BMW’s Sports Activity Coupé is more than meets the eye.
In the automotive world, just as in life, first impressions are important. The first glimpse of a wheel well from a manufacturer teaser photo, the first snippet of information regarding power train configuration and so forth all play into popular peception of what any given car may eventually be all about.
It appears, however, that BMW wasn’t too concerned with first impressions when it comes to the X6, at least as far as I’m concerned. It’s a crossover, but one unlike anything we had seen at the that time in 2008, and one that remains fairly unique today; the Acura ZDX is really the only vehicle for sale in Canada that comes to mind when it comes to the X6’s direct competitors. And for the life of me, I simply didn’t understand the X6 when I first encountered it.
I found it to be an awkward mix of a 6 Series and X5; just give the 6 some ‘roids, the X5 some more chiselled looks and there you go. Then, with the advent of the 5 Series Gran Turismo for the 2010 model year, the BMW line-up was complicated even further, and the need for the X6 “Sport Activity Coupé”, as it was/is called, became even less apparent.
It was—and still is—an example of just how far the crossover theme can be stretched, and it was about as far away from any BMW product as I could think of; it was a real stretch to consider it under the brand’s “The Ultimate Driving Machine” tagline (that has since replaced by “The Ultimate Driving Experience”). Yes, the X5 and X3 had existed before it, but their practicality helped those that always believed BMW was a maker solely of sedans, coupés and wagons and needn’t wade into the crossover/SUV market forgive BMW for doing just that. But the X6 wasn’t a practical SUV or crossover in the typical sense and it most definitely wasn’t a car.
So why was it here?
I remember asking a fellow journalist this very question a while back, fully expecting him to respond with a comment alluding to the ridiculousness of the car, but he didn’t. He had recently driven the X6 and was convinced that those who didn’t like it, just didn’t get it and all they had to do was give it a chance.
So I did.
At least the Vermillion Red Metallic colour seen here helps disguise the sometimes bloated look of the X6; I actually think that it’s one of the best colours available for the model, somehow helping it appear more streamlined and ready for action. The standard 19-inch wheels (20s are optional) meanwhile, fill the arches nicely which is important because there’s a lot of sheet metal between the beltline and rocker panels that would just make the X6 appear too vast if the wheels were any smaller. The view from the front is a good one, thanks to those BMW-staple glowering headlamps, fog lights and kidney grille. And the silhouette is helped by that wonderfully-slopping roofline that borrows one of the best aspects of a sleek sports coupé. I like those features in that they combine to form what is a fairly risqué shape that won’t easily be confused with many other crossover-type vehicles out there, or many vehicles at all.
However, there is really no helping the view from the rear. No matter which angle you view it from, the stubby rear-hatch and big bumpers make the X6 appear as though it’s perched too far forward. The high beltline back there doesn’t do much for rear lift-over, either. It’s a high floor in that hatch, and one that will have you making good use of the hidden storage area below the floor and the split-folding rear seats.
So on the aesthetic front, the X6 is polarizing in that it will deter some, be embraced by others and most definitely be confusing to many.
Until, however, they get behind the wheel. In fact, as soon as you slip into the 10-way power adjustable driver’s seat (standard on all models), take in the dash and center console that is as driver-oriented as any BMW (it’s all angled in the driver’s direction) grab the chunky steering wheel and look over that proud hood, you’ll forget about that obtuse rear-end fairly quickly. I did, at least until I looked out the back window’s tiny opening. Good thing we have a back-up cam, then.
Right, the back. You aren’t going to find a huge amount of headroom here (the 5 GT has more. So does the 5 Series sedan, in fact), but at least the full-length glass sunroof adds light and the seats take on a comfortable near-bucket style. Even more so if you select the four-seater option, which replaces the middle rear seat with an extra console. Our tester features the $5,200 Premium Package, which includes BMW comfort seats up front that feature a range of lumbar and side bolster support to keep those up front comfortable on longer journeys. The back seat occupants, meanwhile, get heated seats as part of the package.
On the infotainment front, you have your BMW iDrive, Bluetooth for phone an audio and optional sat radio. A feature I particularly liked about it is that even once you’ve turned the engine off, pocketed your Bluetooth device, stepped out and started to unload, your BT audio keeps right on playing until you lock the doors. Why not continue to enjoy your favorite tunes as you start to haul your shopping bags out?
