Find BMW's all-new X6 Sports Activity Coupe confusing? Think of it as a soft-road version of a two-door-looking SUV. American hot-rodders pioneered the chop-top, successfully making family sedans seem macho and cool. Will the gambit work for this new kind of SUV, or SAV, or SAC? BMW seems to think so.
Though they have no common sheetmetal, the 2008 X6 shares its floorpan and many subsystems with the X5. Both are built on the same line at the BMW plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina. BMW designer Adrian Von Hooydonk claims the signature rakish roofline is cribbed from the 6 Series coupe. This low, backswept roof is striking on such a burly, lifted carriage, while sculpted fenders and 20-inch wheels give it a muscular look.
BMW says the X6 is a guy's ride, meant for only two couples or four pals to city-stomp in style. To differentiate it from the seven-passenger X5, the center rear seat is gone, and in its place, there's a console for drinks and gear.
Keeping with the machismo theme, BMW equipped X6 models with powerful six- and eight-cylinder engines. The X6 xDrive 35i comes with the same twin-turbo 3.0-liter inline-six found in the 335i and 535i sedans. This incarnation makes 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque. X6 xDrive 50i models make 400 horsepower and a staggering 450 pound-feet of torque from an all-new, 4.4-liter twin-turbocharged V-8.
All this output is routed through BMW's standard six-speed, paddle-shiftable transmission and to all four wheels via xDrive, BMW's unique all-wheel-drive system. The X6 is also the debut vehicle for BMW's new torque-vectoring system, Dynamic Performance Control. DPC uses an electromechanical system of two planetary gearsets, a multiplate clutch, and an electric helper motor to divide torque between the rear wheels. Unlike other differential systems, DPC works on and off throttle, which helps the X6 corner with preternatural stability and confidence in wet and dry conditions.
This much was clear during our track test drive at Michelin's Laurens Proving Grounds: Despite a curb weight well over 5000 pounds, the X6 xDrive 50i handles like a much smaller, lighter car. Credit xDrive and DPC; on the wet slalom course, the X6 never lost grip or went sailing off the slick track. More difficult were the tight decreasing-radius corners, which often culminated in terminal understeer and lots of stability-control nannying. The system is not as bad as the DPC-less X5 we drove at an early prototype preview, but enough to make one point clear: Fancy electronics still can't overcome the laws of physics.
On the faster dry track, gassing the turbo V-8 out of corners incited a fair bit of push, the X6 never plowed outright. The sensation is more like a tug of war between momentum and those fancy gears and clutches on the rear axle, all playing out over a tire-squealing soundtrack. Squeal too much and the stability control comes on again, cutting the throttle and killing the fun. To ride the line between giggles and grimaces, hit the Dynamic Traction Control switch, which allows for a bit of slide before reeling you back in.