When I got the email letting me know my last-minute assignment for the week would be to go pick up, drive, shoot and review the 2015 BMW X6 xDrive50i, I had to slap myself in the face for a second. Why, you ask? Well, even if you didn’t ask, I’ll tell you. I’ve never driven an X6. I’ve driven all sorts of BMWs, almost all of them, I think - except for the X6. Yet when I was given the X6 news I was pretty unexcited about the idea. That’s when I had to slap myself in the face as I realized my disappointment heralded my descent into the slippery slope of ungrateful, spoiled, prima dona auto journalist. So post-face slap, I pulled up my britches, reminded myself that even though the idea of a tank-sized SUV isn’t my cup of tea, it’s a BMW after all, and BMW makes fantastic driving machines and the X6 with its 260,000 buyers should be no different to all the other BMWs I’ve known and loved, right? If that wasn’t motivation enough to get excited at the prospect of reviewing the X6, I reminded myself I’d soon be picking up, driving, shooting and reviewing a McLaren 650S.... That did the trick and off I went to BMW with the usual spring in my step to pick up my very own 445-hp Bavarian tank.
You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t find the majority of BMWs, from the very first generations all the way up to the present day [Right up until the 5 Series GT... –Ed.], to be aesthetically pleasing vehicles. Even if you’re not overcome with lust on sight, you’d still have to admit they’re sharp-looking automobiles. In the case of the X6, if I were to poll a room full of car enthusiasts and people who use cars just like they would any other device and ask them what they thought of the X6’s styling, I’d probably hear a wide range of answers. In fact, I did ask a few people in my circle of friends - both enthusiasts and 'devicers'. Some of the answers I received (in no particular order) were:
“I love it!”
"What and why is it?”
“It’s. So. Big.”
“Is it good on gas?”
“I don’t know what that thing is, but I want one!”
“That’s a BMW?”
“Do you think we can fit 20 people in that thing?”
“Can I drive it?”
“How fast is it?”
“That’s a biiiiiiiiiiig bitc…”
As you can see from the highly scientific poll, the size of the X6 was what struck most people.
When I arrived to collect my steed for the week, I was immediately struck by its presence. It was a clear spring day with nary a cloud in the sky and sitting in BMW’s ample lot, wearing its Space Grey coat of paint, it was sparkling in the sun. Its M Sport Package split 5-spoke 20-inch wheels, wrapped in 275/40-20 up front and 315/35-20 Dunlop summer tires showing off the X6’s large brake rotors and giving me the impression that this tank may just be able to handle the way I would want to drive it.
Hopping into the cockpit, I was instantly reminded of an X5 (a good thing) and I was immediately taken with just how striking the Cognac Exclusive Nappa Leather (w/black highlights) interior was. You may be thinking to yourself, isn’t Cognac Exclusive Nappa Leather just another fancy way of saying tan? It’s a little deeper than a regular tan, more like a blood orange infused tan, resulting in a very striking two-tone cognac and black interior. The leather was soft and supple and you could definitely tell you were in a high end vehicle. I tried to picture the interior without the black accents and the resulting image in my head was not a pleasing one - if you're ponying up for the X6, I would definitely go with the two-tone look or plain black. The controls and knobs were all laid out in standard BMW fashion - simple, and easy to use.
As far as cargo space goes the X6 offers 580L of storage space. Depending on your requirements, the three sections of the backrests can be folded down in a 40:20:40 split, thus expanding the space available. When all three sections are folded down, 1,525 L of room is made available. This is significantly less than the X5’s cargo space.
As our tester was equipped with the M Sport Package, it included the Anthracite roofliner. The dark grey roofliner added to the sharp contrast look of the cognac and black seats, dash, door panels and armrest. The large panoramic sunroof was opened as soon as I stepped into the X6 and the sun poured through, giving the interior an even more bold and contrasted look. One thing’s for sure: the pleasing and sharp interior of our tester made me feel like 100,000 bucks. After fiddling around and syncing my phone to the optional Harman/Kardon sound system, upgraded with Bang & Olufsen speakers, setting the head-up display for my line of sight, getting my lumbar supports in the very comfortable Comfort Seats just right, and cooling my butt down with the excellent air conditioned seats, I was ready. I placed my hand on the M leather three-spoke wheel and snicked the X6 into gear. We were off.