It’s a push-button start, and once you do depress the black button mounted just to the right of the steering column, you’ll be treated with a nice thrum of an engine, although this being a luxury vehicle, the sound never feels too intrusive.
The xDrive35i we tested is powered by BMW’s latest TwinPower Turbo engine, one that makes a healthy 300 horsepower and equal amounts of torque, the latter requiring just 1,400 r.p.m. to deliver its full punch. That power figure, coupled with the six-speed automatic transmission (whose ratios can be selected manually via wheel-mounted paddle shifters, if the driver wishes) makes for some heady acceleration regardless of which gear you may be in at the time. That means smooth overtakes at highway speeds, and quick bursts of speed from standstills.
You’re going to be delving fairly deeply into that power because at over 2,100 kilos, the X6 is not a light car. That weight helps improve the ride—I challenge anyone to find a bump on their daily grind that upsets the X6, unless their daily grind includes a dirt road or three—but can make for a healthy appetite for fuel if you have a heavy right foot. Still, if you are wise with your throttle inputs you can expect to see combined fuel-consumption figures hover around the 12 litres per 100 kilometers mark.
Of course a big vehicle like this with a big turbo motor is going to cover long distances briskly, but what happens when the going gets more slippery, more curvy or more undulating? What happens when all that girth starts getting tossed to and fro?
Well, being an xDrive model, our tester (and every X6 model, for that matter) featured BMW’s dynamic all-wheel drive system, which can divide power between the front and rear axles, as well as send power to a specific wheel if it senses some slippage. We tested this on numerous occasions, and you can really feel as the electronics system takes hold. Sure, for the driving purist, intrusive electronic driving aids are the bane of his or her existence. But here, when the vehicle is this tall and rides this high, it’s nice to know that your safety net is working. And like many other BMW products, the traction control system can be completely disengaged (just hold the DSC button down for 10 seconds or so) if you choose.
The result is a car that handles surprisingly well in spite of the aforementioned weight and does its part to once again help you forget that you are driving a utility vehicle. I really wanted to be able to once again flail this silly Sports Activity Coupé and say that all that heft makes for a ridiculously uninvolving ride, but I can’t. This is a superbly-engineered chassis, and there’s simply no other way to say it.
I did, however, find the X6 a little tougher to manoeuvre around town at low speeds that I would have liked. Yes, it has speed-sensitive power steering but it isn’t sensitive enough at low speeds, resulting in having to apply more elbow grease than needed—it’s a similar feeling to what we experienced when we tested the X1 in March. BMW Active Steering would help solve the problem, but it’s available only on theV8-powered xDrive50i model, and even there you’re looking at forking over another $4,700.
Which brings us to the real hurdle when it comes to the X6, and that’s the price. The base model of our tester comes in at $66,650, but that’s before the aforementioned Premium Package (heated rear seats, comfort front seats, four-zone climate control, navigation), Satellite radio ($1,500) and other funky tech addenda like BMW Apps (gives you access to facebook, twitter, your calendar and other connectivity features, and costs $300—I’d stay away) and a heads-up display ($1,500) that reflects your speed and other info off the windshield ahead of you. The end price of $75,950 is pretty much what you’d pay if you opted for an X5 with the more powerful V8 engine, and a whole heap of a lot more than you’d be paying for a similarly-equipped ZDX.
But this isn’t an Acura, it’s a BMW and while the ZDX is no doubt a fine automobile, it doesn’t quite match the driving dynamics, the power or the caché of the Bee-Em. The Ultimate Driving Machine/Experience? Not sure. The ultimate mix of utility and performance? Not quite as catchy, but that’s a little more like it.
I think I understand the X6 better now.
2012 BMW X6 xDrive35i Specifications
Price as tested: $77,950
Body Type: 5-door, 5-passenger Sports Activity Coupé
Powertrain Layout: Front engine/xDrive all-wheel drive
Engine: 3.0-litre inline-6 w/turbocharger
Horsepower: 300 @ 5,800-6,200 r.p.m.
Torque (lb-ft): 300 @ 1,300-5,000 r.p.m.
Transmission: 6-speed auto w/Steptronic manual mode
Curb weight: 2,170 kg (4,784 lb)
Claimed fuel economy:
City: 14.4L/100 km (16.3 US mpg)
Highway: 10.0L/100 km (23.5 US mpg)
Combined: 12.4L/100 km (19 US mpg)