Sport sedan performance, powerful brakes, excellent ride and handling balance, styling that gets looks.
Seats only four, mediocre cargo capacity compared to compact SUVs, pricey compared to more practical X5.
Ever wonder why some things exist? Wisdom teeth, the duck-billed platypus, Paula Abdul as a judge on American Idol.
Sadly, we also have to wonder about the raison d'être for the 2008 BMW X6. Of course, it's wonderful to drive — it's a BMW after all, so it's fast and handles like a sport sedan. But with its relatively meager cargo capacity, inability to transport more than four and a bulky body that weighs nearly a thousand pounds more than a Caddy DTS, what's the point?
Seemingly in light of all this, the folks at BMW are touting the X6 as a "sports activity coupe." But please — even with a racy fastback roof line, a four-door crossover SUV is not a coupe. That's even more of a stretch than BMW's countrymen's insistence that the four-door Mercedes-Benz CLS and VW's upcoming Passat CC are coupes. In this great land, a coupe is a two-door vehicle, and no amount of inventive marketing jargon will change the fact this is a crossover SUV that lacks an SUV's functionality.
Cold analysis would seem to indicate that this is a silly "lifestyle" vehicle, albeit one capable of high performance. Though we thoroughly enjoyed driving the 2008 BMW X6 xDrive 35i, in the end, it struck us as a 5,000-pound fashion accessory. One that likely would be flaunted by those more interested in eliciting catcalls of "that's hot" than bothering with such plebian concerns as the ability to transport five people.
Come to think of it, they'll probably sell a million of the things in L.A. alone.
As enthusiasts might infer from the "35" part of its name, this version of the X6 is ably powered by BMW's butter-smooth twin-turbo inline-6 engine. Cranking out 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque, this superb 3.0-liter engine also sees duty in other Bimmer offerings, such as the 135i coupe and 535i sport sedan.
Matched to a six-speed automatic with manual-shift capability (via paddle shifters), the powerhouse six propels the 2.5-ton X6 with authority. Sprinting to 60 mph takes just 6.3 seconds, with the quarter-mile eclipsed in an equally impressive 14.6 seconds. The surge of power is linear, and even under full throttle, the automatic clicks off rapid yet mostly seamless gearchanges. We usually drove with the transmission in Sport mode. (It offers three modes: Normal, Sport and manual shifting.) Thusly configured, the gearbox provided spot-on performance with its just-in-time, rev-matched downshifts and ability to hold the proper gear when running through a twisty, uphill road. At speed, the X6 is fairly quiet, and on a few occasions we found ourselves running at 80-plus mph when it felt more like 65. Caution: This benefit of autobahn breeding can be dangerous to your wallet. Yet even under our heavy feet, our test X6 averaged 17.3 mpg against EPA estimates of 15 city/20 highway and 17 combined.
Typical of BMW, the X6's brakes are more than up to the task of reining in the easily gotten velocity. Our X6 came to a halt from 60 mph in just 111 feet. To put that impressive number into perspective, a Lotus Elise SC — a dedicated, ultralight sports car — does it in 110 feet. The powerful brakes also exhibited no fade in a half-dozen consecutive max-effort stops from that speed. The brake pedal is pretty stiff, however. And at first, the binders seemed a bit touchy, but we acclimated quickly.
Also seemingly defying the laws of physics are the X6's handling capabilities. The standard xDrive all-wheel-drive system has what BMW calls Dynamic Performance Control (DPC). With the ability to instantly vary the torque sent to the four wheels, DPC optimizes not only foul-weather driving but dry-road handling as well.
Our car had the optional Sport package, which includes what BMW calls Adaptive Drive. This feature is essentially an active suspension and active antiroll-bar system that counteracts body sway. Combined with the quick, telepathic steering and sticky, high-performance tires (that are part of the optional 20-inch wheel package), the 2008 BMW X6 can get around corners almost like a high-end sport sedan (or coupe, if you prefer). However, there's no escaping the X6's significant mass.
Although BMW steering remains the standard in terms of feedback and general feel, the X6's was simply too heavy at low speeds, requiring quite a bit of muscle during parallel-parking maneuvers. Ride quality is firm yet compliant, in keeping with BMW's tradition of a nigh-perfect balance between athletic handling and a supple ride.
With their generous side bolsters and adjustable under-thigh support, the sport seats in our X6 easily accommodated a wide range of drivers (as well as front passengers). Strangely, there is no lumbar adjustment, a sin at this price point. If you want that feature, you'll need to spring for the optional multicontour seats, which have power adjustments for the side wings, the upper back and the lumbar regions. A few staffers taller than 6 feet appreciated the pads on the console sides, which prevented their long legs from banging into the attractive but hard wood trim.
The backseat is limited to two passengers, with a center console/storage compartment residing between the well-shaped and supportive semi-bucket seats. In spite of the sweeping roof line, headroom is fine for average-size adults, as is legroom. Those over 6 feet tall will find their product-gooped hair mussed against the roof.
Most of the BMW X6's basic controls are easy to use. Adjusting the cabin's climate, for example, can be done easily via a control panel on the center stack. Still, BMW retains its annoying tradition of no "off" button, as one must repeatedly tap down the fan speed to shut off the system. You can fine-tune the airflow six ways to Sunday (including how much air is coming out of the individual vents) by using the iDrive system's knob and LCD screen.
Selecting radio stations or CD tracks can be done via either iDrive or the steering wheel controls. Additionally, basic CD functions such as disc and track selection can also be controlled via the faceplate on the center stack. Working the navigation system is fairly intuitive, though the voice command feature was at times fussy, requiring us to repeat the command on a few occasions.
With rearward visibility only slightly better than a Lamborghini Murciélago, the X6 would be a nightmare to park were it not for the standard front and rear sonar park assist and our tester's optional rearview camera. Those features go a long way toward reducing anxiety while backing up the big Bimmer. An auto-dimming mirror is optional.
Cargo capacity stands at 25.6 cubic feet with the split-folding rear seats up and 60 cubes with them down. That puts "seats up" cargo capacity at about 6 cubes more than a Porsche Cayenne, but max capacity is down 15 cubic feet compared to the X6's X5 sibling. The country-club set will find that a foursome's golf bags will fit behind the backseat. A child safety car seat cannot be placed in the rear center position, as there isn't a seat there, though it'll fit in reverse-facing mode in either outboard seat with all but the tallest folks up front.
Design/Fit and Finish
The 2008 BMW X6 is one of those vehicles that looks better in the sheet metal than in pixels. Sporty and tough-looking at the same time, it certainly makes a statement, especially in our test car's silver hue. The massive tires fitted to our X6's optional 20-inch wheels (275/40 in front, 315/35 out back) fill out the wheelwells, while the fastback roof line does, dare we say, give it a large coupe profile. (We're still not calling it a coupe, though.)
Inside the X6, subtle wood and metallic accents lend the proper luxury ambience. Top-grade materials are used everywhere, and soft-touch surfaces are found even on the lower dash and console sides. Big door pockets come in handy for wallets, road snacks and the like.
Who should consider this vehicle
We see the 2008 BMW X6 appealing mainly to those who are willing to sacrifice a large measure of SUV functionality for head-turning style. If you want something that performs vaguely like a 5 Series that happily fetches groceries, your 1.8 kids and golf buddies, we could think of worse things to park next to the M roadster. Everyone else who would prefer something more sensible would be better served by the X5 or even a regular 5 Series.