2009 BMW X6 xDrive50i
– Amazing handling
– Awesome engine
– Head-turning looks
– Expensive and seats only four
– Rear-seat headroom
– Head-turning looks
After the 1-Series was introduced, BMW purists lamented the downgrading of an iconic nameplate in the name of profits. And just as the 1-Series is starting to get accepted, BMW has dropped another bombshell in the form of the X6, which some would call a misguided attempt at upgrading the iconic nameplate. But while the X6, a so-called sports-activity-coupe-whatever, is an abomination, we could not help hating it a bit less after we kept one for a few days. Because, love it or hate it, the car sure makes a statement.
The X6 is essentially an X5 with roof-replacement surgery, as the top has been chopped off for a “sportier” look. However, beyond the near-identical front-end, every body panel is different from those of the X5. Even the front bumper and the rear tail-lamps are completely different. Fitted with 20-inch alloys and plastic cladding along the bottom, the X6 looks smaller than it really is. We were actually excited to see this car in person, and couldn’t take our eyes off it. It was sort of like the love a dog owner has for his pet bulldog.
Stepping into the cabin is easy even without side-steps, as the ground clearance isn’t that high. The entire interior setup is exactly the same as in any X5, except for the truncated headroom which also seems to have eaten up the overhead grab-handles, because there aren’t any. The seats also seem to be different, with the headrests almost rising up to the roof, while the rear seats only two.
The premium nature of the materials in our xDrive50i tester was instantly noticeable, with reddish leather trim on the seats and doors, as well as black stitched leathery trim and patterned black metal on the dashboard. Surely, at the time of buying, all these colours are customisable too. The excellent dressing uplifts what is otherwise a boring angular cabin design.
Even with the chopped roof, the cabin is deceptively spacious. There is tons of legroom and width for both front and rear passengers. But all passengers are forced to sit a bit low by limiting the seat-bottom height, so it feels like sitting in a bathtub. Also, tall passengers might have issues with the ceiling in the back. However, for average-sized midgets like us, the X6 proved to be much more spacious in the back than the cramped Infiniti FX. Even the cargo hold under the sloping powered-operated tailgate was a bit of a surprise, with a much larger floor area than the shorter-assed FX, although the lift-over height and the roofline reduce its practicality. Storage spaces include little covered cubbies in the front and rear centre consoles, and at least four cup-holders.
The X6 we drove was loaded to the gills with gadgets and gimmicks, such as the iDrive multimedia computer with Bluetooth, the joystick-like gear shifter, the automatic handbrake, the directional bumper lights, a head-up display on the windshield, a full set of airbags, and the rear-view parking camera with guiding lines, among the usual power accessories. The power-operated seats can be counted among the X6’s unique features, as they are almost tall enough to reach the ceiling, has a motorised thigh-support piece, and even has two-piece headrests that can manually adjust to hold your head like a glove. The CD stereo offers excellent sound and has many shortcut buttons on the wheel and the dash, although some settings still require digging through the dial-controlled computer. The navigation DVD was missing in our tester, so we couldn’t try that out. The automatic a/c, with front and rear vents, worked fine although it should be noted that we tested the car in pleasant February weather. About the only thing we noticed missing were ventilated seats and a rear DVD screen, both of which are extra-cost options.
The above-mentioned features are what most buyers will purchase the X6 for, but the real work by BMW went into everything under the bulbous skin of the car. For starters, the X6 xDrive50i is the first Bimmer to receive the company’s new twin-turbocharged 4.4-litre V8, capable of generating 408 hp at 5500 rpm and a killer 600 Nm of torque from only 1750 rpm, all the way up to 4500 rpm. The amazing engine helped us move the 2265 kg bulk of the X6 from zero to 100 kph in only 5.8 seconds, although we did not try testing its electronically-limited top speed of 250 kph. The lag-free engine kicks you hard at any speed once the throttle is buried, and never seems to run out of juice. About the only juice you need to worry about is the one in the fuel tank, as we burned 19.2 litres of petrol per 100 km.
Driving the X6 on the road is a pleasure. It rides a bit firmly on low-profile run-flat tyres, 275/40 up front and 315/35 in the rear, but it still manages to be comfortable thanks to its computer-controlled adaptive suspension, while external noises are kept at bay fairly well at highway speeds. In fact, it is the first SUV we’ve taken up to 180 kph on a single-lane road, and it felt like cruising at 80 kph.
The smooth 6-speed automatic has basic paddle-shifters mounted on the back of the chunky steering wheel itself, and it shifts gears well on command, but we didn’t use the manual mode for long as their position was strenuous on the fingers. It is much easier to leave the gearbox in sport mode and let it change gears at redline by itself when needed.
The ‘active steering’ feature was easy to get used to, as parking requires slightly less than one full turn from centre to reach full lock in either direction, while becoming firmer and less twitchy at higher speeds. And while this artificial system kills most of the steering feedback, it is still immensely easy to handle this behemoth, as the electronics behind the xDrive all-wheel-drive system take care of complications between the tyres and the road surface. Indeed, it is possible to drive the X6 like a sports car around large corners and sweeping highway off-ramps, and it is simply insane how safe it all feels. But try to speed around a five-metre-wide roundabout as you would with a 3-Series, and the X6 shows its weight, understeering briefly before the computers magically bring it back in line again without losing much speed. The X6 isn’t quite a gymnast, but it can throw quite a punch when tossed in the ring.
As amazing as it is on the tarmac, the X6 is allergic to sand. Of course, it can manage a bit of off-roading due to its wide tyres, all-wheel-drive setup and oodles of power, it has to be kept moving most of the time. Stop at the wrong spot, and the heavyweight sinks. The ground clearance isn’t too high, there is no low-range gearing, and the plastic underbody panels are there for aerodynamics rather than to act as skid-plates. Deflating the tyres beforehand barely helps, because they are low-profile runflats with stiff sidewalls. The X6 is out of its element as soon as it hits anything more than gravel tracks.
But BMW anticipated that almost none of their popped-collar customers would ever take their trucklets off-road, and we can’t blame them. BMW concentrated on what matters more, and their engineering is commendable, considering they made a bulldog play like a cheetah.
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