There is a certain amount of hypocrisy that surrounds the launch of a car such as the X6, some criticise it for being a car which they don’t understand. They sneer at its excessiveness, being only capable of mid-30s mpg and 217g/km of CO2, whilst praising the latest 2-seater sportster consuming twice as much. A two tonne 4-seater SUV is an easy target unless you set that within the context of a similarly heavy Mercedes SL, or the heavier Audi RS6. Nearly all cars have become heavier in the past 5 years, and yet few classes have worked quite as hard to maintain their weight through the generations – this X6 weighs little more than the first X5 I owned 7 years ago.
However with the X6, there has apparently been even more to criticise. You may have heard the sound-bites: ‘the answer to a question that nobody has ever asked’ or ‘a cramped X5 with none of its utility’, or even my favourite… ‘a car with less headroom than a 3-series’. And yet, none of these are actually correct. So, what’s it really like?
Three years before DR’s inception I ordered an X6. Now, I would like it to have been slightly lighter, slightly smaller, but overall when I saw what they had built I was pleased to have ordered one. I have always liked SUVs, ever since my first ride in a Range Rover back in Africa in the 70s. My first SUV was a Freelander nearly 10 years ago and since then a succession of X5s have figured in our garage, interrupted by the bombastic AMG ML63 which departed a few months ago.
To tackle the old cliches I use my SUV for ski holidays where their ride height makes fitting chains so much easier; for family holidays where we invariably explore sights only reachable along unmade roads, and I live in a part of the country where single-track roads often force you into a verge where normal saloons are more easily damaged.
Being a former X5 owner, I am in a reasonable position to evaluate the X6’s utility and in that regard there is more space in the rear for my two adult-sized sons than we had in any of our E53 X5s. There is also considerably more boot space. In fact compared to my previous ML63, the only utility that feels compromised is not being able to carry a 50-inch TV in the rear, something I am sure we can live without.
Sitting in the rear of an X6 provides a greater sense of occasion than in the X5, the seats are bucketed, more supportive and for once in our household have eliminated the accusations of being second class citizens compared to those in the front seats. Rear headroom for a 6ft 1in, 80kg adult such as myself is fine with around 3 inches of headroom to spare – identical to that of a 5-series saloon. Legroom is greater than Mercedes’ ML, so as a family vehicle for us, it has met its brief.
So is it really any good to drive? Well, I guess the first comment is that if you really need to travel faster on a road than this then you’d better not put your hand up and admit it. But the X6 is not about outright speed, more the way in which a speed is maintained and in that regard it outclasses any other SUV and is more than capable of being compared to a decent non-SUV. A lap time of 8min 35 around the Nurburgring for the V8 version shows that its chassis is capable, and this translates into a car which on the road can maintain its line through a bend with ease. In turn it’s relaxing, effortless and quite enjoyable to steer, although I am still no fan of BMW’s Active Steering system. BMW’s new DPC system is on the other hand incredibly effective, and nicely adjustable on the throttle, making the X6 behave with spooky similarity to a 4WD performance car. Ultimately the appeal is of driving something that shouldn’t be so capable, and yet it is.
Ride quality is also more than acceptable particularly when up to speed, although primary ride can feel a mite nuggety on certain surfaces. I noted a familiar BMW characteristic with the adaptive drive system, that perhaps some reviewers may already have stumbled unknowingly upon – if you started a previous generation X5 with a door or boot still open this triggers a secondary control routine within the ECU that either over-softens or hardens the suspension until the next ignition cycle. The easy way around this when triggered is to hold the brake down with ignition on and then wait for 5-6 seconds before starting the engine, try it and you’ll find the adaptive dampers reset back to their normal more comfortable levels.
So, after nearly a week in BMW’s press car my own X6 is delivered tomorrow. I will let you know how I get on and whether the rest of the DR team tire of me double-parking in the office car park.