With the launch of its new X6, BMW claims to have invented a new class of vehicle: the Sports Activity Coupe - but then, they couldn't have called it a Sports Utility Coupe, right?
While it shares the floorpan of the X5, the X6's most discerning characteristic is its dramatic sloping rear roofline. From certain angles it has distinctive chiseled features, from others it's strangely reminiscent of the Pontiac Aztek - perhaps the first genuine attempt at an off-road coupe?
Our feeling is that the X6 will take some getting used to, as did the current E60 5-Series, but it will soon grow on us. During our acquaintance with the X6, color selection appeared to be crucial, with Space grey being the most flattering, in our opinion.
Combining the seating position of the X5 with the roofline and sporting character of the 6-Series, BMW hopes the X6 will redefine our notion of a coupe - with five doors and four sculpted seats, a higher ride and abundant cargo space, it's a car for people who want more versatility than a regular coupe with better dynamics than an SUV, but can't afford both.
Sharing the hood and floorpan of the X5, the X6 designers concentrated on the roofline, window area and muscular wheels arches (big enough to house optional 20x11" rear wheels with 315/35-20 tires). The front intakes and exhaust tips have been moved to the corners of the bumpers to exaggerate the car's width, making it seem wider than an X5.
If you like the X6, you're in for a dynamic, high-tech treat because BMW's engineers have once again dug the design department out of trouble. This SAC promises to be one of the most exhilarating drives in its class - even though it's currently a class of one!
Banishing the two diesel models (a hybrid's on the way), the US gets the xDrive35i (from $53275) with its proven 300hp twin-turbo 3.0; the xDrive50i (from $63775) gets a brand-new direct injection, twin-turbo 4.4 V8. In a world first, its turbos have been placed within the vee of the cylinder heads to create a compact motor, but the question of heat can't be avoided, particularly if tuning is your goal.
To reinforce its sporting intentions, the new V8 offers incredible thrust, the x50i hitting 60mph in a staggering 5.3sec. Furthermore, BMW designed an exhaust that sounds deep and satisfying from inside the car. Revved hard, the 4.4 generates a bass note at a volume and intensity we weren't expecting.
Work on the X6 began five years ago, producing running prototypes 18 months ago. The team has been working on the dynamics ever since and while it shares parts with the X5, it needed to feel more sporty. This was achieved with suspension and steering tuning, as well as the inclusion of Dynamic Performance Control. While the xDrive technology electronically distributes power between the front and rear, DPC distributes it between the two rear wheels on acceleration or deceleration. This enhances steering precision and agility at any speed. By combining this technology with traction and stability controls, the X6 is able to do what a 5269 lb sport truck shouldn't be able to.
And whereas we often complain about electronic aids diluting our driving pleasure, the aids on the X6 allow it to do what seems impossible. Thanks to its technology and other items, such as new brakes for the V8 (necessitating at least 19" wheels), the x50i managed to lap the Nurbrgring in around 8min 30sec - similar to an E46 M3!
Undoubtedly, the X6 will polarize opinions. Fortunately, BMW isn't expecting to sell them in droves, preferring to sell it at a premium to people who share their vision of the ultimate activity coupe. It's also the only platform to currently offer the extraordinary twin-turbo V8, which could be the tuner's dream - imagine what you could do with those large wheel wells, twin-turbo motor and coupe styling.
Visit our blog at www.eurotuner.com for more details about the X6 and our tour of the BMW Zentrum museum in Spartanburg,