There's nothing quite like the BMW X6

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by By TOM VOELK / Special to KING5.com

NWCN.com

Posted on September 3, 2009 at 11:57 AM

Updated Friday, Oct 23 at 3:06 PM

Video: Driving NW: There's nothing quite like the BMW X6

Hey there Mr./Ms. Unique Person. You deserve a unique car. Sports sedans are a dime a dozen these days. Luxury crossovers aren't far behind. Perhaps an SAC is what you're looking for. Want one? You'll have to shop at a BMW store because at the moment, the only way to get one is to buy an X6.    

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Maybe you want to know what an SAC is first. It stands for Sports Activity Coupe and BMW is crowing that the X6 is the world's first example of one. Before your eyes roll back into your head pondering how some marketing team came up with another empty three-letter acronym consider this: The mold hasn't even cooled on the X6 and Honda has two similar vehicles on the way to their showrooms.  One is the Accord Crosstour, the other is the Acura ZDX.  My guess is that they'll come up with their own obtuse three-letter handle.

You may have noticed the rear doors …

Coupe has long meant a vehicle has two doors. So what's a big five-door hatchback doing with a Sports Activity Coupe moniker?  Blame the Mercedes CLS and its tapered rear greenhouse. This looker is largely regarded as starting the "four-door coupe" trend and the destruction of terminology as we knew it. The automotive fashionista loves a good idea and the designers at BMW have adapted it to an SUV of sorts. But remember, it's an SAC. 

The folks in Bavaria have learned to churn out low volume models profitably by building them on existing products. X6 is largely based on the X5 architecture. The roof is lowered a tad and it tapers aggressively toward the tailamps much earlier than the X5. The 6 only holds four passengers; the center position in the rear is for refreshing beverages and snacks, not people.  

It's not as practical as an SUV

BMW doesn't care. They've targeted the X6 toward successful single folks who are "individually minded." Those who immediately complain that the X5 and its competitors the Acura MDX, Mercedes M-Class and Audi Q7 are much more practical are not the target for the 6.   X6 may have hill decent control but it is not intended to be a stump-pulling off-roader. Instead, it's an "other-road" vehicle, meaning it's good for rough for forest service roads or snow and ice.   

BMW's on the right track here since, honestly, who pummels a vehicle starting at 57 grand on rugged trails? Hey, it'll tow 6,000 pounds. That's sure useful. The power bias is directed toward the rear wheels 60/40 and can switch to 50/50 if need be.

Yes, it drives like a BMW

So the X6 (or X6 xDrive35i to be precise) has a sporty name, sporty styling, and a promising pedigree. Riding high, it sure doesn't look like it can carve up canyon roads. xDrive means all four wheels get power and that helps handling, but here it's a gross simplification. X6 gets another acronym, DPC. Dynamic Performance Control uses a special rear differential that can direct more power to the outside wheel, guiding the X6 through corners more precisely. If this sounds similar to Acura's Super Handling All-Wheel Drive you would be correct. The difference? DPC works during both acceleration AND deceleration where Honda's system requires some throttle involvement. The special Dynamic Performance Control differential is only available on one other Bimmer, the new X5 M.

Modern electronic stability control systems operate on the same physics as a canoe in the water. Drag a paddle on the right rear side and the craft will turn that way.  Generally, that's the way most stability systems keep you safe, by braking the correct wheel to guide the vehicle along the path the steering wheel is turned to. Ever been with a lazy front canoeing partner? Then you know that you can also steer right by rowing harder on the left side. That's what happens with DPC.     

It may be big and heavy (4,894 pounds) but with sophisticated electronics, X6 has an uncanny ability to slice up curvy roads with ease. Because of the raised ride height, your brain will insist one or two of the laws of physics are being broken. It's like watching a line backer perform a perfect pirouette. The seat of your pants and hair on your neck will sense that something wrong is happening but for all the right reasons. X6 drives like it's a size smaller and a couple inches lower to the ground than it is. 