The X6 xDrive50i is equipped with four Driving Dynamic modes - Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus. Drivers can switch between the modes on the fly with an easy-to-find rocker switch just left of the shifter. Each mode has its own settings for throttle response, power delivery, shift points in the transmission, steering feel and the adaptive suspension. Switching between the modes rewards the driver with an almost instant change in the X6’s behaviour. The different dynamic modes, not only change the X6’s driving dynamics, but they also change your instrument cluster’s information readout. In Comfort and Sport mode, the cluster is dominated by two standard looking clocks with black faces and white numbers - tachometer and speedometer, respectively. In Eco Pro mode, your cluster transforms into something similar to what you’d see in a Prius. On the left you have a speedometer that reads up to 120 km/h and on the right you have an Efficient Dynamics clock. No numbers there, just a needle that sweeps back and forth letting you know how much power you’re asking the 4.4L twin-turbo V8 for and on the reverse side, how much power and energy you’re saving from the regenerative brake system.
Switching to Sport Plus mode, the gauge cluster goes into DEFCON 1 mode, initiating Dynamic Traction Control, and transforms into red-accented dials on a black background. On the left you have a speed readout and on the right you have the tachometer and a digital gear indicator display. The speedometer in this instance gives you a digital numeric readout of your speed instead of a standard clock style. In all the other modes, you have the option of a real-time fuel economy readout. In Sport Plus, that changes into a horsepower gauge. Giddy up.
The X6 defaults into Comfort mode when you start it up. As I’d never driven an X6 before, I was eager to explore all its modes. Leaving it in Comfort mode, I merged onto the highway and planted the go pedal into the floor once I had ascertained the coast was clear. I was rewarded with an out-of-this-world sensation of thrust - the kind of thrust you can only experience from a turbocharged vehicle. That’s not to say a naturally aspirated vehicle can’t accelerate just as quickly as a turbocharged vehicle, it just means the sensation of thrust from a turbo vehicle is unlike anything else.
I must admit, I was impressed. By this point I was clipping along at a decent pace in the left lane. There was minimal traffic and it was one of those rare occasions on the Highway 404 Southbound where there were no other vehicles in front of me. I clicked the X6 into Sport Plus and the steering wheel instantly tightened up. When I say tightened up, I mean that even driving in a straight line, I felt more resistance from the wheel. I gave it a tentative dip to the right and left and appreciated the sharper steering that required a little more effort but a little less motion. The wheel also seemed to want to re-centre itself more quickly as well.
The dampers in the Adaptive M Suspension stiffen up when in Sport and Sport Plus modes and again, the difference was immediately noticeable, even in a straight line, I remember thinking to myself just how crazy it is to drive a vehicle where I could change its behaviour in such a drastic way with a flick of a switch. It’s truly remarkable, All that out of the way, I gave the X6 the beans and I was rewarded with an even more insane sensation of thrust. The X6 eagerly climbed through the rev-range and before I knew it, I had to back off to stay out of jail. Throttle response in Sport Plus mode instantly sharpened up. The slightest touch on the pedal and the X6 eagerly responded. Response was instantaneous and the throttle was very linear. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Sport Plus mode changed the throttle mapping to a 1:1 ratio once the X6 was above 50 km/h or so. For those of you who don’t know, a 1:1 throttle ratio is what driving a throttle cable-equipped car would feel like. Most cars these days use an electronic throttle and the amount of gas fed to the engine is no longer just dictated by how deep you plant your right foot. In most new cars, especially cars like the 445-hp X6, if you were to plant your foot from a dead stop in first gear, instead of leaving the stoplight in a cloud of tire smoke and squealing tires like you would in an older analogue car, you’d accelerate gently with nary a chirp from your tires until you reached a speed where the ECU says it’s okay to go to full power.
