What's New for 2011
The X6 xDrive35i's engine specs may look unchanged for 2011, but look closer and you'll see that it has an entirely new turbocharged inline-6 that delivers the same power, but with better fuel economy. Both the 35i and unchanged 50i get a new eight-speed automatic transmission and a brake regeneration system, which relieves the alternator of fuel-sapping battery recharging.
Coupelike styling for crossover SUVs is an increasingly popular trend. Case in point: the 2011 BMW X6. It has four doors, an elevated ride height and all-wheel drive. It even has an X in its name. But it also has a dramatically sloping rear end and only two rear seats. It's also 3 inches shorter in height and handles a bit better than the BMW X5 upon which it is based. While automakers are keen on this fashionable cross-breeding, we're not particularly thrilled with the result.
True, there are some high points. Packing turbocharged six- and eight-cylinder engines connected to a new-for-2011 eight-speed automatic transmission, the X6 is remarkably quick for its size and weight. BMW estimates that even the six-cylinder will go from zero to 60 mph in a rapid 6.3 seconds. For 2011, that six-cylinder is all-new even though its power ratings are unchanged. Instead, its fuel economy has been improved thanks to a new turbocharger design and other improvements.
The X6 is relatively fast around corners, too, with controlled body motions and highly communicative steering (that most will nevertheless find is too heavy at low speeds). Still, there's just no escaping how big and heavy the X6 is, and you'll never confuse it with an actual sport coupe or sedan. It drives like a really sporty SUV -- just one without much practicality or space.
If it seems like we think the X6 is vehicular nonsense, you'd be right. There's just no logical reason someone should purchase one instead of any number of more focused luxury vehicles. The BMW X5 doesn't have the funky styling, but it offers virtually the same dynamic traits with a full backseat and a sizable cargo area. The Porsche Cayenne is another sport-tuned SUV with actual practicality. Should you be interested in a real sport coupe or sedan, a BMW 3 Series, 5 Series and M3 are worthy in-brand choices. Even the odd BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo makes more practical sense.
Yet we have a sneaking suspicion that practicality won't matter to someone who purchases the 2011 BMW X6. What will matter is that it looks the way it does and that it's a BMW. The former is a matter of taste, and the latter speaks to the brand's enduring quality, engineering excellence and desirability. So in that way, maybe the X6 makes some semblance of sense after all.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 BMW X6 is a four-seat SUV available in two trim styles that correspond to engine: xDrive35i and xDrive50i. The term xDrive refers to its standard all-wheel-drive system. There are two other versions of the X6, the ActiveHybrid X6 and X6 M, which are covered in separate model reviews.
Standard equipment on the X6 xDrive35i includes 19-inch wheels, front and rear parking sensors, a power tailgate, a sunroof, automatic and adaptive bi-xenon headlights, foglights, automatic wipers, cruise control, 10-way power front seats, driver memory functions, leather upholstery, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, the iDrive electronics interface and a 10-speaker sound system with CD player, auxiliary audio jack and HD radio. Aside from its twin-turbo V8, the xDrive50i adds 14-way "multicontour" front seats, BMW Assist emergency telematics, Bluetooth and a navigation system with voice controls and real-time traffic. These extra items are available as options on the 35i.
The optional Premium Sound package adds a 16-speaker surround-sound system with an iPod/USB adapter and a six-CD/DVD changer. The Cold Weather package adds heated front seats, a heated steering wheel and retractable headlight washers. The Active Ventilated Seat package adds automatically adjusting driver seat bolsters, ventilated seats and perforated leather upholstery. The Rear Climate package adds four-zone climate control, tinted glass and manual rear side window shades. The Sport package adds a choice of 19- or 20-inch wheels, the Active Drive enhanced suspension and darker interior and exterior trim. The version of this package known as Sport Activity deletes Active Drive.
Several of the above items are available as stand-alone options, as are active steering, automatic high beams, a lane departure warning system, adaptive cruise control, keyless ignition/entry, soft-close automatic doors, running boards, a sideview camera, a head-up display, heated rear seats, extended leather upholstery and a rear-seat entertainment system. The xDrive50i can be further equipped with a multiview parking camera and sport seats.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2011 BMW X6 xDrive35i is powered by a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 that produces 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque. As with the xDrive50i, an eight-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive are standard. BMW estimates that the X6 35i will go from zero to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds. EPA fuel economy estimates had not been published at this writing; however, the related X5 xDrive35i achieves an estimated 17 mpg city/25 mpg highway and 20 mpg combined -- impressive given its power.
The 2011 BMW X6 xDrive50i gets a twin-turbo 4.4-liter V8 that cranks out 400 hp and 450 lb-ft of torque. Its estimated 0-60 time is 5.3 seconds. EPA-estimated fuel economy stands at 13 mpg city/18 mpg highway and 15 mpg combined.
Standard safety features on the 2011 BMW X6 include antilock disc brakes, stability control, traction control, hill descent control, front-seat side airbags, side curtain airbags and active front head restraints. Also included is BMW's advanced Dynamic Performance Control (DPC) that greatly enhances directional stability and traction by redirecting power to individual wheels. BMW Assist emergency telematics are optional. In Edmunds brake testing, an X6 xDrive35i came to a stop from 60 mph in a very short 111 feet.
Interior Design and Special Features
From the front seats, the BMW X6 is nearly identical to the X5 upon which it is based, though sportier seats and cushioned center console sides (to help protect knees during aggressive cornering) are unique to the X6. In BMW fashion, materials are top-notch and the whole thing is put together beautifully.
The big changes happen behind the front seats, mostly due to the sloping roof line that reduces rear headroom by about 2 inches. The rear seat is also only capable of accommodating two passengers, since the large rear center console is not removable. The rear seats are reasonably comfortable, but they lack any sort of adjustment. The dramatic roof line also cuts into the cargo area. Cargo capacity is sufficient for occasional hauling, with a decent 25 cubic feet with the seats up, but with the rear seats stowed, the X6 holds only 60 cubic feet (compared to the X5's 75 cubes). That's less capacity than what you'll get out of a Hyundai Tucson.
The 2011 BMW X6 delivers an astonishing amount of performance considering its size and weight. Cornering prowess is impressive thanks to a nearly perfect 50/50 weight distribution, wide, sticky tires and the Dynamic Performance Control all-wheel-drive system. The steering is another standout when going fast, but at slower speeds, it can be a tad too heavy.
Acceleration is brisk with either of the available engines -- the 35i is definitely more than enough. Braking power is remarkably strong and fade-free, especially considering this big Bimmer's heft. Despite the X6's athletic performance, ride comfort does not suffer. In everyday driving, the cabin keeps road and wind noise to a minimum, while the suspension soaks up road imperfections with ease.