SPARTANBURG, South Carolina — Really, it’s like a blind man trying to wrestle an elephant. When people get too close to the 2015 BMW X6, they have a tough time figuring out what it is. Nothing seems to fit together. Is it a utility vehicle? Is it a car? What kind of car?
Just step back a bit and you realize that what we have here is a Range Rover Sport with a BMW badge.
Like a Range Rover Sport, the BMW X6 is always appropriate no matter where you’re going. Whether you’re driving to the grocery store, making an appearance at the opera or, you know, trekking to Alaska, the BMW X6 has the mobility and speed to get you there, plus the style and grace to make the trip a pleasure. And like a Range Rover Sport, the newly refreshed 2015 BMW X6 has the soul of a hot rod.
Driving an elephant in Sport Plus mode
The 2015 X6 BMW xDrive50i has a little bit of a slide going on as we exit the hairpin in Sport Plus mode, and it gets us to thinking about electrons. This X6 is a surprise on many levels. First, it’s a surprise that this all-wheel-drive elephant will get a bit of a hustle on. Second, it’s a surprise that such a vehicle should have a Sport Plus mode to encourage anti-social behavior. And last it’s a surprise that a great, big 445-hp, 5,170-pound thing would make you think about little tiny electrons.
But it turns out that the BMW engineers worked very hard with electrons to help this very powerful and very heavy beast suspend the laws of physics. This particular 2015 X6 xDrive50i incorporates every last trick in BMW’s repertoire. It has not only launch control but also a suite of active safety applications that incorporate the latest anti-collision measures. You can drive it like a sports car thanks to a range of driver-adjustable modes for the powertrain and an all-wheel-drive system that includes an electronic limited-slip rear differential. You can drive it like an off-road adventure vehicle even on 20-inch tires thanks to useful ground clearance, hill-descent control, and even an optional camera under the front bumper that scouts the trail ahead for obstacles.
The 2015 BMW X6 is so good that you can even drive it like a car, as the combination of sophisticated suspension control, a long 115.5-inch wheelbase, and 5,170 pounds of road-hugging weight make for a nice highway ride.
On parade in South Carolina
We’re feeling smartly turned out but not too flashy as we drive the rural roads through the woods and apple orchards of the Piedmont. This is partly because the refreshed 2015 BMW X6’s truck-style creases and folds of the past are now carefully smudged and softened to deliver a more carlike impression. Naturally there’s a full complement of LED lights like those on the latest high-tech cars, while a clever X-shape graphic in the shape of the front fascia and bumper lets people know that the X6 is not exactly a car. There’s science to the shape as well, as clever ducting directs air through the wheel wells in a way to reduce the customary turbulence that produces aerodynamic drag.
More important, the four-passenger interior of the 2015 BMW X6 can make you think that you’re in something pretty special. You can select the usual BMW-style monochromatic trim, but now there are additional trim levels that offer dramatic color combinations and high-style detailing that make you feel as if you are indeed riding in a Range Rover.
Part of our driving enjoyment also came from the positive response from the locals. When BMW built its assembly plant in Spartanburg in 1994, this area was severely depressed economically. Now the presence of BMW and Michelin and some 44 German companies of various automotive expertise have transformed the region, and when you see the newly built brick storefronts of downtown Greenville, you realize that the influence of the automobile extends much further than simple transportation. The BMW plant (which exports 85 percent of the more than 300,000 vehicles it builds every year) has even become a destination for travelers thanks in part to its BMW Performance Driving School.
Not the Nordschleife, but not bad
Although the driving school’s ribbon of pavement behind the Spartanburg plant doesn’t exactly resemble the Nurburgring, you can shake down a car pretty well. And since there’s a 445-hp 4.4-liter V-8 concealed under the hood of the X6 xDrive 50i, we felt obligated to do so here. (The 300-hp, 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six will be available in the spring for the AWD X6 xDrive35i and the new rear-wheel-drive sDrive35i.)
The big, wet skidpad proved that this 5,170-pound AWD xDrive50i balances easily at the limit of traction. We did full-throttle acceleration (launch control!) and panic braking (brake assist!). We slalomed the X6 through cones in Normal, Sport, and Sport Plus modes. We even did off-road crawling through water and across steep inclines. If all this seems to you a little bit like an elephant balancing on a ball at the circus, let us tell you about driving the 2015 BMW X6 on the little road course. First of all, it’s possible to do so without burning up the brakes. Second, we got tired before the X6 did. Ever seen an elephant all crossed up and sliding sideways out of a hairpin?
More like a car, more like a BMW
Like so many BMW enthusiasts, we were very skeptical of the BMW X6 when it first appeared as a 2009 model. But since then, we’ve learned that a utility vehicle doesn’t necessarily require a squared-off roofline. (The little space in the back is never used anyway and just makes the rear of the vehicle feel tall and tippy.) We’ve also learned that a utility vehicle can be as drivable as a car. We’ve learned that a utility vehicle can be a personal expression of style. And we’ve learned that a utility vehicle can combine good instincts on the road with useful mobility off the road.
As much as it kills some enthusiasts to admit it, the BMW X6 has become a key player in the BMW franchise. It spans the utility spectrum from the new, entry-level X6 sDrive35i to the super-duper 567-hp X6 M. (There’s even a triple-turbo X6 diesel available in Europe, but BMW tells us it will never come here so long as Americans believe diesel is for mpg, not mph.) It’s as if all of BMW’s resources for the last decade have been devoted to its line of X-brand sport-utility vehicles, not its cars.
In the end the newly refreshed 2015 BMW X6 is more like a BMW, and we think this is a good thing. The 2015 X6 is more useful and more stylish yet it also has a little of the wildness that made everyone love the first-generation X5 when it became the wicked 2002 BMW X5 4.6is. It’s taken us awhile, but finally we get it.
2015 BMW X6 xDrive50i Specifications
- On sale: Now
- Base price: $73,850
- Engine: 4.4L twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8/445 hp @ 5,500-6,000 rpm, 480 lb-ft @ 2,000-4,500 rpm
- Transmission: 8-speed automatic
- Layout: 4-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, 4WD SUV
- EPA Mileage: 14/22 city/highway
- L x W x H: 193.8 x 78.3 x 67.0 in
- Wheelbase: 115.5 in
- Weight: 5,170 lb
- 0-60 mph: 4.6 sec
- Top speed: 130 mph