This vehicle has the optional Sport Package with Electronic Damping.  Employing variable rate shocks that can firm up instantly, body roll is controlled during hard cornering. It can be set for sport or comfort.  Actively controlled sway bars also help. X6 has the typical vault-like feeling you'd expect in a German luxury car. It's a quiet cruiser as well.

Motor on

Buy an ungainly named X6 xDrive50i and there's a 400 horse V-8 nestled under the hood. My tester is an xDrive35i so the inline-6 makes 300 horsepower. Both engines have twin-turbos and direct injection and both drink premium fuel. They're started with keyless ignition, a big help to those who lose their keys deep inside a purse or computer bag. A touch of the door handles locks and unlocks the car.

The 6-speed automatic gets a console controller that takes some getting used to but saves space. Manual gear changes can be done with big paddle shifters on the lovely leather wrapped steering wheel.

Even with the 3.0 liter I-6, speed is not a problem. Zero-to-60 runs happen in a quick six and a half seconds. Thinking about getting the V8?  Its 0-60 time is 5.3 seconds. Not a huge difference but, not haven driven it, I have to believe the sound of the 8 is more rewarding. V8s are just like that. During test drives remember to check how the difference in weight affects handling. EPA fuel ratings are 15city, 20 highway. In mixed and spirited driving I'm seeing 15 miles to the gallon with the 35i. Potential owners could care less about this figure I suspect.

The inside story

The cabin is classic BMW. Materials are high quality and installed perfectly. In deep black, the overall appearance is dark and less rich with techy aluminum trim replacing wood in this particular vehicle. The steering wheel is heated, so are the well sculpted and thoroughly adjustable seats though they aren't cooled like some other upscale rides these days. A heads up display that appears to float over the hood is handy since you'll swear you're cruising at 60 when the speedo says 80.  Accordingly, there are knee bolsters on the center console to remind you this rig can be driven hard in corners. 

BMW's unique turn signals are present and accounted for. They blink three times with a light touch, constantly when pushed harder. It has taken me time to get used to them. It's easy to overcorrect an errant signal and look very indecisive. That said, after using them multiple times I like them and no longer look like my Grandpa Ed. At least he used his blinkers.

X6 uses BMW's iDrive interface but not the new improved version. Even the latest incarnation is less intuitive than the competition but if owners really love the car, the interface can certainly be learned. The voice activation is one of the few that actually recognizes my commands. The large display screen is very clear and a backup cam is a huge help when backing up. Rearward visibility is not the X6's strength.

Passengers and cargo are soooo overrated

Watch your head when getting into the back seat. It's low and passengers have to duck a bit. Once in, two adults will be perfectly comfortable in the nicely sculpted seats. Head room might be scarce for taller folks. Practical Northwesterners will look at the center console and moan that it eliminates a seating position. Perhaps the small storage bin on the cushion sides and optional bun warmers will cheer them up. The back seat doesn't slide fore and aft or recline.

Another gripe? The exposed sill looks sleek but it sticks out. Legs will get wacked and pants will get dirty. It's been a common complaint from passengers. My wife nailed it hard enough to bruise her calf. New door designs not only cover the sill with the door to keep it clean, they push it inward to make ingress and egress more elegant. 

Power liftgate height can be adjusted using the iDrive system so that expensive hatch doesn't nail the garage roof. You'll want it high enough to clear your head. Trust me, you don't want to nail the back of your head on the latch that sticks out from the hatch while loading. Adjustable tie downs and straps in the cargo area work well. 

Under the floor there's extra storage but no spare. X6 rides on run flats that can be expensive and harder to locate. Because of the stylish sporty roofline I would recommend an X5 if you need to maximize cargo in your BMW. Still the 6 is fine. When it comes to space X6 scores an 8 in the TP test, about the same as a large sedan. It could be worse; the Aston Martin DBS Volante essentially scores a 1.

Prices start at $56,725 with destination but I doubt few will go out the door with no options. My tester has loads of boxes checked (Cold Weather, Premium, Sport, and Technology packages) and hits $69,020. Not cheap, but BMW doesn't intend on selling a boat load of these.  The design polarizes and many shoppers won't be able to get past the fact an X5 is more practical. X6 is for people who want something unique.  The "world's first SAC" is certainly that.

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