2015 BMW X6 xDrive 50I
- Style for miles
- Roomy and modern interior
- Drives like a big BMW
- No diesel, yet
- X5 is more logical
- Nobody sells R-compound tires for the X6
I was one of the first American journalists to get the first-generation BMW X6 out of the press fleet back in 2008. I spent the week basking in the envious stares of Newport Beach soccer moms as they sat in their traditional, boring-backed SUVs. The four-door coupe idea was still relatively new at the time, and the well-off suburbanite crowd hadn't even considered the idea of a four-door coupe crossover utility vehicle. The X6 was something new and seductively sexy. It told the world, "I'm more unique than all you unique people who bought an SUV instead of a sedan." Now in its second generation, it's even sexier, faster, and more refined.
BMW has sold roughly a quarter-million of the swoopy soft-roaders since it started building them in its Spartanburg, South Carolina, factory. Journalists and customers alike argue whether the design is extremely feminine or masculine, but everyone agrees on the extreme part. There is nothing middle of the road about the X6 styling. Without assigning a gender, I find the X6 to be aggressive and futuristic. The new proportions are even better than the last generation, and while it is X5 based, it only bears a family resemblance in terms of styling language.
It does, however, share powertrain options with its more traditional stablemate. Like the X5, it will be offered in rear-wheel drive along with the traditional all-wheel drive. BMW is realistic and realizes that when its SUV customers do venture off road, they rent an electric vehicle to carry their clubs and themselves into the rough. The rear-wheel, or sDrive, might be the perfect version for all the Sunbelt customers and drifting aficionados with families.
The engine options remain the same in this generation, with the turbocharged 3.0L I-6 being the entry-level option. I use the term entry-level in the lightest of terms, as an underrated 300 lb-ft of torque being delivered through an eight-speed ZF transmission can't be considered a sacrifice. If you need to get the kids to lacrosse in a hurry, BMW is still offering the lust-worthy turbocharged 4.4L V-8. Those turbos are working just slightly harder for 2015, with the engine now producing 445 hp and 480 lb-ft of torque. BMW claims 0-60 mph in 4.6 seconds for the V-8, but I imagine that number is as modest as the torque figures.
The European market has the option of two diesels, the twin-turbo 3.0L with 413 lb-ft of torque and the triple-turbo, no seriously, 3.0L producing a truly awesome 546 lb-ft. The U.S. market will likely get the twin-turbo model in a year or two, the real monster we may only see as it leaves the factory headed for other shores.
The X6's interior feels familiar, yet more modern. The flat surfaces are now more sculpted and smaller. Materials feel higher quality and more luxurious and there is a more open airiness in all directions. The big center-mounted screen still looks like an electronic Eggo coming out the dash-toaster, but the anti-integrated look that has swept the industry has finally grown on me. The seats are supportive and sporty by SUV standards and allow for the typical exaggerated range of motion BMWs are known for. The shifter is again an electronic joystick and the smallish steering wheel is a wonder of modern ergonomics. Driving the X6, you are easily forgiven for thinking you're in a sports sedan.
Road manners do their best to continue the sedan illusion. In most situations, you'll never run out of performance. I took the V-8 on a twisty road loop and other than the extra size, it is hard to find fault with the SUV. On tight turns, the high center of gravity and overall girth make themselves known, but on the bigger radius sweepers, grip is plentiful as is torque.
Driving hard is fun, but more important to every other seat beside the driver's, the X6 is quite and comfortable. BMW has been doing its homework lately when it comes to air management around the vehicle. This is no exception as wind noise is minimal. Surprisingly, even the big tires are pretty quiet at speed.
Since we were in the neighborhood, we spent most of an afternoon at BMW's performance driving center. Like a good athlete, the X6 performs skills drills with natural ability. Directional changes in the slalom are adventurous at first, but confidence quickly builds. The biggest problem is seeing the cones from altitude. Panic braking was equally effortless with the only issue being the active strangulation seatbelts. Pretensioning saves lives in accidents but creates immeasurable frustration on tracks.
The Performance Driving Center has a short road coarse loop with a couple of fun elevation changes and a great mixture of higher speed turns with tight technical sections. While the best weapon on the track might be a 235, the X6 is a complete hoot. The X6 likes to be thrown around. Turn in hard and the car rotates and settles down quick. The torque vectoring differential in the rear throws power to the outside tire and keeps the car turning. Even with all that torque, it gets to the ground through one wheel or another. At the limits in the higher speed turns, the car dutifully understeers. The longer constant radius stuff doesn't allow for mashing the gas, so the torque vectoring isn't as effective. I left the road coarse wishing for more laps. Would I be the only X6 at a BMWCCA track day?
Our second to last adventure was an off-road coarse that Disney himself couldn't have done better. Manufacturers' prepared off-road loops are the equivalent to the Rubicon trail, built at a miniature golf course. Every obstacle, clearance, and climb is designed to stress a vehicle to roughly 90 percent of its abilities. The water fording feels more like Adventure Land's Jungle Cruise—it's just missing animatronic lions and 60-year-old jokes. Steep climbs and sudden drops show off the front-mounted camera and decent control—both worked flawlessly. It was possible to keep powering over bumps with a tire in the air. Will any owner ever do this? Probably not, but it's nice to know they could.
The off-roading was really just the salad before the 24-ounce steak. Our last event was the wet skidpad with the Euro-only monster diesel; the trunk even has an M on it. The all-wheel-drive SUV is shockingly capable of maintaining full opposite-lock drifts. I managed three full laps before getting cocky and eventually parking the car in the infield grass. Approach the limits slowly and let the torque do the work. The danger is trying too hard and yanking the car into understeer. If I ever have a big enough backyard, I'm building a wet skidpad.
It's worth mentioning that the trunk volume of the new X6 is cavernous. Obviously not quite as cavernous as an X5, but even as the father of a stroller-aged toddler, I estimate it would be as big as I would ever need. The fold-flat seats would allow for IKEA runs, but who am I kidding? If you can swing the $60,550 for the X5 sDrive 35i, you probably aren't buying flat pack. If you're curious, the 445hp X5 xDrive 50i is a mere $73,850, including destination. If I could afford such a car, I would also spring for the $3,500 M Sport Package that includes 19-inch wheels, M steering wheel, more aggressive aerodynamics and a few other things. I'd probably also need the $4,500 Dynamic Handling Package for the active roll stabilization, as well as the Driver Assistance Pack plus active cruise control with stop and go, which also adds blind-spot assist, around-view camera, and a host of other safety features.
BMW considers the X6 to be worth $6,400 more than a comparable X5; we can't put a price on style. Even with the sales success of the previous generation, the X6 is still a relatively rare sight and still turns heads. It's great to drive, and I have an incredible desire to take one out to track day. I can't imagine the fun of running down sedans and sports cars in the kid-hauler, and it is totally capable of doing that. If you're considering the 3.0L, it might be worth holding out for the diesel that is almost certainly coming shortly. You might also think about the optional rear sunshades, as your kids might not need as much attention as you do.