2009 BMW X6, Part One

Illustration for article titled 2009 BMW X6, Part One
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The 2009 BMW X6 isn't great on a racetrack. This thought occurs during my third lap when I realize — the throttle wide open, exiting a corner at 100mph — this may not be the best sports car out there. My next thought is "But this is a 4,993lbs SUV." And that's the point where you realize what we have here is something entirely new.


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BMW calls the X6 a Sports Activity Coupe. That seems preposterous given both their constant assertion that their best selling SUVs, the X3 and X5, be referred to as SAVs and the X6's four doors, which is 2 more than the unofficial definition of a coupe allows. The BMW X6 is based on that X5, its main difference, aside from the obvious low roof, swoopy bodywork and huge ass, is firm suspension and the addition of Dynamic Performance Control.

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It's the latter that makes the X6 so special. Basically the cleverest rear differential in the world, DPC apportions power to the rear wheels independently to improve agility, stability and traction at all times. This matters to you and me because it makes the X6 handle incredibly well and incredibly safely in any condition without cutting power or hitting the brakes to interfere.

Combine DPC with Adaptive Drive, which eliminates roll and dive, and two incredibly powerful engines and you have a car that performs better than even the wildest imagination allows.

The first indication of the X6's genre-creating genius came with a tearing sound from the back end. Getting on the power in the middle of a wet and foggy hairpin in the Appalachian Mountains that sound suddenly joined the twin-turbo inline-six's deep growl as the level of grip began to beggar belief. It's the sound of the rear differential working hard to keep the X6 accelerating rather than spinning. Its function is otherwise undetectable, except through the scarcely unbelievable speed with which it allowed me to attack that windy mountain road in the middle of a thunderstorm.

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Eventually, the realities of physics do overcome the ability of BMW's engineers to bend them. Pushed to the limits of grip the X6 will oversteer, stepping out into a few degrees of controllable slide, but take things a step further and the end result is understeer. The aggression it takes to provoke is, however, unlikely to be encountered on anything this side of an icy road or racetrack.

Slowing down, later in the day, that performance becomes nothing but a memory as the realities of driving an X6 on the road set in. It's bigger than you think, dwarfing Ford Explorers and minivans, a full width lane barely containing its bulk. This is both good and bad. The size creates an incredibly spacious interior for its four occupants and plenty of their luggage, but it's hard to place on narrow streets and in tight corners. The svelte shape leaves plenty of room for six footers in the rear seats, but doesn't allow for rear visibility. BMW has compensated by speccing the biggest wing mirrors you'll find this side of a semi, but we don't recommend reversing without the aid of the on board camera. And while its incredibly fast and has ridiculous levels of grip, the steering is almost totally numb, so it takes time to develop faith in the chassis' ability.

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For the US, the X6 will come with two engines, both have twin turbos. The xDrive35i comes with a 3.0-liter straight six while the xDrive50i come with a 4.4-liter V8. On paper, the V8 is the clear winner, delivering a 0-60 time of 5.4 seconds and a top speed of 155mph. In practice however, the inline-six is livelier, weighing down the X6's front end considerably less and not suffering from the bigger engine's turbo lag. At 6.5 seconds to 60mph and topping out at 149mph, it's far from slow as well.

The gearbox lets both engines down by being difficult to use. Override it manually with the paddles and the results are hit or miss. Sometimes you get the gear you want, sometimes you don't, making fully exploiting the X6's chassis disappointingly difficult.

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Don't expect the X6 to be the last vehicle to use Dynamic Performance Control. Allegedly, it'll soon find its way into the X5 and maybe even into vehicles from the M division. Judging by what's it's capable of here, we can't wait to try it when it's not just serving to make a flawed vehicle surprisingly capable, but when it's being used to make an already good car even better.

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DISCUSSION

weatherman
wætherman

I'm a bit distressed at what I sense is an undertone of class warfare. BMWs are not inherently evil, nor is this particular vehicle. I've had just as many asshole drivers pass me on the right in Fords and Hondas as BMWs and Mercs. I'm not defending this particular vehicle, but I do think that BMW makes some fine automobiles and that while they are more expensive than other vehicles of equal performance, there aren't many cars on the road that can compete with BMW when it comes to putting performance in a luxury vehicle. No, we can't all afford to buy expensive cars, but it's interesting to see what gets lambasted here on Jalop - a perfectly useless R8, Enzo or 8C Comp gets hearts aflutter here, but that's because those are exotics - something nobody we know or even drive on the same roads with could even hope to afford. They're pure fantasy. But when it comes right down to it they're are just as wasteful and pointless on the road as something like the BMW X6 that is 1/4 the price.

To put things in perspective, the X6 is heavy to be sure - about 600 lbs more than an FX45 for instance. But it's also 600 lbs lighter than a Range Rover Sport. It's just 400 lbs heavier than a Grand Cherokee. When it comes to hauling it's certainly got a tiny interior of just 60 cubic feet of cargo space, but the FX manages just an extra 5 cu. more. The RRS gets just 11 more than the X6, and the Grand Cherokee gets just 7 more cubic feet of storage than the X6. And when all is said and done you'll spend about $50k on an X6, $50k on an FX, and close to $60k on a Range Rover Sport. All pretty comparable if you ask me. Sure you can trick out a Grand Cherokee from a base of around $30k and get close to the creature comforts of a BMW about $10k later, but even tricking out all the bells and whistles on a Jeep I don't think anyone would argue it's in the same class as the lux vehicles.

So what's my point? Well, I'm not entirely sure. I guess I feel like folks are being a little too judgmental about the X6 where they would let other cars slide on price, wastefulness, lack of utility, etc. If we're going to be perfectly practical, we'd all be driving Civics anyway, and I for one do not want a Jalopnik that only covers practical cars. So let's try to have a civilized discussion about something we're all passionate about without resorting to calling each other assholes just because of the brand of car that we prefer.