BMW X6 – a tempting choice in a limited market

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Most people liked it. A few had reservations. Conversations ensued. It was probably the most interesting vehicle from the standpoint of sidewalk curiosity we’ve driven in the past year.

All wanted an explanation. The big question, what is it?

Well, folks, we’re still trying to sort that out ourselves. We’re still trying to get a handle on where the new 2008 BMW X6 falls into the grand scheme of all things automotive.

What it is, we have tentatively concluded, is a grand toy. A stylish, powerful, well-composed plaything for those who have sufficient disposable income to spend on a motorized extravagance and the high cost of keeping it fed and watered.

BMW calls the X6 a Sports Activity Coupe. Its shape suggests a high-riding coupe, but that’s a misnomer because it has four doors.

To sum it up, the X6 is basically a stylized version of BMW’s popular X5 SUV with a sports sedan stance that includes a radically sloping roof and four seating positions.

And while cargo space is compromised by form over function, the X6 offers BMW’s vaunted driving experience in either of its two versions. Despite its high-riding stance, the X6 handles like a sports sedan and sticks to the road like it has glue on its wide rubber.

It’s the first BMW to come with Dynamic Performance Control (DPC), a new version of XDrive that distributes engine torque between the front and rear axles and now side-to-side, as well. In other words, torque is directed at all four wheels in varying degrees as needed to keep the vehicle on the road and out of the ditch.

We know it works having driven both versions — the 35i with BMW’s delightful 300-horsepower 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged inline six and the 50i with an all-new 4.4-liter 400-horsepower V-8 twin turbo — on rain-slick twisting mountain roads in North and South Carolina and on wet and dry test tracks at Michelin’s testing facility near Laurens, S.C.

We rolled through mountain corners at continually faster speeds as we progressed through a steady drizzle and heavy fog finally reaching our comfort level at about the same time we would have reached it in a 335i sedan.

So this may be the X6’s biggest selling point — a SUV-like vehicle with sleek lines that goes nearly as fast and corners almost as well as a 335i sedan, but with the ability to leave the sedan in the dust of off-road America or in the slush of a snow-packed street.

While the V-8 is bat-out-of-hell fast, we like the six-cylinder version better because it offers a wonderful combination of driving dynamics and performance, it gets better gas mileage and it sells for about 11 grand less ($52,500 vs. $63,000).

But let’s just for a minute focus on gas mileage because that’s a big concern in this brave new world of no-end-in-sight of high prices.

And because this is where we wonder at the sanity of BMW’s leaders who think — perhaps correctly — that they can make a profit on a niche vehicle that is rated at 15 mpg city and 20 mpg highway with the inline six and 13/18 with the V-8, both burning premium gas.

BMW has an initial goal of building about 10,000 copies a year along side the X5 in its Spartanburg, S.C., plant. The smaller X3 will be added to the plant when expansion is completed next year.

So, pushing all of this wondering over “what’s the point” of this vehicle aside, we very much enjoyed the driving experience. That’s not surprising because we haven’t met a BMW in recent years we didn’t enjoy driving.

Like most Bimmers, the X6 35i is confounding because it can go fast real quick despite weighing in at nearly 5,000 pounds. Zero-to-60 runs have been measured at around six seconds. With two more cylinders under the hood in the 4.4 version you would suspect the X6 to be extraordinarily quick, and it is. A major magazine has it measured at 4.8 seconds from 0-to-60 and covering a quarter mile in 13.2 seconds at 102.8 mph.

But in today’s world of $100 fill-ups, going fast real fast is a guilty pleasure that if repeated too often will seriously dent the budget. We guess that if you can afford the X6 you’re probably not too concerned about the fill-ups.

Yet it’s the overall driving experience that will push the X6 out the showroom door.

Yes, the X6 comes with the infamous iDrive control system. But BMW has softened the computer-age package over the years to the point that it has become much more intuitive. Such things as pre-set radio controls and climate controls can be operated without delving into the on-screen commands.

But that’s not to say that we have fallen in love with this German technology. We just can’t see a point in time when we would ever embrace iDrive particularly after driving such new vehicles as the Jaguar XF, which offers easy-to-follow touch screen prompts for every function.

But be forewarned – don’t drill down into the iDrive just for the fun of it unless you really understand where you’re going.

Those new to recent BMW products will also find the electronic shift control a bit unnerving at first, but it works reasonably well and we have no complaints over this new piece of gimmickry.

The interior is typical BMW, very businesslike, but well executed in good materials with excellent fit and finish. The front seats are comfortable and we left the vehicle after our longest drive of more than three hours with no complaints from the back.

The tradeoff for style comes from the B-pillar back where the stylish sloping coupe-like roof cuts into the space of a typical crossover SUV. For example, its crossover X5 sibling has 15 more cubic feet of cargo space (75 vs. 60) and can transport up to seven people with a third-row seat compared to four seating positions in the X6.

We were comfortable in a second-row seat, but the X6 gives up an inch of head room and an inch of shoulder room compared to the X5.

Both vehicles have a 6,000-pound towing capacity meaning that the X6 sacrifices nothing for the person who hauls toys on the weekend.

The X6 35i comes well equipped for $53,325 including destination charge and including such standard equipment as 19-inch alloy wheels, traction and stability control, all-wheel drive, power glass sunroof, leather upholstery, 205-watt audio system with 12 speakers, power tilt and telescoping steering wheel and one-touch power windows all around.

As the case with most Bimmers, options abound and can run the bottom line well into 60-grand range. Our X6 test car came with the $3,600 sport package and the $1,900 navigation system bringing the bottom line to $58,825.

We think the audience for a high-riding expensive sports crossover four-door coupe, even this rewarding, is limited. But BMW knows there are customers out there and they have built a vehicle to tempt them.


Base price: $53,275; as driven, $58,825
Engine: 3.0-liter twin-turbo inline 6
Horsepower: 300 horsepower @ 5,800 rpm
Torque: 300 foot-pounds @ 1,400 rpms
Drive: all-wheel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating: 2/2
Wheelbase: 115.5 inches
Length: 192.1 inches
Curb weight: 4,894 pounds
Turning circle: 42 feet
Towing capacity: 6,000 pounds
Cargo capacity: 59.7 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 22.5 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 20 mpg highway, 15 city
0-60: 5.9 seconds (Motor Trend)
Also consider: Infiniti FX35, Porsche Cayenne, Mercedes M-Class

The Good

• Sporty styling
• BMW driving dynamics are all there
• Solid towing capacity

The Bad

• Excellent example of form over function

The Ugly

• Gas mileage is anemic in new age of exorbitant gas prices