2015 BMW X6 xDrive50i First Drive
More of the Same for BMW’s SAC
It's quite easy to blame BMW for the proliferation of genre-defying vehicles we've seen lately. Over the past few years we've gotten the BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe (a four-door sedan), the BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo (a hatchback), and the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer (a compact minivan). But there's perhaps no segment-buster more infuriating to enthusiasts than the BMW X6 "Sport Activity Coupe." Never mind that AMC essentially built the same vehicle back in the '80s -- the X6 eschews the inherent practicality of the SUV's two-box design for a slopping roofline and sporty pretensions. But after driving the new 2015 BMW X6 outside of its Spartanburg factory, I'm not sure enthusiasts have much to get angry about.
Essentially a heavily refreshed version of the old model, the 2015 BMW X6 is designed to offer more of the same for the 250,000 buyers worldwide the model line has found over the past seven years. Outside, the fastback SUV gets the latest evolution of BMW's design language, which somehow completes the impossible task of making the X6 more garish than before. The bigger and bolder new X-inspired nose helps make the new X6 more aerodynamic than before with its coefficient of drag dropping from 0.34 to 0.32 cd, thanks to BMW's Air Breather and Air Curtain technology, which help to route clean air down the sides of the X6 to make it easier for the big bruiser to cut through the air. Other visual changes include an extended rear greenhouse that gives the X6 a more dynamic look than before while giving the rear seats enough room for full-size adults, and a lower, more aggressive rear decklid.
The sheetmetal styling isn't the only thing X6 owners will immediately find familiar on the 2015 X6, as the powerplants carry over with little change as well. Driving the base X6 is BMW's familiar 3.0-liter turbocharged I-6 producing 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque, mated to a ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic. For the first time ever on an X6, the base engine will be available in either rear (sDrive, in BMW-speak) or all-wheel drive (xDrive) forms. While those sixxers are all well and good, it’s easiest to get excited about the X6's V-8. The twin-turbo, 4.4-liter V-8 carries over from the previous generation but gets a 45 hp and 30 lb-ft bump in power, bringing its output to 445 hp and 480 lb-ft of torque. For our international readers, Europe also gets two diesel versions of the X6: a 3.0-liter turbodiesel I-6 making 255 hp and 413 lb-ft in the X6 xDrive35d, and a 3.0-liter tri-turbodiesel inline-six making 381 hp and 546 lb-ft of torque in the X6 M50d. The former diesel we'll get here in the U.S. within a year or two; the latter we sadly won't. As X6 project head Anton Landinger told us over dinner, if you want that rad tri-turbodiesel X6 here in the States, you'd better start writing some letters.
We had a chance to sample the 2015 X6 xDrive50i for a day and the Euro-only X6 M50d for a fleeting moment outside the X6's South Carolina factory, and then later at BMW Performance Driving Center's track. Out on the open road in upstate South Carolina, the X6 xDrive50i unsurprisingly feels much like the equivalent X5 we recently had in the office. The view out the hood is the same, though the driving position feels a bit different. It's almost as if BMW mounted the seat lower to give the X6 a sportier driving position. Out on the road, the 2015 X6 is at heart a highway cruiser. The big, burly V-8 gets the X6 up to speed quickly (BMW says it'll do 0-60 mph in 4.6 seconds) with nary a rumble emanating from the quiet exhaust in Comfort mode. Speaking of comfort, the X6 rides great even with the optional 20-inch wheels. As I later found out from the X6's chassis engineer, that's because the X6's suspension was tuned around those good-looking dubs, rather than the standard 19-inch wheels. Dynamic damper control, which adds an electronically adjustable suspension with springs up front and air bags in the rear, also helps keep things comfortable as you cruise down the highway. The EPA says you can expect to get 22 mpg out of the V-8-powered X6 on the highway, and we'd say that's probably right based on what we saw on the fully digital instrument cluster display. Though real MPG testing could reveal otherwise, the X6 is rated at 15 mpg in the city, thanks to what's likely the smoothest stop-start system ever put on a BMW.
