First Drive

2015 BMW X6 First Drive

Bavaria's High-Riding Hunchback Stays The Course

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  • Engine
    Twin-Turbo 4.4L V8
  • Power
    445 HP / 480 LB-FT
  • Transmission
    8-Speed Auto
  • 0-60 Time
    4.7 Seconds
  • Top Speed
    150 MPH
  • Drivetrain
    All-Wheel Drive
  • Engine Placement
  • Curb Weight
    5,170 LBS
  • Towing
    7,700 LBS
  • Seating
  • Cargo
    53.9 CU-FT (max)
  • MPG
    15 City / 22 HWY
  • Warranty
    4 Years/50,000 Miles
  • Base Price
  • As Tested Price
    $91,000 (est)
Most everyone would agree that BMW offers a range of very attractive and well-proportioned coupes, sedans, crossovers and wagons. Yet there is one member of its family that has always struck us as a bit odd: the X6.

Proudly coined "The world's first Sports Activity Coupe" by its German maker, the X6 features a wedge-shaped body with a characteristic sloping roofline that appears to squash the heads of its second-row occupants. The crossover rides high off the ground, with a pronounced gap between its chassis and oversized wheel/tire package, capped by short overhangs on both ends. Although curious to the eyes, its overall styling is masculine, and its stance aggressive.

Whether you consider the X6 to be attractive or an eyesore – opinions seem about equally divided – there is nobody at BMW questioning its business model. As of today, the automaker has sold more than 260,000 copies of its five-door crossover, which is why it has flown us to Spartanburg, SC, to sample its second-generation 2015 BMW X6.
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X6 owners will have no trouble distinguishing the second-gen crossover from its predecessor. But many will have a difficult time telling the two apart.

Spartanburg is the home of BMW US Manufacturing, where the automaker has been making a variety of models since 1994, including its current run of X3, X5 and X6 utilities (the plant is currently ramping up for the X4 and is slated for X7 production next year). The state-of-the-art facility is the sole assembly plant for the X6, meaning its right- and left-hand drive production is shipped around the globe.

Current X6 owners, or those very familiar with the brand, will have no trouble distinguishing the second-generation crossover from its predecessor. But many, ourselves included, will have a difficult time telling the two apart – even BMW admits that its all-new design is evolutionary, not revolutionary.

A spotter's guide to identify the new model would point out the more chiseled front end, with a bold grille that nearly tilts forward (recalling BMW's famed, long-gone "shark nose" treatment). The sides are adorned with gills, dubbed Air Breathers, which are a functional part of the Air Curtains which improve aerodynamics around the front wheels. The rear hatch features a prominent horizontal chrome slat that visually breaks up its expansive surface area.

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Diet or no, nobody is going to call this 5,170-pound crossover willowy.

The X6 again shares platforms with the X5, which was redesigned for the 2014 model year. The basic architecture is a steel unibody, with a heavy mix of ultra-high tensile steel in the structure, thermoplastics front fenders, an aluminum hood and magnesium in the instrument panel support, all of which are incorporated to reduce curb weight and improve balance. The new X6 arrives with more equipment, yet it's lighter than its predecessor. Diet or no, nobody is going to call this 5,170-pound crossover willowy.

BMW has announced three different models for the US market: X6 sDrive35i, X6 xDrive35i and X6 xDrive50i. The X6 sDrive35i (rear-wheel drive, six-cylinder engine) and xDrive35i (all-wheel drive, six-cylinder engine) are powered by the automaker's familiar N55 powerplant, which has been in use since 2009. The 3.0-liter inline-six has a single turbocharger (BMW's marketing team confusingly calls it a "TwinPower Turbo" because it has a twin-scroll housing) to deliver 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque on premium fuel. Mated to a standard ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic (8HP45), it will reportedly sprint to 60 miles per hour in about 6.0 seconds, slightly quicker than its predecessor.

We have yet to drive the second-generation six-cylinder X6, as the model faces a delayed introduction. Instead, we find ourselves discussing its big brother, the eight-cylinder version set to go on sale in early December.

2015 BMW X6

The turbocharged 4.4-liter V8 creates enough thrust to launch the two-and-a-half ton crossover to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds.

The X6 xDrive50i is fitted with BMW's N63 engine, upgraded this year with Valvetronic variable valve timing. The TwinPower Turbo 4.4-liter V8 engine features two turbochargers, which are both shoehorned within the V-area of the cylinder banks, to generate 445 horsepower and 480 pound-feet of torque. Also mated to a standard eight-speed automatic transmission (the slightly more robust 8HP70), the package creates enough thrust to launch the two-and-a-half ton crossover to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds.

It's the latter that's been fitted to our test subject, a Mineral White Metallic X6 xDrive50i with Cognac Dakota leather interior. Thanks to an extensive list of options, including most of the line's available handling and driving assistance packages, the $72,900 base price of our European-specification tester ballooned to over $90,000.

Located very conveniently next door to the sprawling BMW US Manufacturing facility is the BMW Performance Center, a customer-oriented training facility with a paved 1.7-mile racing circuit, wet skidpad and off-road course. Rather that hit the public highways, we choose to run its full gamut for our first orientation.

Those familiar with BMW's X5 will find the X6's cabin a near clone. That's a compliment, as the layout is both attractive and ergonomically efficient, featuring easy-to-use round knobs for the audio and climate controls. The upgraded Dakota leather is buttery soft – some of the nicest hides we have ever felt – and the seats are extraordinarily comfortable.

