Ed Hellwig, Executive Editor
We're not sold on the looks of the 2008 BMW X6, but everyone else who sees this new half-sedan, half-SUV loves it.
"I don't even like cars, but that thing is cool-looking," says a middle-aged man eyeing our silver xDrive35i — the official trim designation of the base model of the X6 with its twin-turbo inline-6 engine. His use of the phrase "that thing" sums up just how hard it is to pin a name on this crossbred BMW.
But how would he know? He doesn't even like cars. What about someone who appreciates a purposeful and classic design?
We get our answer when a brand-new Porsche 911 Carrera S Cabriolet pulls alongside and its driver motions for us to roll down our window. Would he call out something rude about the X6; suggest it's an overweight SUV pretending to be a sport sedan?
"Man, that thing is tough-looking," he shouts, once again confirming both the X6's butch stance and its unrecognizable configuration. "I've seen pictures, but it's so much better in person. Wanna trade?"
Yes, yes we do, but he takes off before we can make the deal of the century. The message is clear: The 2008 BMW X6 gets attention from those who might not otherwise give SUVs a second look. And that's pretty much the whole point.
Nothing New Under the Skin This BMW's ability to get otherwise uninterested bystanders to offer up comments is impressive, especially given that it's nothing more than an X5 with some plastic surgery. Slightly longer and lower, the 2008 BMW X6 is intended to look like a coupe version of the X5. But while the steeply raked roof line looks dramatic, the four full-size doors make the whole coupe idea kind of a stretch.
Built on the same chassis as the more utilitarian-looking X5, the X6 is largely the same under the skin. It rides on an identical 115.5-inch wheelbase and uses a similar suspension setup. A 2-inch-wider track is the most drastic departure from the X5, a change that helps give the X6 its muscular stance.
Our X6 also gets some help from a set of optional 20-inch wheels that carry huge 275/40R20 tires in front and even bigger 315/30R20 tires in back. That's bigger rubber than you would find on a Ferrari 599 GTB.
The big wheels and tires are held in check by the optional sport suspension package, which adds Adaptive Drive dampers along with a few cosmetic upgrades and sport seats.
As sleek as it all looks, the 2008 BMW X6 is a dense piece of machinery. It tips our scales at 4,987 pounds, another reason why the whole "coupe" idea is a little hard to swallow. Bugatti's monstrous 16-cylinder Veyron coupe doesn't even top 4,200 pounds. At least the X6's weight is well proportioned, with a nearly perfect 50/50 split between the front and rear axles.
5,000 Pounds Never Felt So Nimble A little extra around the middle doesn't mean the X6 can't back up its athletic looks. In fact, its track numbers indicate quite the opposite.
On the skid pad, the X6 generates a 0.87g performance, a better number than three out of the four V8 Sport Sedans we compared last month. Some of the credit goes to the big Dunlop SP Sport Maxx tires, as they hold on better than expected, although our test-driver also notes how easy the X6 is to steer with the throttle.
The X6 is equally fast through the slalom, posting a best run of 65.3 mph. That's a shade quicker than a sport-package-equipped BMW 550i's performance of 65 mph. Again, plenty of grip combined with a well-sorted suspension and responsive steering allows the X6 to transition quickly and push right to the limit.
Stopping power is another area where the X6 manages its weight well. It takes just 111 feet to haul the X6 down from 60 mph to a stop. There are sports cars that take 10 feet longer to accomplish the same feat.
The brake pedal action is admittedly stiff and under normal circumstances the initial bite of brake engagement can be abrupt, but again, for an SUV of its size and weight the X6 handles itself better than expected. "The X6 forgets it weighs 5,000 pounds," says our test-driver.
Twin-Turbo Six Finally Meets Its Match Unlike the V8-powered Xdrive50i we drove in South Carolina, our X6's twin turbos feed a 3.0-liter straight-6, the same engine used in the 3 and 5 Series sedans. It's flawless in those cars, but when forced to deal with nearly 2.5 tons, the 300-horsepower six doesn't feel quite as chipper.
This version of the X6 still manages a respectable 6.3-second 0-60-mph run (6.1 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) and crosses the quarter-mile mark in 14.6 seconds at 93.5 mph. A V8-powered Jaguar XK coupe runs about the same numbers.
A six-speed automatic is the only transmission available in the 2008 BMW X6 and it sends power through BMW's latest xDrive all-wheel-drive system. The X6 features a new torque distribution system known as Dynamic Performance Control (DPC). It's capable of redirecting power to each of the four wheels in varying degrees to deliver directional control in addition to all-weather traction. Clearly the new system helps generate good performance on the skid pad and through the slalom cones, but getting the most of DPC requires either high speed or low levels of traction.