You really need to spend some time on a track to appreciate how well the X6 drives. Sure, the X6 is just fine on the road, but it’s missing that special something that makes you lust after a car. Grabbing the big X6 by the scruff of its neck and wringing it out reveals just how tremendously capable the rolling fashion statement is. After spending the morning driving the X6 from northern South Carolina to southern North Carolina where the trip's highlight was eating a eclair and staving off jetlag with some coffee, I spent the afternoon doing exercises in the X6 at BMW's performance driving center at the urging of a young Bimmer chassis engineer. As he put it, the track would reveal what was truly great about the new X6.
And he was right, for the most part. The first exercise we did in our white X6 xDrive50i tester was a simple, short autocross course. The course consisted of slalom, a hairpin turn, a straightaway, and a stop box. Like I said: short. Given the course, I set the X6 in Sport + mode, engaged launch control, and rocketed forward. The X6 proved surprisingly nimble through the course. It weaved in and out of the slalom faster than any 2.5-ton machine ought to. Don't get me wrong – the big BMW certainly feels every one of those 2.5 tons, but that mass is well-managed, thanks in no small part to active anti-roll bars. The only weak point appeared to be the Bimmer's brakes, which started to fade after five or six straight runs through the course. And just for the record, I did have a go on the autocross course in EcoPro mode – I wouldn’t recommend that.
Next up was a little lead-follow on a more wide-open portion of the track. Surprisingly, the X6 was quite a bit of fun out on the track. It wasn’t “good” per se, but it was most certainly a good time. The X6’s electronic torque-vectoring rear diff and brake-based torque vectoring for the front axle showed themselves. On my first lap, I drove the X6 like you normally would on a track, braking going into corners, maintaining throttle through the turns, and then powering out as I learned the small course. With all that weight to move around, the X6 pushes and understeers hard going into turns. Using the torque-vectoring readout on the center stack-mounted 10.2-inch display revealed that driving in such a way got you none of the benefits of that trick rear differential. So, I decided to try driving the BMW like another big, heavy all-wheel-drive vehicle I’ve driven lately: the Nissan GT-R. On my next few laps I throttled it, braking late into corners and then getting on the power immediately, letting the X6’s computers sort out where to send the power. It was like a whole new beast. The BMW no longer plowed into corners, and instead overpowered the outside rear wheel and shoved itself around turns. The X6 really needs that torque distribution to rotate and get going around corners with gusto. It bodes well for the yet-to-be announced X6M, which should join the lineup in the next two years. The one issue with driving the X6 this way is that it appears that not all of the X6’s computer system like it, as after a dozen or so hard laps we got a stability control error that locked us into Comfort mode and implored us to have the problem checked out by a dealer. Oops.
We wrapped up the day in a unicorn outside of its natural habitat: the BMW X6 M50d on an off-road course. The course included some doorsill-depth water fording, some steep hill climbs and descents, and both dirt and stone surfaces. The X6 M50d didn’t once struggle during the off-road loop. The tri-turbodiesel I-6 is the epitome of torque on demand, with all 546 lb-ft available instantly. An over-used metaphor, but that diesel pulls like a freight train; it’d be equally at home under the hood of an American three-quarter-ton pickup. The fact that they’re building these beasts here in the U.S. and yet not offering them for sale is a travesty. In truth, the course could probably have been easily completed by a front-drive Honda CR-V, but it did at the very least allow me to push the X6 harder off-road than any owner would.
At the end of the day, no matter how it drives, the BMW X6 may still be confusing to those not willing to accept non-traditional vehicles, no matter how they perform. Like it or not, the segment is only growing with the BMW X4 joining the lineup this year and the X6-fighting Mercedes-Benz MLC coming to the market next year. With 250,000 X6s sold worldwide per year in its last generation, mostly in the U.S., China, and Europe, BMW is expecting to sell as many as 400,000 globally each year. Given that the new 2015 BMW X6 offers more of the same, I think it’s safe to say Bimmer’s loyal X6 buyers, as well as a few new converts, will be more than happy with the 2015 model.
View more than 90 additional photos of the 2015 BMW X6 on the second page of this review.