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The X6 has always been challenged in terms of utility and the new model is no different.

The X6 has always been challenged in terms of utility (BMW didn't even offer a proper five-passenger version until three years after its launch), and the new model is no different. In fact, the 2015's rear cargo area is just 20.5 cubic feet (expandable to 53.9 cubic feet with the 40/20/40 split rear seats folded flat). That's well short of its predecessor's 25.6/59.7 cubic-feet ratings, let alone the space afforded by the 2015 X5 (23/66). At least the power-assisted tailgate has been programmed to open and close at the touch of a button, and V8 models get a hands-free system, with sensors beneath the rear bumper to detect foot movements, as standard equipment.

Outward visibility is surprisingly strong, however, with the view from the front seat commanding and tall. The only reminder of the X6's unique styling from the inside is found in the rearview mirror, which presents a restricted view of the world behind. The second row is visually a bit tighter than that of the X5, but it's not actually so: max second-row headroom is listed at 38.8 inches in either vehicle and rear legroom is actually more accommodating at 37.9 inches versus the X5's 36.6 inches. With this second-generation X6, BMW seems to have prioritized cabin comfort over cargo capacity, a decision that suits your author's six-foot, two-inch frame just fine.

The Performance Center's roadcourse is tight and narrow, which means it isn't the ideal match for a big, muscular crossover with a gorilla's stance (the X6 is a half-inch longer and two inches wider than the X5, but also two inches shorter). Nevertheless, we ran the circuit nearly a half-dozen times toggling through each of the BMW's Driving Dynamic modes: Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus using the rocker switch to the left of the shifter. Each mode modifies the throttle response, transmission logic, climate control operation, steering weight and adaptive suspension.

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Heavy cornering in the hefty BMW becomes a futile battle, one that physics always wins.

The new X6, like all modern BMW models, is competent on a road course. The Eco Pro and Comfort modes (both self-explanatory) are best left for highways, so we pre-select Sport for our first laps. Driving at eight-tenths, body roll is minimal and the wide tires (Continental ContiSportContact sized 275/40-20 and 315/35-20) hold on tenaciously. All of the credit goes to the well-engineered double-wishbone front suspension and the independent integral rear suspension, with automatic self-leveling air bags. Our test car boasted active roll stabilization systems, which keeps body roll to a minimum.

Push to nine-tenths or greater, and the X6 starts to plow, yielding heavy, then severe, understeer. Those front tires are wide, but much of the 5,170-pound curb weight (weight distribution is 51.5/48.5 percent) is shifted to the outside front tire under heavy cornering loads or during trail braking. Heavy cornering in the hefty BMW becomes a futile battle, one that physics always wins. Optimally, the corner is entered at a much slower pace and heavy throttle is applied before the apex. Under these conditions, BMW's Dynamic Performance Control, an electronic system integrated into the rear differential, works with the xDrive all-wheel drive to expertly split the power between the rear wheels for torque vectoring control. The X6 shoots of the corner, with its rear tires skillfully putting down the horsepower.

The twin-turbo V8, which is remarkably smooth and puts out a wondrously deep growl under acceleration without any piped-in engine noises, effortlessly brings the X6 to speed between the short straights. Thankfully, the single-piston disc brakes bleed off the speed with ease, although we'd prefer a bit firmer pedal feel. Unfortunately, the X6's electric power steering with its Servotronic speed-sensitive power assistance, falls on the numb side of the scale. It is accurate and nicely weight (as expected, effort is heavier in Sport and Sport Plus), but it still feels disconnected and isolated.

2015 BMW X6

It may remain visually divisive, but its second execution is unquestionably luxurious, capable and commendable.

Off-road, the X6 is an overachiever – meaning no owner will subject it to the type of mild torture we put it through. Whether traversing a 19-inch deep water trap, climbing and descending steep grades (a new camera on the crossover's nose takes the white knuckles out of extreme angles) or bounding over boulders, standard xDrive, Hill Descent Control and 8.3-inches of ground clearance make easy work of unpaved surfaces.

Driving the all-new X6 xDrive50i on public roads reveals very few flaws or irritating character traits. The driving position is comfortable, the chassis is vault-solid and wind noise is minimal (BMW's engineers are deservedly proud of its low 0.32 Cd). Predictably, of course, the ultra-wide tire contact patches do generate road noise which increases or decreases noticeably based on the smoothness of the surface. That said, the X6 is best enjoyed at a leisurely pace in urban and country settings, with occupants coddled inside a very luxurious cabin and the driver content in knowing that sports car potential is but a press of the accelerator away.

We can't make a rational argument for choosing the individualistic X6 over its more practical sibling, the X5 – neither can BMW, says our money. Yet nobody can fault the German automaker for offering the interesting crossover considering its consistent sales. Acura tried to enter this niche four years ago, with its ZDX, but the resculpted MDX didn't have the cachet to overcome its limitations. For now, the X6 has the crossover coupe market to itself, but that will change in the near future, as the Mercedes-Benz has signaled that it will offer a production version of its ML-Class-based Concept Coupe showcar next year, likely badged GLE. Players may come and go, but for the moment, BMW owns the unusual Sports Activity Coupe segment with its all-new 2015 X6. Its encore presentation may remain visually divisive, but its second execution is unquestionably luxurious, capable and commendable.

BMW X6 Information

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