Shifts from the automatic are well-timed and smooth during normal driving. We get an abrupt gearchange now and again under full throttle, and it makes the transmission feel as if it's trying to make up for something, like the fact that even with 300 pound-feet of engine torque, the physics involved still don't stack up in the X6's favor. We recorded roughly 17 mpg in mixed driving.
Doesn't Ride Like It's on 20s As capable as the X6 is at the track, it doesn't feel high-strung on the street. In fact, it rides even better than our own long-term BMW X5, which has no sport package at all.
Maybe it was the extra development time, but the X6 bounces less over big bumps and handles smaller imperfections with only minor twitches of the wheel. Tire noise from the massive Dunlops isn't bothersome either and the low, wide shape of the body keeps wind noise down, too.
BMW's Active Steering system is available, but our test vehicle didn't include it. On occasion the steering feels a little too heavy at lower speeds, most likely a misguided attempt to reinforce the X6's performance credentials. Same goes for the shift paddles on the steering wheel, which work fine but their flimsy feel doesn't add much to the experience.
Leave the Kids at Home With no third-row option and only two seats in the second row, the X6 laughs in the face of young families. Think mom might want to sit between two car seats to mind the kids? Forget it. There's a permanent center console that doesn't make for a very good seat.
Cargo space is compromised as well, although the X6 is still useful for occasional hauling duty thanks to nearly 60 cubic feet available with the rear seats folded down. Put the seats up and there are only 25 cubic feet left, so don't expect to squeeze more than one stroller in an X6.
If kids aren't an issue, the backseat isn't such a bad place to be. The head- and legroom are acceptable for average-size adults, while the shape of the seats themselves is actually quite comfortable. The overall space is slightly compromised, however, so it feels more cramped than the X5.
The fact that we can't see much through the back window doesn't help either. Big D-pillars and a nearly flat rear window just about eliminate rearward visibility.
A Big Price To Pay for Style If there's one element of the 2008 BMW X6 that isn't trying to be daringly different, it's the design of the interior. It looks a little boring for such a style-conscious vehicle, but it's solidly constructed with high-quality materials.
Between the Cold Weather, Sport and Technology packages, this X6 has plenty of luxury features, like 10-way power seats, a navigation system and a heated steering wheel. Its base price is $53,225, but our nicely optioned tester is a hefty $63,675.
That's a tough pill to swallow given that a similarly equipped X5 3.0si would run us a mere $56,000. The X5 has a less powerful, normally aspirated 3.0-liter six and a slightly less sophisticated all-wheel-drive system. It also looks like a normal SUV.
So, checking the "look cool" option known as the X6 is an $8K decision over the X5. It's not very practical, but neither is buying a $56,000 SUV in the first place. And judging by the reactions to its unconventional design, this will be money well spent if you're looking for a little attention or a pat on the back for choosing a forward-looking design.
We aren't looking for either, so give us the X5 and the extra $8 grand and we'll leave the X6 to Porsche 911 owners and those who don't like cars at all.
Chief Road Test Editor Chris Walton says: I love it. I don't care one bit how compromised the X6's packaging might be (not that much, really). Sure, it has a couple blind spots, but that's what a valet is for, right?
The X6 looks fantastic and futuristic, like the kind of vehicle Jules Verne might've imagined we'd be driving in From the Earth to the Moon in 2008.
Now that the X5 has acquired a third-row seat thanks to the perceived need for a BMW SUV/minivan crossover, I've lost my interest in it entirely. Of course, BMW undertook this move because it had the X6 on the way for people like me. The X6 is like the first-generation X5, only better. It's a uniquely styled, high-performance vutch-a-macall-it.
If you looked only at the X6's on-track performance numbers, you might think we had tested a sport sedan. Driven in the real world, the X6 still displays the kind of supple ride-versus-handling balancing act made famous by BMW, even when it's equipped with the Sport package as here.
The X6 has excellent seats, sound ergonomics, modern options, and how about that cargo capacity? With all seats occupied, there are 26 cubic feet of volume (nearly twice that of a 5 Series trunk), and folding them down nets 60 cubes of space.
Some might say the X6 is an answer to a question nobody asked, but to me the 2008 BMW X6 solves more riddles than it creates. It looks like nothing else on the road, drives like a BMW, and it works. That's enough for me.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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