BMW calls the X6 a Sports Activity Coupe; in reality it's a totally unique vehicle with a swoopy fastback body set atop all-wheel-drive SUV running gear. Pricing for the 2009 BMW X6 starts at $56,325, and a fully-loaded example will run you $88,070. EPA fuel economy estimates are 12 - 15 mpg city/18 - 20 highway, and the 4 year/50,000 mile warranty includes all scheduled maintenance. Okay, enough numbers -- let's drive!
I start out most of my SUV reviews by saying that I don't really like SUVs. I'm not trying to make a point or push my (admittedly car-biased) agenda or anything like that; I just think that if you're going to get anything useful out of my reviews, you need to know where I'm coming from.
Jason, the guy in charge of this site, has a knack for assigning me reviews of SUVs that I assume I'm going to hate, but wind up falling in love with.
Rack up another point for yourself, Jason.
Let's get one thing out of the way: The X6 is not particularly useful. BMW refers to their SUVs as SAVs (Sports Activity Vehicles), and if ever a vehicle deserved to have "utility" dropped from its name, it's the X6. The X6 can't go off-road and its lack of back-seat headroom makes it a lousy vehicle for hauling four adults. (It does, however, have a colossally big trunk.) It's incredibly expensive and sucks down fuel at an alarming rate.
And yet I still love it. I don't just mean "like it a lot"; I really do love the X6.
The first thing I fell in love with was the styling. To paraphrase the late Issac Hayes, the X6 is one bad-looking mother...Shut your mouth! (But I'm talkin' 'bout the X6!) The idea of blending a fastback body with an SUV chassis is brilliant. Pictures don't really do the X6 justice -- you have to see it in person, where you can appreciate its hulking stance and aggressive lines. The X6 is dripping with cool -- it looks like it was carved from a solid block of attitude.
In the Driver's Seat
Inside, the X6 is almost identical to the X5, BMW's conventional mid-size SUV. (The two are closely related under the skin and are built in the same plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina.) Is that a good thing? That depends on your opinion of BMW interiors. I have mixed feelings; I like the angular look of the dash and the contrasting colors on the seats and doors. But I abhor the German penchant for using lots of buttons on things like the air conditioning and stereo, when simpler dials will do.
That said, the X6 has the ultimate simple dial: BMW's famous (infamous?) iDrive system, which uses a menu-driven interface to control stereo, climate, and navigation systems. I didn't explore all of the menus; doing so would take almost as long as exploring one of the Great Pyramids. iDrive has been debated and debased in countless reviews, so I won't re-hash it here; I'm just glad that most of the essential functions (turning up the stereo or turning down the fan) can be accomplished with other buttons... if you can figure out which one to press, that is. The X6 also employs BMW's joystick-like transmission shifter. Jason complained about it bitterly in his X5 review, but I didn't think it was all that bad.
The X6's svelte roofline cuts into rear seat headroom; I'm only 5'6" and even I had to duck so as not to clonk my noggin when getting in. The cargo bay stores a healthy 25.5 cubic feet, but what makes it really useful is the huge trunklid that opens to reveal a gaping maw -- you can load practically anything into the X6 this side of a grand piano.
On the Road
BMW offers the X6 with two engines, a 306 horsepower 3-liter inline six-cylinder and a 407 hp 4.4 liter V8. Both engines use twin turbochargers to boost output and come mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Both engines are great -- the six is fast and the V8 is really fast, to the point that it's difficult to move off in the V8 without giving yourself whiplash. But all that power -- and the X6's colossal weight -- conspire to drop fuel economy down in the low- to mid-teens.
When I say the X6 drives like I car, I don't mean that it's car-like -- I mean it drives almost exactly like a car. I drove the X6 on highways, back roads, and wet and dry racetracks, and aside from a slight on-center numb spot in the steering, the X6 feels like a very tall BMW 3-series. Amazing. Though the X6 features all-wheel-drive (AWD), it's not designed for off-road work; AWD provides great on-road grip and the X6 exploits that with a patented rear differential design (Dynamic Performance Control) that can distribute power to either rear wheel, even when the driver isn't stepping on the accelerator. That makes the X6's standard electronic stability control system less reliant on the brakes, improving both safety and the X6's fun-to-drive factor -- which, by SUV standards, is off the scale. Options include a $3,700 Sport Package, which adds variable-rate shock absorbers and active stabilizer bars, as well as the $1,400 Active Steering system, which alters the steering ratio based on driving conditions and really sharpens up the X6's already-amazing handling.
And now we come to the sordid matter of coin. Pricing for the X6 starts at $56,325 for the six-cylinder model and $67,025 for the V8. And that's before you start adding options -- navigation system, rear-seat air conditioning and DVD player, ventilated seats, premium stereo, rear-view camera, heads-up display, bigger wheels, keyless ignition... the list goes on and on. Check enough boxes and you can bump up the X6's sticker price by $22,000 -- enough to buy a Honda CR-V. That said, BMW foots the bill for scheduled maintenance for the first 4 years or 50,000 miles, which saves buyers a good-sized heap of cash.
This is the point in the article where I recommend competing vehicles, except in the case of the X6, there really aren't any. The Hummer H2 and H3 come close, putting their own spin on the X6's blend of head-turning styling and carefree disregard for practicality. Even so, there's really nothing quite like the X6 -- and that uniqueness is a big part of its appeal.
It's kind of a shame that the X6 came along when it did, with Americans still in shock from high gas prices and watching their bank balances carefully. But the economy will bounce back, and when it does, I think the X6 might still have its time in the sun. The X6 isn't very practical and it certainly isn't very prudent, but it's an awesome looking SUV that's a lot of fun to drive. It's the kind of SUV that the anti-SUV crowd loves to hate -- but once you see it and drive it, it's hard not to fall in love. If you can afford the payments and the gas, the X6 is a fantastic choice.