Car reviews - BMW - X6 - xDrive50i 5-dr wagon
Brilliant handling considering its dimensions and weight, smooth and strong engine, good ride, quality interior, refinement
Room for improvement
Compromised rear headroom and bootspace, heavy weight that blunts performance and hampers ride and handling
21 Jan 2009
THE X6 xDrive50i sits so flat in the bends and handles so well – for what it is – that every corner increases my admiration for BMW's engineers.
They have done an outstanding job to make this SUV coupe corner so well.
That said, regardless of all their tinkering, the X6 is still a 2190kg vehicle.
While it is a clear demonstration of BMW engineers' ability to partly overcome a challenge, the double turbocharged V8 X6 is still a heavy, high-riding vehicle.
It might be based on the X5 platform, but it is not designed to go off-road and also doesn't have much rear headroom or a big boot. It does, however, have different looks – there is no doubting that – and, for an SUV, it drives very well.
It also has an extremely high-quality interior which is stylish, comfortable (unless you are an adult of average height sitting in the back) and quiet.
The new 4.4-litre twin turbocharged V8 is also a cracker. Unfortunately, like the lovely twin-turbo six in the X6 xDrive35i, the new V8 is blunted by the vehicle's bulk.
It does not live up to the full potential of the engine, which may be revealed when a similar engine is dropped into a far lighter BMW coupe at some stage, but it is still quick. Flooring the throttle will usually trigger the full suite of ESC and traction control, but if you make a clear getaway this X6 does accelerate like a real sportscar.
The powerband is wide and strong and the urge just keeps coming. This bent-eight also delivers a delicious burble, especially from around 3000rpm, and sounds angrier the more you rev it.
It is not the kind of exhaust note that would please the types who drive with caps on backwards and seats lowered, as the note is menacing without being too loud or raucous.
Unfortunately, there is no aural evidence of the turbo work that is going on, with no “whooshes” or “pops” when the system dumps the excess exhaust gas as you back off.
The engine is strong but not perfect, at least not in the X6. On this week's national launch, while charging along the winding roads leading to Victoria's Mansfield, the X6 V8 was sometimes caught out. I know that seems ridiculous, as it has two turbos and 600Nm of torque, but it really did go a bit soft if you dropped below 4000rpm in a bend.
It would bog down slightly before recovering and winding up again. Did it take a little while for the turbos to respond? Or perhaps this is what happens when you are hauling close on 2200kg around?
In general the engine does well and makes the X6 feel far lighter than it is.
Overtaking is not a problem either. The twin-turbo V8 is – not surprisingly – the most suitable engine for the X6 yet. While the diesel is probably the most sensible, it doesn't have enough punch to qualify as sporty.
The twin-turbo I6 is also overwhelmed by the heft of the X6, and although it is smooth, it feels underdone. The V8's automatic transmission also seems a little slow when it changes down in some situations in manual mode. It doesn't happen often, but it is noticeable.
In general, this automatic - a regular torque converter transmission rather than dual-clutch gearbox - works well, with nice, quick changes. The only other issue is that it changes up by itself close to the redline, even in manual mode with the Sport button depressed.
This is by no means an issue unique to BMW a surprising number of cars do this. But it is still frustrating when you want to hold a gear in preparation of the next corner and it goes ahead and changes up just as you approach the bend.
The fuel consumption of the V8 X6 was not as bad as you might suspect.
The cars on the launch were given a flogging and the number came up as 16L/100km. It would be a concern if it used this much when driven moderately, but when the engine is being pushed so hard, it's not too bad when you take its bulk into account.
As mentioned previously, the handling of the V8 X6 is remarkable. Some vertical movement, especially on bumpy roads, exposes this vehicle as a high-riding SUV, and there is some pitching and diving of the nose under heavy braking and acceleration. But in general it is comfortable car.
As mentioned previously, it sits flat and therefore doesn't make occupants queasy with the traditional SUV wallowing. The steering is sharp like any other BMW, giving the driver good feedback.
Punt along a windy road and you will notice how the X6 goes exactly where you are pointing it. That might sound silly, but a lot of vehicles out there, especially SUVs, don't respond to your steering inputs the way you might expect.
The brakes work well for most of the time. It was only coming into Mansfield after a spirited run that the pedal sank towards the floor before it eventually pulling the car up.
The X6's interior is excellent, and the soft leather seats are supportive.
While the xDrive50i's interior doesn't look much different from the other models in the range, its design and the surfaces still clearly indicate that this is an expensive car.
The day we tested the X6 was bright, and as a result, a reflection of the rectangular speaker on the dashboard obscured the view. The standard heads-up display is a handy feature, even when you set it up just to show the speed.
It can also show street names and arrows from the satellite navigation, a nice feature as it helpsd to keep your eyes on the road. The X6's sloping roofline not only gives it a bold silhouette, but compromises the rear headroom.
The two rear seats are comfortable, but males of average height will hit their heads over bumps, and if they have any hair, it will likely touch the roof lining.
When it comes to the boot, the cargo area is also compromised. It is shallow at the hatch end and is far smaller that what could be expected for a car of this size.
The X6 is an impressive car in many ways, including its comfort, handling and engine performance in the case of the new twin turbo V8, but is ultimately compromised.
It is good for what it is, but “what it is” is a strange concept that mixes SUV with a sportscar to come up with something different. Some customers will rate being different highly and therefore will be impressed by the X6 and this range-topping model.
But many others may see it as a bit of an oddity planned and developed in more prosperous times.
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