Of the three BMW SUVs, there's one that I don't get. I understand the X3 -- I even like it. I can wrap my head around the X5 -- even if it doesn't float my boat. But the X6 -- I'm at a loss, to be honest. The 2012 BMW X6 xDrive50i has a base price of $69,500 ($82,925 as tested), a 4-year/50,000 mile basic warranty, free scheduled factory maintenance and roadside assistance for 4 years/50,000 miles and EPA fuel economy estimates of 14 city/20 highway. Let's drive.
X6 was first sold in the United States as a 2008 model, and hasn't undergone any significant changes since then. BMW insists on calling the X6 a "Sports Activity Coupe," which contributes to my head scratching. A "coupe" is traditionally a two-door, and the X6 is resolutely a four-door vehicle, or even a five-door if you count the rear hatch. Mercedes-Benz started this whole "coupe" redefinition with the CLS-class, and I object. X6 is not a "Sports Activity Coupe," it is a crossover SUV. That's that.
Discussing the exterior design of the X6 will probably cause a fight. X6 rides on the same 115.5" wheelbase as X5, and is 1" longer than X5 at 192". Let me start by praising the BMW virtures -- excellent fit and finish; beautifully applied paint and details; elegant, sophisticated bends and creases; and sleek lines. Now, to the complaints: Cartoonish, overly broad hindquarters; descending roofline that compromises space; and a bulky, hulking overall presence. There will be those who find the X6 arresting, and those who find it hideous. Few will be unmoved in either direction. I can have either reaction on a given day, and from a given angle. I am most concerned about what I perceive to be a dip in utility in service of style -- and that is almost never beautiful when it comes time to live with a vehicle.
In the Driver’s Seat
X6's interior is typical BMW -- that is to say, clean and crisp, luxurious without being cuddly. I get the impression that this interior will wear particularly well over time, because it is so simple and without unnecessary flourish. X6's beefy steering wheel dominates the driver's side of the cabin, making a statement with its girth and big paddle shifters. I very much appreciated the big air vents in the X6, all placed appropriately and facilitating great air flow. I've never been a big fan of BMW's gear selector mechanism. Rather than a traditional gated or straight-line shift lever, X6's selector pivots at its base. Put your foot on the brake, depress a thumb button on the lever and rock forward to select Reverse, or rock back to select Drive. And that's better than a lever that moves because....?
X6's second row is set up for two adults, with a center console separating the two seats. A third (narrow) seating section can be ordered for an additional $350, replacing the center console. X6 gives up 2" of headroom in the rear to X5, and there's no room for a third row of seating because of how the roof slants down. There's 25.6 cubic feet of luggage space behind the second row, and 59.7 cubic feet of cargo space can be accessed by flopping the second row flat. That's substantially less than X5's 75.2 cubic feet of total cargo space, and more importantly, the space that's available is much less useable, as I discovered on a run to my local warehouse store.
On the Road
X6 has a split personality on the road. At low speeds, it is downright difficult to drive, with heavy steering and limited sight lines. I really disliked X6 in a parking lot, as the effort to turn and park the vehicle was greater than any recent vehicle in memory. Get X6 up on its toes and moving, though, and it completely transforms into an elegant athlete, thanks to an alphabet soup of technologies (DSC, BRC, STC, HDC and others) that keep it on the road headed in the right direction. BMW's xDrive all-wheel drive system contributes greatly to a planted feeling under heavy acceleration and cornering, and an eight-speed automatic transmission keeps power coming on at all speeds.
The power behind the whole shebang is a 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 engine that's tuned to produce 400 hp and 450 lb-ft of torque, enough to propel the 5,225-lb X6 from 0 - 60 in a claimed 5.2 seconds. That's astonishingly fast for a vehicle with that much weight and mass, and while it isn't as fast as the last X6 M I tested, it is still a rush. The X6 xDrive35i comes with a 3.0-liter turbo V6 that puts out 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque, and is not nearly the rocketship that the 5.0i is. It's more like an ordinary jet fighter. I'll forgive a lot of things for an engine like the V8 in the X6.
I guess the question comes down to style over substance. It's possible to get that same twin-turbo V8 in the X5, which is a much more useful vehicle and almost as fast and fun as the X6, not to mention starting out $5,300 cheaper than the X6. I wouldn't think twice about selecting an X5 over an X6, but there are probably folks out there who have fallen in love with X6's more extreme looks.
This performance luxury crossover SUV category has gotten rather crowded recently. The Infiniti FX50, the Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG, the Porsche Cayenne Turbo S, the Land Rover Range Rover Supercharged and the Audi Q7 all make strong arguments for themselves. The new Land Rover Range Rover Evoque offers the only true coupe in the class with a two-door hatchback model in the range.
If you can live with X6's compromises and you love its style, you won't be dissuaded by my opinion. I just need more function with my form, and with so many other great options out there, I'd have to leave X6 on the drawing board.