Car reviews - BMW - X6 - M50d
Loads of additional standard kit, major improvements to fuel efficiency and performance, resolved styling, straight-line performance, plenty of X factor
Room for improvement
Low rear-seat headroom, even comfort suspension setting too firm, poor rearward visibility
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2 Feb 2015
IT’S rare for a car-maker to take massive risks in launching a car that might not work these days, and it could be said that everyone from the Japanese to the Germans are playing it a little too safe.
Citroen will unwrap something like the whacky C4 Cactus every now and then, but on the whole, the out-there models are usually reserved for motor show concepts, and will invariably be toned down for production if they make it at all.
Which is why it is impressive that a company as big as BMW took a gigantic risk in the early days of the global financial crisis by launching a cross between its wildly popular X5 SUV and a sports coupe.
But with the controversial X6 that is precisely what it did and 260,000 units worldwide later, it is safe to say the bet paid off.
Not only did it pay off, but other car-makers have decided to follow BMW’s lead and build their own version. Mercedes’ GLE Coupe is the next coupe/crossover to lob and it will be in local showrooms later this year.
In the meantime, the second-generation X6 is here and BMW has taken what it learned from the original and made improvements in a number of key areas including fuel efficiency and value for money.
The high-riding all-wheel drive-only line-up ranges from the xDrive30d diesel at $115,400, plus on-road costs, to the $157,900 M50d that is the flagship until the stonking X6 M arrives in a few months.
Fuel efficiency and straight-line performance have improved over the superseded model for all variants, which include the xDrive35i ($120,700), xDrive40d ($128,400), and xDrive50i ($151,600).
Pricing has increased for all but one variant (xDrive35i), but BMW has thrown in loads of extra standard spec ranging from $13,500 to $20,000 worth, depending on the variant.
Until the arrival of the Benz GLE Coupe, it is difficult to pick a direct rival for the X6, but in this luxury SUV sphere people might also be looking at the Range Rover Sport ($92,600-$182,000) or the Porsche Cayenne ($108,000-$230,800).
We spent the morning behind the wheel of the M50d, which includes $16,000 worth of equipment that was either optional or unavailable on the first-gen version.
The polite word that everyone used to describe the styling of the original was ‘polarising’. While that is still true to an extent, we found the design of the new-gen X6 to be far more resolved than the 2008 model.
BMW’s current design language seems a better fit for the shape of the swoopy SUV.
The edgier front-end styling and sharper angles on the 2015 X6 give the new car a more aggressive look than the softer, rounder original, and we reckon it works.
Of course not everyone will love that sloping roofline and it does have an impact on rear-seat headroom, but as with its predecessor, no doubt owners will be able to look past the shortcomings.
While there is no shortage of legroom in the second row, any passenger over 180cm will feel the intrusion of the roof on their head, which would be fine for a brief period, but not necessarily over longer distances.
Thankfully the standard sports seats in gorgeous Dakota leather trim were super supportive and oozed high-end quality.
The X6’s interior impresses in most areas. Everything looks and feels expensive – as it should at this price point – including the woodgrain finish on the dash, the Anthracite (black) rooflining, and the swathes of leather across the dash.
The three-spoke M Sport leather steering wheel is another premium touch and feels as good as it looks. It is one of our favourite tillers.
BMW’s iDrive system and all of the controls are easy to use and within reach of the driver, while the overall design and finish of the cockpit is in line with the car-maker’s other models.
The driver’s seating position does not feel as high as you would expect in an SUV, which gives a feeling of being in the car rather than on it which can be the case in less sporty offerings.
Unfortunately visibility through the tiny rear windscreen is poor due to the sharply sloping roofline. Thankfully the X6 has all the necessary sensors and cameras to manoeuvre in a reverse parking situation.
If you need to haul a load, the boot offers plenty of space – 580 litres with seats up and 1525 litres with the rear bench folded down. While this is not as cavernous as its X5 sibling (650L and 1870L), it is nothing to be sniffed at.
The M50d packs a mighty punch from its 280kW/740Nm 3.0-litre six-cylinder diesel engine, and while this figure has not changed over the previous model, BMW has improved the official fuel economy figure by 14 per cent from 7.4 litres per 100 kilometres to 6.6L/100km.
Matched with the new eight-sped sport automatic transmission, the M50d is a touch quicker than the old version, with a 0-100km/h dash time of 5.2 seconds, down from 5.3s.
Acceleration in the X6 M50d is swift without being brutal – save that for the X6 M – and there is lag from the three - yes three - turbos, but once up and running it offers seamless acceleration that belies the size of the car.
There is also a lovely growl from the diesel engine - rare for an oil burner.
The Adaptive M Suspension is standard on this variant, but even in the softest Comfort mode the ride was a little busy and was a touch too stiff for our liking.
Piloting the M50d through corners highlighted the capabilities of the big SUV, but the height and weight of the vehicle was noticeable with body-roll evident.
Steering is sharp and direct and the big SUV goes exactly in the direction you point it.
Through wider bends, however, the X6 proved to be more agile as it remained planted to the road – thanks in part to those big 20-inch wheels with 275/40 and 315/35 tyres – and felt a lot more car-like than expected.
We question whether it is as dynamically capable as the Porsche Cayenne, but that would have to wait for a back-to-back comparison. It is certainly up there as one of the best-handling SUVs on the market.
It is, however, a thoroughly enjoyable car to drive and the X6 has more road presence than practically any other SUV on the market.
While it is not without its flaws – rear-seat headroom, overly firm ride – the X6 is a bold alternative to the same-again luxury SUVs on the market.
And with a massive boost to standard kit and performance, not to mention the big improvements to fuel economy, the second-gen X6 could give traditional SUV buyers the chance to be a little daring.
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