Now that I've spent some time in the X6, I still don't quite know what to make of it. When BMW introduced the X5, the notion of an SUV with good steering feel, a well-controlled ride, good body control, and an overtly sporty powertrain was compelling: the X5 didn't drive like a wallowy old pickup truck; it drove like a BMW. But it also had a lot of utility, so it was, arguably, worth carrying around all that extra mass and the subsequently more substantial chassis components required to support it.
And now we have the X6, which is, essentially, a four-door, four-wheel-drive coupe/crossover with only a smattering of the X5's utility yet nearly all of its weight (at 4894 pounds, the X6 weighs only 88 pounds less than the X5) and mass. It seats only four people, albeit very comfortably and luxuriously. It is rated at 20 mpg on the freeway, but I barely achieved 17 mpg with the cruise set at 80 mph.
It will come as little surprise that the X6 is a very good driver. It has much more in common with a sport sedan than with any SUV, with typically BMW traits: direct steering, strong brakes, firm damping, and superb body control. I first drove an X6 back in April in South Carolina, with BMW's new, 400-hp, 4.4-liter, twin-turbo V-8, which is an amazing engine. But the twin-turbo inline-six in our recent tester proved to be all the engine this brute needs. Mated to BMW's excellent six-speed automatic transmission, it sounds absolutely terrific when you leg the throttle, and it did not pause to catch its breath when I pushed the X6 to an indicated 122 mph, at which point it clearly was ready for more, even if my driving record and I weren't.
Although the X6 came in for a lot of criticism for its looks when it debuted at the 2007 Frankfurt Motor Show last September, I have to admit that its styling is growing on me. The car looks better on the road than on the show stand. Our dark gray tester looked especially good with its chunky, snowflake-design wheels, which are perfectly proportioned to the vehicle.
The X6's cabin is a familiar environment to anyone who has been in the new, second-generation X5. I happen to like the interior design theme and execution.
And despite my complaints about the X6's lack of utility, the truth is, I was able to haul a dishwasher in the cargo area as well as a bunch of other cargo. Then again, I could do the same thing in a Honda Fit.
Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor
So here I am, the die-hard BMW freak, the guy with the hood from a 1976 2002 on his office wall, the token in-office blau-mit-weiss dude. And I am both amazed and a little dumbfounded: amazed at the X6's capabilities, amazed at its refinement, amazed at its easy speed and magic rear differential; and dumbfounded as to why on earth my favorite car company would produce something so out of step with the times.
There's no denying that the X6 is a hulking beast of a vehicle - a nearly 5000-pound curb weight ain't nothin' to sneeze at - and you can feel its heft in everything from its steering response to the way its chassis reacts to pavement heaves. In a time of $140-a-barrel oil, something so frivolous, so at odds with itself, so patently ridiculous (they're calling this a coupe?) just seems like blind, raw hedonism. Especially from a company that once prided itself on producing small, light, efficient sport sedans.
Nevertheless, the X6 has a lot going for it, and I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that, like most BMW products, it's amazing to drive. It's kind of remarkable, in fact, how well it performs. BMW's latest SUV pounds down a heaving country highway with more composure and more tail-wagging sureness than a 335xi or an X5, and more speed than some purpose-built sports cars. The steering is a tad on the heavy side, ride quality is a little harsh on broken pavement, and few people would call the back seat anything but claustrophobic, but other than that, there are relatively few complaints. It's like an X5 that's had Magic Chassis Dust sprinkled on it from bumper to bumper. (And the X5 is pretty dang good to begin with.)
Sam Smith, Associate Editor