It's BMW's most radical new model of the decade - and Auto Express has driven it first!

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

BMW already has a brilliant SUV in the form of the X5 – and there’s no doubt that the new X6 is going to be another real winner. It’s a truly radical design with a super-sharp driving experience that lives up to the German firm’s reputation. Factor in a fine engine range, with the promise of hybrid power, and great build quality, and the X6 is a very desirable model. Get your order in quick – there’s going to be a big waiting list!

A few years ago, the idea of building a 4x4 that thinks it’s a coupé would scarcely have been believed – but BMW has done exactly that with its stunning new X6. According to the German marque, the four-door, four-wheel-drive vehicle will redefine the off-roader as we know it when it goes on sale here next summer.

Dubbed a Sports Activity Coupé, the X6 aims to combine the racy look of a coupé with the luxury and ruggedness of a prestige SUV. Radical? Certainly. And under the skin, it gets even better, with a clever new 4x4 system and hybrid power.

The car is set to rival the Range Rover Sport and Porsche Cayenne, and Auto Express gained exclusive access to a prototype at a test track near the BMW production plant in South Caro­lina, US, to see how it’s shaping up.

Virtually unchanged from the Active-Hybrid concept which the company revealed at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September, the X6 looks startling. It’s very different to BMW’s other big off-roader, the X5, with every single body panel being unique. The windscreen is more raked, and the lights front and rear are completely new.

But it’s the coupé roofline and vast one-piece hatchback that provide the most dramatic detail. Longer, wider and lower than the X5, the X6 has an aggressive low nose, high tail stance and smaller glass areas, too.

Yet while the X5 is now available as a seven-seater, the X6 accommodates only four people, with two individual seats in the back. Legroom is fine, but headroom is tighter due to that sloping roofline – although the fact that the car is a hatchback does mean there’s an enormous boot.

In the front, the dashboard draws its inspiration from the X5, and even on this prototype, it’s clear that fit and finish will be class-leading.

Under the skin, the coupé is based on the X5 platform, but gets Dynamic Performance Control (DPC) to enhance traction and stability. The all-new sys­tem builds on the benefits offered by the xDrive 4x4 drivetrain. Cleverly, it can split torque not only between the front and rear axles, but also between individual wheels. So if the system senses the tyres are starting to slide, it can instantaneously send drive to the wheels with the most grip.

There’s also a widened rear track and 20-inch alloys, so you’d expect the X6 to be great around corners. And, on the basis of our track drive, it certainly is. In fact, it’s even more entertaining than the Cayenne.

The steering is sharp and there’s lots of grip, as well as amazing agility, with the DPC system shifting torque seamlessly. This provides the BMW with neutral handling, even under extreme provocation. Body control is superb, and at high speeds, the X6 feels really stable.

Further innovation is found under the bonnet. The X6 has a slick-shifting new eight-speed automatic gearbox with steering wheel-mounted paddles. This is mated to a 290bhp 3.0-litre twin-turbodiesel, which gives sublime pace, refinement and economy.

In addition, buyers will be offered a 400bhp version of the 4.8-litre V8 from the X5. A hybrid will appear at a later date, too, complete with twin electric motors – one for town use and the other for motorways. All this comes at a price, though. Entry-level versions of the X6 will start from around £45,000. Yes, this may seem a little on the expensive side – but drivers with that much to spend will be getting the best-handling and best-looking luxury SUV on the market. We can’t wait to put the stylish new BMW through its paces in a more thorough test early next year.

Rival: Porsche Cayenne GTS The GTS is the Cayenne that Porsche buyers have always wanted. Featuring tweaked suspension and an uprated 4.5-litre V8, it’s an off-roader that performs like a supercar. As such, it will provide the new X6 with strong competition.

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