I've never owned an SUV, or had any desire to. To me, they're gas-guzzling bricks hauling spoiled, DVD-watching kids, while being accident-safe by crushing the other car. But then I got in a BMW X6.
"This is the X6? Interesting," I thought, not sure what to compare it to. On the outside, the front stays in theme with BMW's new 1 and 3 Series coupes; the large wheels and flared fenders giving a wide, more exotic stance.
Inside, it's as roomy as a mid-sized SUV with 20 cubic feet of storage good for four golf bags and four passengers (50.8 cubic feet with rear seats folded down). Additional features like a keyless engine-start button, a paddle- or lever-shifted sequential six-speed automatic transmission and automatic lumbar-squeezing seats put the X6 in the high-performance direction.
BMW doesn't call this car an SUV but an SAV, meaning Sport Activity Vehicle. The base xDrive35i is powered by the company's glorious 3.0-liter twin-turbo straight six and the xDrive50i has a 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8. Fabulous.
In the latter, at high speed, the driver could whisper a request of a passenger to remove their coffee mug from the dash before it spills, while discerning the cello counterpoint amid the symphonic sounds from the optional 12-loudspeaker, iPod-integrated audio system. It's incredibly smooth, quiet and luxurious. But under load, the signature V8 roar comes to life with a passenger-startling tug. With silenced Garrett turbos, the sound from the cabin is similar to an E39 M5's, while from the outside, the V8's exhaust note is akin to the drop of the green flag at Daytona, but slightly more civilized.
Confident of its new car's abilities, BMW provided some track time. The dry section of this test track allowed the X6 to be flogged like a sports car, with exit speeds in some turns exceeding 90 mph, full-ABS braking zones and a right-to-left switchback that would put a world of hurt on a top-heavy car with grippy tires. At over 5,000 pounds, the X6 never swayed from its intended path. The xDrive50i can lap just about as fast as a stock E36 M3 sedan. With a lag-less 442 lb-ft of torque from 1750 to 4500 rpm and 407 hp at each shift point, such a broad powerband soon puts other cars into the rear-view mirror.
The wet track section gave the vehicle's stability controls a workout. With traction control on or off (it has mild and full TC-off setting), the X6 is difficult to upset in the wet. The xDrive technology is brilliant, the first of its kind with Dynamic Performance Control for agility, tracking stability, precision and traction in any situation. While power distribution is controlled front-to-rear by the all-wheel drive system, the DPC controls power between the rear wheels, left and right, stabilizing function under sudden load change and in overrun.
With the recent introduction of the 1 Series and now the X6, coupled with a new pair of twin-turbocharged powertrains, BMW is on a mission to blow away the competition. Considering the X6 went from an idea to a mass production in just two years is a tell-tale sign that this company is perfectly capable of just such a feat.
I'm intrigued. I dream myself as a well-to-do gent owning the twin-turbo V8, with upgraded software for more boost and a free-flow exhaust system combining an extra 75 lb-ft of mid-range torque and 50 hp horsepower up top, complemented by 15-inch six-pot brakes all around. I imagine the look of drivers I'd pull on in the straights, let alone from a traffic light. It would be a full-blown luxury family hauler and a weekend racer all in one. Yeah, I get it.
2009 BMW X6 xDrive50
Longitudinal front engine, xDrive all-wheel drive technology and Dynamic Performance Control
4.4-liter V8, dohc, 32-valve, turbocharged and intercooled
Six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifting
Double track arm axle (f), integral axle (r)
Single-piston caliper, 15.2-inch rotors (f & r)
Wheelbase: 115.4 in.
Curb Weight: 5,096 lb
Peak Power: 407 hp @ 5500 rpm
Peak Torque: 442 lb-ft @ 1750 rpm
0-60 mph: 5.3 sec.
Top Speed: 155 mph (electronically limited)
*What we like
Incredible powerband, sporty styling
*What we don't
In manual mode, the tranny still shifts down at wide-open throttle, single-piston calipers not enough with this much power and weight