Driven: X6 still thinks like a coupé
By: Minesh Bhagaloo, South Carolina, USA
The presence of an X model with the elegance of a Coupé. That, in essence, is how the designers at BMW have described the second-generation X6 at its world launch in Spartanburg in the US.
Granted, that description could very well apply to this Sports Activity Coupe’s (SAC) predecessor; and from the pictures you’d be forgiven for wondering where the revolution in the new car’s design lies.
It’s more evolution, and a closer glance reveals that where the first-generation X6 was a radical departure from the X5, the penmanship in the latest X6 has been blunted for more of a family resemblance to the X5.
In metal terms this translates to a long bonnet and wheelbase, short front overhangs, and a set-back passenger compartment. The front gets a bolder and more X5-style upright kidney grille, X-contoured front bumper, various chrome inserts, underbody protection, and large Xenon headlamps with an X5-style eyebrow design.
The car’s sporty intentions are made clear through its large air intakes, and Air Curtain/Breather technology (which helps reduce turbulence within the front wheel arches) - while adding some of that coupé panache is that typical X6 high window sill and contoured roof line as the car slopes towards the rear.
There aren’t many surprises in the cabin, with the design and feel very typical of the German marque’s other ranges.
Having said that, there’s a definite focus on absolute premium finishes – with everything from stitching to soft-skin surfaces to ambient lighting given the once-over. A highlight here is the optional digital instrument panel which looks very futuristic. Also look out for the centre-console knee pads, huge flat screen, and revised spec levels (the Design Pure Extravagance is, well, rather extravagant).
The three-passenger back seat got some attention too, offering an elegant individual outer-seat look, but more important is that it will now split-fold. Lugging room has swelled marginally as well, with the X6 offering 580 litres with seats up and 1 525 litres with seats folded. And there’s a new tailgate button in the driver door (don’t mistake it for a window opener like I did!).
The only real concern is that, like with the first X6, taller rear passengers may battle with that fancy sloping rear roofline and the constraints it creates around headroom. The shape of the boot itself, thanks again to that tapered rear, is also not the most user-friendly.
Engines and models in the range are familiar, with the X6 versions being launched in SA in February next year landing with EU6-friendly powerplants and xDrive35i (R955 503), xDrive40d (R1 056 912), xDrive50i (R1 173 773), and xDriveM50d (R1 332 540) badges – pricing could differ slightly by South African launch time.
SPORTY AND VERSATILE?
The maximum 55 mph (88km/h) limit around Spartanburg meant that the 280kW/740Nm triple-turbo X6 M50d we piloted at the media launch rarely got a proper workout. But there was a nice surprise in the form of a test-track afternoon at BMW’s Spartanburg plant (where various X models are built), which threw everything from wading to apexes at this M-developed X6 (the M50d is also Beemer’s strongest diesel engine currently in production).
It almost felt like the engineers were out to prove that the newcomer can be both sporty and versatile, with a fair amount of time spent crawling over rocks, swimming through make-shift rivers, and clawing down hills – in other words exactly what the X6 buyer would probably seldom do.
The idea was to showcase how effective xDrive is at shifting power to wheels in need, how well the speed-adjustable hill-descent control works, and how informative the additional front cameras and new xDrive display are (showing you things like body roll and pitch in 3D). And to its credit, our X6 proved quite the boy scout in the rough, with neither a scrape nor cabin-flooding worth mentioning.
The shinier side to this coin was the time we spent with the M50d on track, and going sideways on the drenched skidpan. All this revelry stretched the legs of the xDrive’s ability to move power around like a croupier in Vegas, and showcased both the electronic rear limited-slip diff (Dynamic Performance Control) and the adaptive M suspension (which hardens springs and dampers for impressive corner-carving ability).
Sure, we’re not talking about M4 levels of grip here, but it’s safe to say that the range-topping oil-burner felt no skaam bolting down the straights like a fleeing bank robber, before barreling through corner after corner. The lack of body roll and level of firmness in the latest X is impressive, and it’s almost as if the evenly weight-balanced X6 has been hypnotised into believing it really is more sporty coupé than activity coupé.
And for the market it attracts I guess that’s exactly what will count the most.
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