BMW X6 XDrive 35i – Click above for high-res image gallery

You know things have gone awry when BMW now offers three different flavors of non-cars, all of them antithetical to the Bavarian brand's classical claim to fame. The X6 is the latest addition to the range, joining the X3 and X5, and BMW is calling it a Sports Activity Coupe, creating an acronym that's oddly prescient for a vehicle that's essentially a post-bris X5. Beyond the looks that are an acquired taste, we wanted to know if there's BMW goodness baked into the X6, so we swiped the keys to an X6 XDrive 35i for a week with the SAC to find out.

Photos Copyright ©2008 Dan Roth / Weblogs, Inc.

Recent BMW styling has been a study in how much ugly consumers will accept if it's wearing a Roundel. The X6 looks like two different vehicles, each individually cool, yet when merged add up to a pile of automotive offal. The fastback roofline would befit a coupey looking sedan; married as it is to an extra chunky lower body, it recalls the unloved Pontiac Aztek, a comparison we heard more than once during the X6's visit.

Climbing aboard might reward one with a crack to the temple from the rakish A-pillar. Back seat passengers are also shorted slightly on headroom by the fast hatch angle. The sportish appearance also limits usefulness in the cargo area for taller items. Interior volume is only down about 5 cubic feet when compared to the squarer X5, though neither vehicle is an example of space efficiency. The X6's gigantic gluteus region appears useful, but a
grocery outing ended with the tragic loss of two eggs, a first for a garage visitor. Oh, and whomever dreamt up the two-position hatch, which defaults to the "bash your forehead" level and requires a tediously-executed bounce before it will raise all the way, deliver that person a beating.

Appointments inside are BMW fare – rich looking and quality feeling. If the seats are any indication, Germans like to have their rumps coddled. Multifunction switches set motors whirring away somewhere deep inside the seat, allowing front seat occupants to dial up lumbar relief and proper support. Muted accents of brushed metal and dark wood dress up what would otherwise be a deep, dark cavern; the main color inside is schwarz.

Having iDrive facilitates a relatively clean panel, and the center stack in the X6 has buttonry for the most commonly used controls. Smartly, radio volume and HVAC temperature controls are on rotary dials, though a rocker switch for fan speed mars the experience slightly. Many, many other functions are accessible with the iDrive's multifunction knob and a trip through more menus than a call to the cable company. While the endless layers of functions have been retuned for more user friendliness, it's still somewhat inscrutable. X6 buyers will be thrilled with a complex in-car-electronics setup sporting a navigation system that's bested by those in cars costing thousands less. Perfect. The misery makes it more desirable, you know. One thing we did appreciate is that the nav can be programmed while on the move, allowing our co-pilot to plug in destinations without us having to stop.

The 35i version of the X6 is powered by BMW's much lauded 300-horsepower twin-turbo inline-six, which copes admirably with 5,000 pounds of burden. Hooked up to a six-speed automatic, the powertrain is beyond reproach. There is a twin-turbo V8 version, the 50i, but that's just wheeled insanity. Driving the X6 is simple once you learn how BMW thinks it should be done. Grab the shifter, which feels exactly like the handle of a Conair
curling iron, and select your gear with toylike action. Other than an aloof shifter, the rest of the driving experience lives up to the badging.

It takes courage to fling this much mass around, but the X6 can take it. 5,000 pounds have never danced better. Torque vectoring pushes the engine's 300 pound-feet around across the rear axle, making the most of available traction to effectively lay the power down. Electronics in unlikely drivetrain components gets the swaybars and shock absorbers into the act, as both are active systems. Despite the Bolshoi moves when pushed, the X6 feels like it's tripping over its feet with the large wheel and tire upgrade package that ours wore. Wide cross-sections make the X6 a strong tramliner, giving the steering wheel a mind of its own, and narrower, taller tires would smooth out the ride, which is firm.

The X6 doesn't carry out everyday tasks any better than other stylish CUVs; the Infiniti FX and Ford Edge spring readily to mind. Buyers seeking more practicality will likely head for the X5, while the X6 doesn't compromise much from its sibling if form trumps function. All of the expected electronics are packed into the X6, which the hardcore fans will defend to the death, and the rest of us will let pass with a "not that bad." Not everyone will get the X6, but then again, it's not for everyone. Judging from the price, it's only for the legally blind or fiercely brand loyal willing to burn cash or available credit on a vehicle that's less filling than its Hungry-Man mass suggests.

Photos Copyright ©2008 Dan Roth / Weblogs, Inc.

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