Part sport utility vehicle, part coupe. When the original BMW X6 was launched in 2008, pundits called it “an answer to a question nobody asked” –– and that is just one of the kinder comments. After all, SUVs are SUVs, and coupes are coupes, and never the twain shall meet. Or so conventional wisdom went.
Despite the car emerging right in the middle of a global recession, however, it sold better than the 6-series Coupe, Convertible and Gran Coupe combined – more traditionally shaped cars that appeal to roughly the same demographic. All told, the Munich carmaker shifted 260,000 specimens of the first-generation X6 during its six-year run – not bad at all for a model this niche.
How did industry observers get it so wrong? Approach the car with an open mind, and everything begins to make more sense.
The new X6 is heavily based on the well-regarded third-generation X5 launched in 2013, a car that stays truer to the 4×4 mould.
So there is no question that the X6 boasts SUV bona fides: a commanding driving height, lots of room for passengers and luggage, as well as the ability to make progress on most terrain on whim.
The coupe part of the equation comes partly from the physical styling of the X6. While its front end differs little from the X5, the rear roof slopes off, in keeping with the silhouette of a sportier vehicle. But equally important: All manner of technological devices that effectively “shrink” what is a gigantic car around the driver.
The speed-sensitive steering and torque-vectoring drivetrain make piloting the 2.2-tonne garden shed on wheels wonderfully accurate. Even parking the 2m-wide beast is a doddle, thanks to the push-button automatic Parkassist system, if you are too lazy to do it yourself, or 360-degree cameras to help, if you are feeling more hands on.
All these fancy aids help create an illusion that you are piloting a smaller vehicle. In fact, you could say they sometimes perform too well, to which the three kerbed wheels on the three-month-young press car can attest. My advice: If you are thinking of ordering fancy alloys with your new X6, save them for after you are used to its dimensions.
Also massive is the engine in the xDrive 50i variant that I tested. This 4.4-litre V8 is carried over from the old model, but substantially reworked for more power and better economy (respectively, up 10 per cent to 450bhp and down 22 per cent to 9.7 litres per 100km on the average EU test cycle).
I was unable to achieve the stated fuel consumption figures, but only because the V8 sounds so glorious that I would rev the engine whenever I could just for the heck of it. For something a bit more frugal, yet almost as brutal in performance, the M50d triple-turbo diesel is available via special order.
For the best balance in running costs and performance, most customers, however, will pick the entry-level 35i, which features the familiar 3-litre in-line six found across the BMW range.
The verdict: The X6 is a mean machine with better headroom than its predecessor and marginally more load space, addressing two major concerns of the previous model. It has pretty much everything an SUV provides in a package that will not quite pass off as a lithe coupe, but is in its own way exceptionally stylish. Of course, it would not do if you have a pair of labradors that you regularly ferry to the Botanic Gardens – that is what more conventional 4x4s such as the X5 are for.
Performance Motors, Sime Darby Performance Centre,303 Alexandra Road. Tel: 6319-0100.