BMW’s X6: Crossover success or cross-dressing mess? |

BMW’s X6: Crossover success or cross-dressing mess?

Andy Stonehouse
Special to The Vail Trail

As the peculiar offspring of a bunch of totally unrelated DNA sources, which include not only the mostly practical BMW X5 but perhaps the ungainly Pontiac Aztec and even the short-lived Lamborghini LM002 super-jeep, the new BMW X6’s place in our world is a bit uncertain.

Even with a new presidency and (by comparison) dirt-cheap gasoline, do we really need a very expensive, fast, terribly gas-guzzling, four-seat-only sorta-SUV/sorta-jacked-up-sports-car kinda thing right now? What were these Germans smoking? And, more importantly, do they have more for us?

Described as BMW’s “Sports Activity Coupe,” although coupe does not usually conjure images of four-door SUV-derived autos, the X6 is the newest entry in an industry-wide burst of peculiar-looking crossover vehicles, such as the upcoming Volvo XC60 and the new Infiniti FX’s. These are crossovers in the sense that they blend SUV stature with car-type size and handling, versus previous crossovers which blended SUVs with minivans.

And drivers who’ve tired of the X5 – or the ability to have more than four people in a vehicle at any time – may be good candidates for the imposing, style-forward X6, which has distinctive lines and stature, to say the least.

Things are aerodynamically BMW up front, but hit the middle of the cabin and suddenly there’s this peculiarly swooped roofline and a tall buttress of hatchback trunk, and you have absolutely no idea what you’re looking at.

That low roof, combined with relatively tall rear seats and their fixed headrests, mean rear visibility that’s about the same as a convertible (one tiny slit); luckily the large side mirrors help while navigating, as well as a backup camera.

Add the big, overstated exhaust ports and the attractive snowflake-styled wheels (and yes, they are 20-inchers, so good luck finding affordable snow tires there, Jack) and you have a whole lot of bling. And, in the case of my tester, a $52,000 base price vehicle that not-so-suddenly was pricing itself at $72,520, thanks to a load of very expensive options.

Performance-wise, you’re also mixing up an odd array of influences. With 300 horsepower of twin-turbo inline six oomph at the ready, or an ungodly 400 HP in the V8 version, the X6 flies along like it has rocket boosters.

This is true to only a certain point in uphill, high-altitude outings (such as the kind you’ll have to do every day), as VMAX seemed to come pretty early, so maybe the V8 would provide unstoppable whomp; even the “smaller” engine’s regular operations at altitude seemed to also return maybe 16 mpg, so there’s the catch.

BMW’s new dynamic performance AWD system, somewhat akin to the super-handling AWD found on Acuras, imparts severely direct steering inputs and handling and maneuverability that seems quite uncharacteristic for a tall-ish, 4,387 pound vehicle perched on those big wheels.

It’s not just a tall M5, though, and overly spirited cavorting will have the stability control lights ablaze. Given the X6’s girth, I didn’t want to push my luck; the presence of hill descent control indicate it probably has at least mid-range off-road agility.

I did appreciate the improved thumb-actuated six-speed automatic transmission inputs, which helped in addressing any uphill power outages; the Norelco razor-shaped console gear shifter remains completely non-intuitive, but looks pretty, I guess.

The four-door character does have its advantages, especially if you and your six-year-old sister do not want to sit anywhere near each other on a long trip to Disneyland. The rear seats are comfortably separated with almost aircraft-styled accoutrements of audio, video and air controls and storage (it’s like having a front seat in the back seat, minus the steering wheel), including a console-mounted flip-up-and-twist DVD screen that … uh, will permanently bang into the driver’s elbow. Odd, that.

Finishings are all high-end X5, taken to the max, although the big, heavily bolstered sport seats and wide, wide running boards with Germanic rubberized machine gun barrel grip strips make entries and exits totally, totally uncomfortable, unless you’re a Cirque du Soleil contortionist.

There’s the requisite xDrive controller, a keyless pushbutton starter, loads of leather, glossy dark bamboo wood and anthracite trim and loads of dark, highly texturized surfaces; a head-up display will give you a better idea of your potential downhill speed violations. It’s also the most media-heavy vehicle I’ve ever driven, with a six-DVD changer in the glove box, a six-CD audio deck, a separate DVD system in the rear and a litany of iPod and flash drive inputs.

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