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Car reviews - BMW - X6 - 5-dr wagon range

Our Opinion

We like
Dynamics, performance, diesel torque, petrol smoothness, responsive transmission, cabin comfort and refinement
Room for improvement
Divisive styling, high prices, rear vision

16 Jul 2008

THE SsangYong Actyon look-alike jibes vanish forever the moment you first steer BMW’s “Sports Activity Coupe” into a corner.

Armed with BMW’s clever new Dynamic Performance Control rear differential – which apportions torque to either rear wheel to ensure better traction and crisper steering feel as well as greater overall stability – the X6, frankly, will astonish you with its fluid handling and incredibly stable body control.

It won’t plough forward into a turn, as you would expect a 2.1-tonne SUV to do, unless you’re determined or driving too fast down a wet mountainous road.

Equally, the X6 shrugs off slippery surfaces like dirt and gravel, digging in (but not too deeply) to scoot you along with almost professional ice skater-style abandon, with only the blinking of the stability and traction control dash light alerting you to the xDrive four-wheel drive system working tirelessly underneath.

SUV goalposts – the provenance of the closely related BMW X5 until now – are pushed out emphatically by the X6.

Adding to this admiration are the terrifically tractable twin-turbo engines.

We prefer the strong, refined diesel and were impressed by a worst fuel consumption reading of 13.0L/100km, despite being driven hellishly hard through Melbourne’s demanding Dandenong Ranges.

Real-world performance ultimately favours the diesel over the ultra-smooth and extremely fast petrol version, which showed a worst figure of 19.0L/100km. We love the twin-turbo petrol six in the 335i or 135i, but all those extra kilos blunt its supernova brilliance.

Regardless, both powerplants are exceptionally well served by the satisfyingly responsive six-speed automatic transmission, with its sports-tuning software for more instantaneous reactions and F1-style paddle shift facility.

The X6 subscribes faithfully to the BMW ‘ultimate driving machine’ ethos. We couldn’t fault the steering’s weight or feel, or the progressive and dependable brakes.

We were surprised by the supple ride, too, on the run-flat tyres. Except for some occasional road roar on certain types of surfaces, they certainly earn their keep in an SUV with restricted luggage capacity like the X6 since they negate the need for a bulky spare.

Not that the boot area is at all bad. That sloping roofline obviously eats into the cargo space, but there is still room for four golf bags and the seats fold for added hauling volume, while the whole area is beautifully finished and presented.

We did not expect the back seat to be so accommodating, and the pleasant backrest angle and supportive cushions also proved their worth.

On the other hand, the rear door apertures are a little on the small side so some careful negotiating is needed, while the narrowing window line conspired with the plunging roofline to create a claustrophobic environment. A darker trim than our test car’s light-coloured leather upholstery may further exacerbate this.

This brings us to the X6’s biggest operational flaw – a woeful lack of rear vision.

The back window is barely a slit in the mirror and, though it’s OK on the move, close-quarter reversing requires considerable skill, or parking radar and a camera. It’s the price you pay for coupe-like styling.

Other than that, the driving environment is as brilliant as the X5, with clear instrumentation, excellent seats, perfect control placements and a feeling of luxury and quality (except for the cheap air vent mechanism). It even smells good.

Yet we can’t help but feel mildly disappointed that BMW didn’t go further to differentiate the X6’s cabin architecture – as good as it is – from the X5. As the company’s flagship SUV, we expected a little more pizzazz.

Overall, the fleet-footed X6 feels more like a (somewhat portly) BMW sedan than most cars – let alone compact SUVs – and closes the gap between the two more than the controversial styling might suggest.

It works as both a luxury SUV and an inspiring driving machine so we can therefore wholeheartedly recommend the X6 as a car that feels, sounds and even smells like a BMW.

As for reconciling the X6 with your other two senses, you might need to stick with the company’s superb X5 (or coupes).

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