The casual observer might mistake an all-new X6 for the one that's been on sale since 2008. But don't be fooled by the similar skin because the coupelike brother of the X5 gets a full remake for 2015. It looks even bolder inside and out and provides improved comfort for rear-seat passengers. A new rear-drive-only version of the six-cylinder X6 will be the best deal of the lineup. But no matter which engine is selected, the X6 is an SUV that prioritizes speed handling and style over utility.
What Is It?
The BMW X6 is a midsize luxury SUV with a coupelike roof profile based on the chassis and mechanicals of the X5. But unlike the X5, which can be optioned with a third row of seats, the chopped roofline of the X6 means it can only fit five passengers. That sleek roofline has always meant the X6 can carry less cargo than the X5, too.
The new X6 rides on the same 115.5-inch wheelbase as the old model but is slightly taller, wider and longer. Despite the growth, BMW has trimmed weight thanks to the use of lighter and stronger materials in the chassis and body. This new X6 weighs about 50 pounds less than the old one.
The X6 is available in three models — two with all-wheel drive and one with rear drive. Just like the outgoing X6, the xDrive35i is the six-cylinder all-wheel-drive variant-packing BMW's 300-hp 3.0-liter turbocharged six-cylinder paired to an eight-speed automatic. For the first time BMW is offering a rear-drive version of this X6 called the sDrive35i.
The top machine, at least for now, is the V8-powered xDrive50i. Here, BMW's 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 packs 445 hp and 480 lb-ft of torque. That's an increase of 45 hp and 30 lb-ft over the old X6. BMW says that's enough to trim a half-second from acceleration times. Those longing for an even more powerful M version of the X6 will be out of luck for 2015. And the company has not announced any plans for either a diesel or hybrid version.
The X6 comes standard with BMW's Driving Dynamics Control system. This suite of technologies allows the driver to select between Comfort, Eco Pro, Sport and Sport Plus modes. By clicking through these settings, the driver can really tailor the character of the X6 to the road conditions — or the whims of the personality behind the wheel.
In other words, around town many will choose Comfort so the X6 will slacken its ride and provide smoother shifting and lighter steering. On the morning commute or a long road trip, Eco Pro makes sense to maximize the vehicle's range. But on a tight country road, Sport or even Sport Plus will tighten the suspension, increase the heft of the steering and make the drivetrain functions more responsive and alert. Generally the X6 provides a more sporting ride and handling balance than most European luxury SUVs.
What Bodystyles and Trim Levels Does It Come in?
The X6 is available exclusively as a four-door hatchback SUV with three drivetrains: a six-cylinder model with rear-wheel drive (sDrive35i) that starts at $60,550, an all-wheel-drive (xDRive35i) version of that model that starts at $62,850 or for power-hungry buyers BMW offers the V8-powered $73,850 xDrive50i.
It's not hard to graze from the options list at the local dealer or explore BMW's online configurator to spec out a V8-powered X6 that butts right up against the six-figure threshold. But at a basic level, X6s come in either xLine (19-inch wheels, unique trim around outside of the vehicle and running boards) for $2,500 or M Sport (19-inch M wheels, M steering wheel, aerodynamic kit and unique interior and exterior trim) for $3,500.
Beyond that, the X6 wishlist includes a staggering number of safety, luxury and convenience features that includes automatic parking, rear-seat entertainment and a leather-covered dashboard. Most of the technology is packaged together with related features. And some, like the upscale multi-contour seats, rearview camera and four-zone climate control are standard when you select the more expensive flagship V8 model.
However, if there's one package to select for drivers looking to really enhance the performance of their X6, it's Dynamic Handling package. For $4,500 it equips the SUV with adjustable dampers, rear air suspension and Dynamic Performance Control — an electronically activated rear differential that sends power to the wheel that needs it in certain cornering situations. When combined with traditional stability control, this system can really help the driver steer around, say, an unforeseen object laying in the road, confidently cruise through a mountain pass in foul weather or tackle a curvy road like a sport sedan.
How Does It Drive?
The X6's radical roof is fun to look at on the outside, but when you park the vehicle rearward visibility is compromised. The back window as well as the smaller side windows near the trunk are proportionally smaller than most SUVs and conspire to block quite a lot of your vision as you pass another car on the road or attempt to back into a parking space. It is less of a problem thanks to the X6's host of cameras, parking aids and blind-spot warning technologies. But there are plenty of SUVs that are easier to park because they have larger rear windows.
But make no mistake, as unique as this vehicle may appear, it drives very much like the more traditional X5 in BMW's lineup. The 445-hp V8 not only sounds glorious, but it moves the 2.5-ton SUV away from a stoplight with a thrust that makes it seem like a much smaller vehicle. The X6 is simply a beast when you floor the throttle hitting 60 mph in less than 5 seconds, according to BMW.
But the real benefit of the V8 comes when cruising through city traffic or on the freeway because you only need to toe into the gas pedal a small amount to maintain a brisk pace. And it all happens with such smoothness, you sometimes don't realize how quickly the SUV is gathering speed.
