW X6 can be equipped with a front-view camera, which is helpful during off-roading to make sure no obstacles are in the way; though we doubt many owners will use the car for traipsing up rocky inclines. The center screen can display the vehicle's angle and pitch.
Our test car was a loaded X6 xDrive50i with the M Sport package and upgraded Bang and Olufson stereo system. The audio sounded superb, but you'll pay $4,500 for that aural pleasure (or $3,700 if you add the Executive Package). A less expensive Harman Kardon system is available for those who want to upgrade from the base stereo.
Front-seat passengers have plenty of space, and have easy access to two cupholders on the center console, as well as deeper door pockets, which can hold 1.5 liter bottles.
Because of the X6's low roofline, rear seat passengers have less space than in an X5, though headroom is increased in the new model by about a half inch, and legroom increases by two inches. Kids and average-sized adults will be comfortable, but those around the six-foot mark might feel cramped.
Rearward visibility is restricted due to the X6's small, low back window. But parking sensors, which come standard, help, and we recommend the optional top-view camera to help avoid hitting something during low-speed maneuvering.
Cargo space is where the previous X6 has always fallen short compared to traditional SUVs, and the second-generation X6 is no exception. In fact, the 2015 X6 loses a substantial amount of cargo space compared with the outgoing model, down to 20.5 cubic feet from the first generation's 25.6 cubic feet (with the rear seats in place). However, a new 40/20/40 folding rear seat allows for slightly more flexibility in arranging people and things. Also, an automatic tailgate is now standard on all models, and a handsfree feature is optional. Because of the X6's high rear end, the load floor sits very high, meaning you have to lift cargo higher to get it in.
The BMW X6 is by no means a sports car, but it handles surprisingly well, especially considering its near-5200-lb. curb weight. To get the best handling requires equipping the X6 with lots of expensive options, including adaptive suspension and active steering, which adjusts the steering ratio to the car’s current speed for better responsiveness.
We drove a BMW X6 xDrive50i at BMW’s Performance Center in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and found power from the 445-hp V8 engine more than plentiful and readily on tap. In Sport mode, body roll is kept at a minimum, and in Sport+, our favorite track setting, less invasive traction control allows for a little more wheel slip around corners. In these modes, the 8-speed automatic transmission holds gears at high revs, and although drivers can change gears manually with paddle shifters, we found the X6 perfectly able to do its thing in Drive. Through the slalom, we experienced the same result: In Sport and Sport+ modes, acceleration and handling was impressive for a car of this size. Switching to Comfort mode, we found the chassis less controlled on the race track, and a lack of oomph from the 8-speed automatic transmission, which changes gears at lower revs in this mode.
Around the skid pad, we tested the X6’s torque vectoring control, which automatically changes the power split between the rear wheels, increasing grip and stability around corners. Again, we found the X6 impressive for its size, but also realizing it was a pricey option contributing to the car’s success.
One of the best attributes of the X6 is its brake system. On our X6 xDrive50i with the M Sport package, we did several panic stops from about 50 mph, and were surprised at the relatively short braking distance. Brake feel is firm, yet progressive and comfortable.
On a moderately challenging off-road course, we drove the X6 through a makeshift stream and up and down rocky hills. The X6 handled them just fine, with enough ground clearance for all of the exercises. Rocks and ruts are best handled in Comfort mode, where the suspension can soak up the bumps better than in the stiffer Sport mode. Hill Descent Control automatically controlled our X6 down steep hills without using the brake pedal. A front-view camera helps drivers see obstacles in the road, but wasn’t particularly helpful in navigating narrow passageways and turns. We’d like to see added graphics on the screen that display the vehicle’s track and wheel angle, like the lines that are displayed when using the rearview camera.
Out on public roads, we enjoyed the smooth acceleration of the powerful V8 engine. In normal driving with only two people in the vehicle, 445 horsepower is overkill, though, combined with a hearty 480 pound-feet of torque, the X6 xDrive50i would be a good choice for towing or carrying heavy loads. For cruising freeways and suburban streets, Comfort mode offers the best balance between good handling and a cushy ride. Once roads get steep or twisty, Sport is the way to go.
The 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6 used in the X6 sDrive35i and xDrive35i carries over from the last generation, but benefits from improved efficiency thanks to additional aerodynamics and other tweaks. The six-cylinder engine is good for 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque and, according to BMW, makes the X6 capable of 0-60 mph in 6 seconds flat, which is quick for a vehicle of this size. We didn’t get to test an X6 powered by this engine, but we’ve experienced this engine in other BMW vehicles, and, wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it for everyday driving, provided the car won’t be doing any towing or hauling heavy cargo. The xDrive35i starts at about $11,000 less than does the xDrive50i and fuel economy is significantly better over the V8 model, so the inline-6 is less expensive all the way around. EPA estimates for the six-cylinder are 19/23 mpg City/Highway for the rear-wheel-drive sDrive35i, and 18/27 mpg City/Highway for the all-wheel-drive xDrive35i.
We drove the X6 M at the Circuit of the Americas, the only purpose-built Formula 1 track in the U.S. We put the X6 M through its paces following behind BMW’s championship racecar driver Bill Auberlen, who wasn’t shy about encouraging us to push the car to its limits. With 567 horses under the hood, we had no problem reaching speeds of over 100 mph in many spots, and up to about 145 on the back straight, where F1 cars can go as fast as 200 mph (Auberlen says he could easily hit the X6 M’s electronically limited speed of 155 mph in the same spot).
The 8-speed automatic gearbox is fast and capable, though we found best performance came from switching over to manual mode and using the paddle shifters. Like other BMW M models, the X6 M also offers customizable driving setups, allowing drivers to choose steering, throttle response and suspension settings separately.
Perhaps more impressive than the speed and power of the X6 M is the engineering wizardry that keeps this nearly 5,200-pound vehicle centered, stable and highly tossable in the most extreme conditions. Not only was cornering responsive and stable, the car’s weight was extremely well managed. Even in the trickiest turns, we never felt like we were pushing a giant heap of metal around corners. Staggered Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires, made of unique compounds designed specifically for the X6 M, further help with traction.
Like other current-day high-performance cars, the electronics are so good on the X6 M it’s sometimes hard to tell whether our driving is getting better, or whether the myriad systems just make it feel that way. A bevvy of mechanical and electronic components work together to make the X6 M feel surprisingly nimble and responsive on the racetrack, including an M-specific sport-tuned suspension, dynamic stability control with torque vectoring, an M-tuned version of the all-wheel-drive system and more. Brakes were consistent lap after lap with hardly any fade, thanks to giant cross-drilled rotors with M-specific compound pads.
On the street, the BMW X6 M, like every M car, is like bringing a gun to a knife fight. In most circumstances, there’s far more power and performance than you’d ever need, but it’s fun to know you have it just in case. Outside of Austin, Texas, where the speed limit is 80 mph, the X6M cruises and passes with ease. On two-lane roads, we blew by what seemed like an endless conga line of gravel trucks. We noticed some wind noise from the A-pillar at higher speeds, but the car was otherwise quiet. The ride is on the firmer side compared to other SUVs, even in Comfort mode, but that’s just what we’d expect for a vehicle wearing an M badge.
Redesigned, the 2015 BMW X6 is an offbeat family vehicle with the large footprint of an SUV and near-carlike handling. However, rear headroom and cargo space is sacrificed as a result of its low roofline. Best performance is achieved with a variety of optional packages, which can add thousands to the sticker price.
Laura Burstein filed this NewCarTestDrive report after her drive of the BMW X6 xDrive50i near Spartanburg, South Carolina.