Road tests

BMW X6

Stylish crossover SUV mixes coupe looks with rugged off-roader versatility.

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3.0 out of 5

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To get something this big to grip so hard in corners, yet feel light on its feet, is a tribute to BMW’s engineers. The brash styling will appeal to some, and the brand should sell as many X6s as it can make. But the shape is difficult to fall in love with. Hopefully, the hybrid version – due in 2009 – will make it more relevant in today’s eco-friendly world. Still, if you want an elevated seating position, and you put style before practicality – this car is for you.

It's BMW’s take on the ultimate 4x4. Grab an X5, add a little extra muscle, wrap it in a set of figure-hugging body panels, and you’ve got the all-new X6.

The German brand is calling it the world’s first ‘Sports Activity Coupé’ – but is it all style and no substance? We’ve driven one of the first models off the production line to find out.

What’s immediately apparent is that all the styling cues traditionally associated with coupés have been applied to a car with challenging pro-portions. There’s a dramatic slanting roofline, exaggerated wedge-like profile and small glass areas on its sides.

However, the X6’s sheer size seems to conflict with its sporty looks. The standard 19-inch alloys (20-inch versions come as an option) are completely dwarfed by the chunky stance and flared wheelarches.

The rear has been made as broad and imposing as possible to accentuate the bold waistline rising towards the back and the wide rear track. But the sacrifice is limited visibility and bulbous hind-quarters. Still, up front it’s business as usual. There’s the familiar kidney grille and slanted lights from the X5, while big air intakes hint at the car’s performance.

Inside the cabin, BMW owners will feel a sense of déjà-vu. It looks as though it’s been lifted straight from the X5 – which is no bad thing. The driving position is fantastic, while the supportive leather seats, aluminium inserts and switchgear ooze quality.

But where this car disappoints is how it uses its size. Firstly, it’s a strict four-seater – there are only two seats in the back, with a number of cubbyholes where a fifth passenger would normally be. And then there’s the boot space of 570 litres, or 1,450 with the rear chairs folded. This sounds good, yet it’s a relatively shallow area.

Out on the road is where BMWs tend to shine, and the X6 is no exception. The model we drove was fitted with the 3.0-litre twin-turbo diesel, first brought to our attention in the 535d. This produces 286bhp and a huge 580Nm of torque. It does a great job of hauling the 2,185kg X6 along at speeds that defy physics. Endless helpings of torque allow a smooth transition between a quiet, comfortable cruiser and snarling sports car.

But that hasn’t stopped BMW from offering a range-topping 4.4-litre V8 petrol engine, producing 407bhp and 600Nm of torque. It’s a reworked version of the 4.8-litre variant found in the X5, with two turbochargers stuffed between the ‘V’ of the cylinders. This, according to bosses, allows it to be extremely compact, so expect to see the unit squeezed into a host of smaller models in the near future.

Also available is the less powerful X6 30d and the six-cylinder twin-turbo petrol X6 35i – these deliver 235bhp and 306bhp respectively. All cars feed their power via a smooth six-speed automatic box, with manual shifts via steering wheel-mounted paddles.

A new Dynamic Performance Con-trol system also debuts in the X6. It is designed to work with the xDrive software found on the X5 – which splits torque between the front and back axles – and sends extra power to the left or right rear wheel, depending on road and cornering conditions. Most of the time, the effects of the set-up are negligible, although in sudden manoeuvres you can really feel the outside wheel dig into the tarmac.

As an engineering feat, the X6 is difficult to fault. It shrinks around you and shows flashes of nimbleness that cars half its size can only dream of. But it’s no more exciting than an X5. And if it’s thrills you’re after, the M5 Touring offers unsurpassed levels of performance, space for an extra passenger and a similar-sized boot for only a few thousand pounds more.

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