The X6 is designed to be a sporty SUV. So even with the suspension in Comfort mode, this BMW's suspension feels taut over rougher road patches. This is not an SUV that offers such a plush and isolated ride, that the driver never feels a bump or pothole. That's just not the BMW way.
The X6 is not a vehicle you'd likely choose to take on a muddy adventure. This is after all, an SUV that emphasizes and prioritizes on-road sportiness. But the X6 can handle mild water fording as well as the steep ascents and declines. Much of the confidence we felt came from hill descent control — a feature now common on many SUVs. Once engaged, it uses the braking system to slow the vehicle without any driver input. It's like a cruise control for your braking system on steep terrain. And our model was equipped with a slick front-mounted camera that can be activated so you can see what your tires are about to roll over.
How Does It Rate in Terms of Interior Comfort?
The previous-generation BMW X6 had a posh cabin with enough pampering to make any long trip comfortable. This new model takes it all up a notch with a revised design that includes a huge 10.3-inch navigation-entertainment screen. The new digital gauges are impressive and will change dramatically depending upon the driving mode you've selected. Sport, for instance, glows red and displays speed and a full tachometer, but Eco Pro glows blue-green and helps to guide the driver to attain the best fuel economy.
Front-seat passengers will welcome both the X6's exclusive padded knee bracing along the center console (a feature the X5 doesn't have) as well as the deep door pockets for oversize drink bottles and other supplies. Passengers in the backseat have much more legroom than the last X6 and two full inches more headroom, too. Six-footers will now be comfortable for longer hauls. Still, in an SUV that nears six-figures with options, we'd like to have rear seats that can recline, too.
Because customers asked, BMW made that rear seat a standard bench for three instead of the bucket seats with a console that came standard on the last one. Four-place seating is now an option.
That increased rear head- and legroom seems to have come at the expense of cargo capacity. That sleek roofline has always meant the X6 can handle less cargo than the X5. And that's still true. In fact this new one has a cargo capacity of just 20.5 cubic feet with the seats in place — about 5 fewer cubic feet than the outgoing X6 and just 2.5 cubic feet shy of the new 428i Gran Coupe, a much smaller vehicle.
So the X6 isn't the best choice for those families who will need to carry bulky items and passengers at the same time. The good news is the rear seat does fold in a 40/20/40 configuration. That means you can carry, say, two passengers (two up front and one in the backseat) and leave 60 percent of the seat folded down. Or you could carry four, and leave that center portion as a pass-through for some longer items.
What Kind of Mileage Does It Deliver?
BMW has smoothed the X6's bodywork for aerodynamics, engineered it with less mass than the old one and equipped it with an Eco Pro efficiency mode in the Driving Dynamics Control system. But even with all this attention to efficiency, the X6 delivers middling EPA fuel economy ratings.
The X6 xDrive50i returns just 17 mpg in combined driving (15 city and 22 on the highway). The six-cylinder X6 xDrive35i returns a slightly more reasonable 21 mpg in mixed driving (18 city and 27 on the highway). The two-wheel-drive X6 sDrive35i is the fuel economy champ, though, returning 22 mpg combined (19 mpg in the city and 27 on the highway). Incidentally those numbers are identical to the corresponding models in BMW's X5 lineup.
What Are Its Closest Competitors?
No automaker has a direct competitor to the extroverted X6. Acura's ZDX, which left the marketplace in 2013, had a similar roofline and mission. Mercedes-Benz is working on a competitor, but right now there are two models that come the closest to the X6's blend of sport and utility.
The Porsche Cayenne has always been an SUV benchmark for high performance. The Cayenne has incredible handling agility that belies its weight. It's offered as a fuel-efficient diesel or plug-in gas-electric hybrid as well as an incredibly potent 520-hp Turbo model.
Unlike the BMW X6 or Porsche Cayenne, the Mercedes-Benz M-Class focuses more on comfort than sport. The ride comfort is exceptional, as are the materials and trim inside the cabin. The most pedestrian models can tow a trailer weighing more than 7,000 pounds and offer nearly 40 cubic feet of trunk space with the seats in place (80 cubic feet with them folded). And while many M-Class models are more staid in personality compared to the X6, that's not the case when the buyer steps up to the $98,400 ML63 AMG with its 518-hp V8 and insanely excessive 516 lb-ft of torque.
Why Should You Consider This Car?
You want a unique SUV that stands out amongst its peers. Or maybe you just want a sporty and luxurious vehicle that rides higher than the rest of traffic. Either way, the X6 delivers in a manner that few others can match.
Why Should You Think Twice About This Car?
SUVs are great for hauling around a lot of people and things, but the X6 offers less room inside than many comparably sized models. If utility is a major purchasing consideration for your next luxury SUV, you'll want to test the limitations of the X6 before getting swept away by its sporty handling and unique style.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.