Overall, the X6's Servotronic speed-sensitive power assisted steering (read: electric steering rack) is accurate and nicely weighted all around, more so in the Sport modes. Feedback was acceptable for a vehicle of its type and it turned out to be much better than I had anticipated.
Switching into Eco Pro mode, it immediately felt like someone had cut power to the engine and changed the suspension and steering settings into neutered mode. The ECU softened the power delivery to a point where I had to almost floor the gas pedal to pass a slower-moving car at a decent pace. Steering feel was very light and the X6 soaked up the bumps like a champion. Pretty neat.
To summarize my experience with the driving modes, all four driving modes have their distinct personalities and I found myself often switching back and forth between them depending on how I felt or the road and driving conditions. One does not need Sport Plus to slog through rush-hour commuting traffic on the DVP
The updated 8HP75 eight-speed automatic transmission performed as expected - shifts were smooth and quick enough when using the paddles or in automatic mode.
As far as the X6’s outright cornering prowess goes, I found myself fairly surprised with its manners. The lack of body roll in the 2,345 kg X6 was impressive and the X6’s double-wishbone front suspension and the independent integral rear suspension with automatic self-leveling air bags inspired enough confidence in me to enter corners far quicker than I thought. Prowess that belies its appearance sums up the X6. I wouldn't pick the X6 as my vehicle of choice for a track day, but I would certainly not hesitate to attack a nice on/off ramp or set of twisty roads with 7/10ths gusto in cottage country, fully loaded with five humans and enough camping gear for a week. Plus maybe some skis and snowboards on the roof rack.
As mentioned before, the power delivery from the silky-smooth 445-hp twin-turbo V8 was astounding in Sport Plus mode, with the exhaust note growing increasingly more snarly and angry sounding as the revs climbed. Planting the pedal from a stop and BMW says the X6 is good for a 4.8-second 0-100 km/h run and I’m inclined to agree with them. It was a very satisfying experience to hear the X6 clear its throat, but be warned, the fun pedal is directly linked to your bank account. The turbo 4.4L is thirsty. BMW says the X6 is good for 16.1 L/100 km city and 10.9 L/100 km highway for a combined rating of 13.8 L/100 km. I didn’t see those numbers in my time with the X6 alternating between Eco Pro and Sport Plus. I saw about a 20-22 L/100 km fuel economy rating but I did spend a lot of my time sitting in traffic with stop/start disengaged and my highway merges were rather heavy-footed. Your mileage will vary.
I’m not sure if the X6 comes with that annoying piped in fake exhaust noise, but it certainly didn’t seem like it. The cabin was very well sealed off from annoying wind noise, droning or buzzing. The chassis felt quite settled over any dips and bumps around the GTA’s highways and byways. Visibility is good all around in the X6 and I was able to place the large vehicle where I wanted to with ease. The Harman/Kardon sound system with the upgraded B&O speakers provided a crisp sound with a highly customizable equalizer.
I enjoyed my time with the X6 far more than I thought I would. Every time I hit a clear on ramp and had a clear enough road to put the pedal down resulted in a massive grin on my face. While the X6’s outward appearance doesn’t look very different to last year’s model (there are quite a few differences but BMW says it’s more of an evolution as opposed to a revolution), the new X6 is much more fun to drive than you would think. That’s the last time I begrudge a BMW assignment.
4 years/80,000 km; 4 years/80,000 km powertrain; 12 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 4 years/unlimited distance roadside assistance
|Model Tested||2015 BMW X6 xDrive50i|
|Price as Tested||$107,835|
$5,900 Premium Package, $2,500 Nappa Leather Premium seating Package, $2,900 M Sport Package, $500 ConnectedDrive Services Pro with ARTTI Package, $600 Convenience Telephony with Smartphone Integration, $1,650 Active Steering, $3,500 for Dynamic Suspension, and $4,900 Bang & Olufsen Sound System