Published on Saturday 8 March 2014 13:44
Ten Second Review
The X6 is arguably the most controversial model that BMW has ever brought us. Part luxury SUV, part sports coupe, it divides opinion and has sold strongly. This improved model line-up gets a smarter look, extra equipment and, most importantly, a desirable triple-turbo diesel engine we look at here, a unit that's almost as revolutionary as the bodywork it sits in.
In the last few decades, almost every kind of automotive bodyshape has spawned a coupe derivative - superminis, family hatchbacks, executive saloons, even MPVs. An SUV coupe though, was seen by many as a niche too far. BMW, though, were undaunted and in 2008, launched this X6 as the world's first ever 'Sports Activity Coupe'. Does the world need such a thing? Probably not. But would its better-heeled inhabitants like one? Well, in the last few years, we've discovered that the answer to that question s almost certainly 'yes', over 150,000 X6 models having been sold in just three years, a figure that far exceeded BMW's most optimistic expectations.
Tellingly though, no rival brand has copied this car's approach and, as the Munich maker is acutely aware, what's fashionable today can be forgotten tomorrow. Hence the brand's decision to update this car as thoroughly as they could early in 2012 with smarter styling, extra hi-tech equipment, the option of a three-person rear bench and, perhaps most significantly, the addition of the desirable diesel-powered triple-turbo 381bhp M50d variant we look at here. An appropriately extreme engineering solution for what is, in every way, an appropriately extreme car. Let's try it.
At the top of the X6 diesel range sits the car on test here, the astonishingly rapid triple-turbo xDrive M50d, with 740Nm of torque and 381 braked horses that'll demolish 62mph in just 5.3s and power you on to 155mph, at which point the car has to be restrained by an artificial limiter.
As with all X6 models, this one features four wheel drive and an innovative Dynamic Performance Control set-up. This is one of the only stability control systems in the world able to provide a stabilising effect when you get out of shape in a corner, whether or not you have your foot on the throttle. Let me explain. Go into a corner too fast and in most quality cars, there's an 'ESP'-type stability programme that uses braking on the inner wheels to 'pull' your car back into shape. Dynamic Performance Control is different. Rather than using braking, it instead sends additional wheel speed to an outer rear wheel to 'push' you around the corner. The effect is a smoother, quicker and less obtrusive way of exiting a bend.
That's standard but an extra cost option it's probably worth looking at is the Active Steering system that makes this car notably more agile and goes well with the very firm ride. You might even want to go even further and consider ticking the box for the Adaptive Drive system. This gives you electronically controlled damping and roll stabilisation systems that together, really do make this car a rewarding drive.
Design and Build
The styling's been tweaked in the facelifted first generation X6 model we're looking at here - but not so's you'd really notice. A broader front kidney grille and repositioned foglights both attempt to further accentuate the already prodigious width and there's the option of incorporating the LED technology used in the revised rear tail lamps into a set of optional adaptive front headlamps that glow with a cool white light.
Positioned behind the beautifully grippy leather-trimmed steering wheel with its lovely gearshift paddles, you sit on beautifully supportive seats that are mounted a little lower than you might expect in a large luxury SUV, this adding to the rather disorientating feeling of sportiness. It's a cabin largely lifted straight from BMW's X5 which is no bad thing, with its iDrive infotainment system control unit on the centre console together with the electronic gear selector and the handbrake.
Where you might be expecting problems though is when it comes to a seat in the rear. That tapering rear roofline has to tell somewhere and, sure enough, the really tall may well feel a little cramped. BMW has contoured the roof though to make the best of what's on offer and as a result, averagely-sized adults should be quite comfortable, enjoying decent leg and elbow-room. Only two of them could be accommodated here at the back when this car was first launched but since then, BMW has added the option of a three-person rear bench so that family buyers can also enjoy a taste of X6 excess.
Market and Model
The xDrive M50d diesel that we've been testing here requires a budget of around £63,000 - around £15,000 more than an entry-level diesel X6. As with all models in the line-up, this one comes with a healthy list of standard equipment that includes 19-inch alloy wheels, xenon headlamps, metallic paint, chromed exhaust pipes, leather trim, two-zone climate control, part electric seat adjustment, cruise control, auto headlamps and wipers, a six-speaker stereo system and a 6.5 inch colour display screen with iDrive controller. Oh and a lovely set of kneepads on the centre console for driver and passenger, upholstered to match the seat material.
But of course you can go a lot further than that. Options include an engine compartment lid with a strikingly-shaped power dome, Vermilion Red leather upholstery and for family buyers, a three-person rear bench. Safety-wise, you'll find all the usual electronic assistance features for traction, braking and stability control but if that's not enough to keep you out of the hedge, then you'll be glad of a full complement of front, side and curtain airbags. Optional safety stuff includes a Lane Departure Warning system, a camera that reads speed limit signs as you pass and displays them on the dash and a clever surround camera system with side, rear and top view displays.
Cost of Ownership
BMW has forged a reputation for being amongst the leading lights when it comes to engine efficiency and the X6 is a key beneficiary, with all three diesel models - including this M50d - managing around 37mpg on the combined cycle.
A lot of that comes courtesy of BMW's EfficientDynamics technology which features across the range. This is BMW's suite of energy saving technologies that includes Brake Energy Recirculation, which recycles lost energy to the alternator, reducing alternator drag in normal driving conditions and improving fuel economy. Reduced rolling resistance tyres, low friction transmission fluids and a high tech absorbent glass mat battery are also key aspects of EfficientDynamics.
What else? Well, insurance for the M50d is top-of-the-shop group 50. But, that apart, if you factor in decent residuals and some of the lowest emissions for an engine of this size and power, the X6 should be a manageable proposition in terms of ongoing running costs.
Whatever you think about the style of this X6, you can't deny that there's substance behind it too. No large SUV handles better and few are more efficient to run. The mid-term model updates have built upon these virtues without diluting the marmite 'love-it-or-hate-it' appeal that makes this car so unique. And the addition of the triple-turbo M50d we've been looking at here really does make this BMW very desirable indeed.
Of course, you'll still need to be a very individual kind of buyer to want one. This car is an opinion-divider - and probably always will be. But that won't worry BMW who didn't so much as fill a niche with the X6 as invent one that could only be properly filled by their own product. It's an audacious approach, but a very clever one if you think about it. True, the motoring press may have been dismissive, but more importantly, the motoring public seem to love the 'Sports Activity Coupe' concept. Proving of course that nothing succeeds like excess.