There was a time when dance music was just dance music, it was electronic, it had a beat and it made you want to get up and get funky. But then like many things, genres and sub genres began dividing it up as the masses searched for what’s new and cool. Now we have house music, drum and bass, dub step and many others which all sound the same to ageing ears. This 21st century ‘genrefication’ has reached much further than dance music and infected the car world creating niche vehicles like the crossover and the mini van. BMW, never one to miss a trick, decided to create a sub genre all its own, coining the term ‘Sports Activity Coupe’ and populated it with a lone offering – the X6. When the X6 went on sale in 2008 critics claimed it was a niche too far and that there was no demand for such a machine. But the X6 came packing attitude, dynamic ability and didn’t need anyone’s approval to be what it is. For 2011, BMW have added a new six-cylinder diesel engine to top the X6 diesel range and named the model the xDrive 40d. Car and SUV had a chance to tune in and test drive the polarising X6 40d listening closely to the rhythm of its fresh beat.
In terms of exterior design, there are few vehicles on NZ roads that divide opinion as intensely as the X6. Whatever your thoughts, there is no denying its aesthetics are bold, distinctive and in the flesh it has a bullying road presence. The X6 shares a platform and overall dimensions with its X5 sibling but every panel in its sheetmetal is all its own. Deeply creased bonnet and a broad signature BMW grille lead into sharply raked A-pillars and the all-important coupe roofline that really defines the X6’s exterior appeal. Out back, broad shoulder lines wrap into a raised hatch lip and two-piece LED taillights. The rear windscreen is laid down very flat and combined with the high rear deck gives the X6 an advanced, pouncing stance. There’s SUV practical touches like integrated roof rails and black plastic underside cladding but the X6’s tarmac terrorising intent is signalled through wide twin exhaust tips pushing out of the rear bumper and optional 20-inch wheels with fat 315 rubber at the rear. Overall, the X6 has the look of a sinister twin brother for the X5; it’s get-out-of-my-way at the front and see-ya-later at the back. You can love it, you can hate it but it’s impossible to ignore it.
The interior is finished to BMW’s exacting standard with high-grade materials and faultless build quality. The dashboard is the same as you find on the X5 and 5-Series, it functions just as well in this application and is logically laid out, subtly stylish and has instrumentation that’s easily read. Heavily bolstered but comfortable electric leather seats and a wide centre console give the driver and shotgun passenger a cosseting seating position. BMW’s iDrive system controls a broad range of entertainment and vehicle settings though a single jog dial. It’s nicely intuitive and the main display looks fantastic on its 8.8-inch full colour screen.
Unusually it’s the X6’s backseat that is more intriguing than the front set up. Using a very coupe-like 2+2 seating arrangement only 4 adults can occupy the X6 in total. Backseat passengers are treated to individual seats with a storage/cupholders plastic column replacing the middle pew. But before you go thinking that it’s a limo like ride in the X6 backseat, know that the coupe roofline has restricted rear headroom for taller passengers and for shorter ones the high window line doesn’t make for great side vision. The price to pay for the extreme styling also includes restricted rear visibility for the driver and a high loading area in the hatch, which also has significantly less capacity than the X5. But sometimes being an individual requires some sacrifices.
In terms of standard equipment the X6 40d wins big and comes nicely loaded with spec including an auto tailgate, Bluetooth, adaptive headlights, cruise control with auto braking, heads-up display, rear view camera, parking sensors, climate air-con and a ruckus 16-speaker stereo for playing those big beats.
On road the X6 performs like nothing else around and BMW’s stonking new-generation 3.0-litre diesel engine makes for a solid fit in this high-end variant. It’s a straight six configuration with twin-turbocharging to make sure it packs a heavyweight punch when pushed hard. Producing 225kW of power and a staggering 600Nm of torque, which is available from just 1,500rpm, it moves off the line rapidly. The clever sequential turbo system helps the X6 40d move from standing to 100kph in 6.5 seconds but it feels even quicker than that figure would suggest. Its open road overtaking ability is also very impressive with the X6 thrusting between 80 and 120kph at express pace.
Mated to the advanced diesel mill is BMW’s latest 8-speed automatic gearbox, it’s a smart match and the transmission is as smooth as you can get from a traditional set up. With eight gears to choose from the torquey engine is kept in its strongest powerband for high performance or shifts up early during relaxed cruising. It will kick down gears with haste when driver input dictates there’s a sports mode and steering wheel paddles for when self-shifting is the call. The gearbox helps the 40d return a 7.5l/100km fuel economy on the combined cycle. Considering the X6’s rabid performance and over 2,000kg kerb weight this is an impressive and enticing consumption figure.
While the engine is a marvel of automotive engineering, it’s the X6’s dynamic ability that really makes it stand out. Its cornering competence defies its bulk and would rival any hot hatch. It’s very agile and can change direction with an almost complete lack of body roll, it tracks predictably through corners and has limits higher than feels natural in a machine of this size. The X6 achieves its handling prowess through the advanced xDrive system and Dynamic Performance Control set-up. This allows for constant and fully automated adjustment of the amount of power being sent to the front and rear wheels but it also divides the power between the left- and right-hand rear wheels. It’s a major advancement in all-wheel-drive systems and almost completely eliminates under or oversteer while giving the X6 huge amounts of grip and high exit speeds from corners. The side effect of the X6’s dynamic prowess is a firm ride quality, which while still nicely compliant on asphalt surfaces can be slightly jarring on broken or gravel roads.
Go too far off the track and the X6 will struggle to battle serious off road terrain, the xDrive system is clever in its use of stability control sensors to shift power to where it is required, but it has limits. The X6 is certainly no Land Cruiser and with relatively low ground clearance and no low-ratio gearing may not cope with much more than steep gravel driveways or slippery sports fields.
Safety features are numerous and include a raft of electronic systems like dynamic traction and stability control, hill descent control, ABS brakes and cornering brake control. There is also a full compliment of front side and curtain airbags, active headrests and run flat tyres.
So what’s the bottom line on the X6 40d?
Although many will judge the X6 solely on its radical looks, once you’re inside and driving, there’s very little to dissuade potential buyers. The rear visibility isn’t great and you’ll only be able to spawn two children for the backseat but hey, it’s not the end of the world. The X6 xDrive 40d is a rolling showcase of BMW’s advanced technologies in its diesel engine with supercar levels of torque, its slick 8-speed gearbox and all the electronic wizardry that keeps it glued to the road. It’s also a very engaging drive that can be as mellow or as fierce as an owner desires. It will be too big and too ostentatious for some tastes but why not use up your full allotment of space on our streets, and why not dare to be different? The bottom line is that the X6 is the only and therefore the best sports activity coupe on the market, if another carmaker wants to challenge this funk star it better come hard and with a rock solid game because for now, the X6 is untouchable.
Price: from$153,900 as tested $163,760
What we like:
- Bold and risky exterior design deserves to be applauded
- Strong, economical and advanced powertrain
- Exemplary handling ability
What we don’t like:
- Poor rear visibility makes the reversing camera a necessity
- Optional equipment is attractive but expensive
- Can ride rough on broken road surfaces
Who will buy this car? Wealthy style driven individuals who are intrigued by it’s distinctive styling and then won over by its dynamic ability, refinement and technology.
Cool Factor: Very high or very low depending on your outlook but there’s something cool about any vehicle which recklessly sacrifices practicality for style.
Words and Photos: Adam Mamo