First Drive: 2015 BMW X6

Spartanburg, SC – While opinions on its styling may be divided, there's no denying that the X6 has been a sales success for BMW, with more than 260,000 sold since its 2008 debut.

It's a hard vehicle to pigeonhole, straddling the line between sports coupe and utility vehicle. But obviously the X6's incongruous looks strike a chord with those quarter million owners – who are probably the only ones who'll instantly spot the changes for the 2015 model.

Now in its second generation, the X6 receives some visual and functional tweaking to its sheet metal while still retaining the distinctive wedge shape.

New character lines across its flanks add drama while visually reducing its bulk, and the rear haunches are now accentuated by a sharp crease.

Significantly more luxurious than its predecessor, the cabin is crafted with premium materials in what BMW calls a "layered design approach".

Its face is framed by a more menacing version of the X-shaped front fascia worn by all of BMW's X-designated vehicles, while the twin-kidney grille is wider, and sandwiched between re-worked headlamps. The nose is now more upright, and the blunt tush sports a ducktail spoiler beneath which are wider versions of the L-shaped taillamps.

While the X6's sharply massaged sheet metal gives it a more aggressive and modern appearance, it's also the product of hours spent in the wind tunnel at BMW's aerodynamic test centre. Developed alongside the X5, it shares much of its chassis, design and technology.

Weight is reduced by 10 kg, thanks to extensive use of lightweight, high-strength steel, aluminum hood, and plastic fenders. Side air vents behind each front wheel aren't merely sporty and decorative, they're part of BMW's Efficient Dynamics Strategy comprising intelligent, lightweight design, optimized aerodynamics and energy management.

Behind the X6's front apron is an "air curtain" reducing turbulence around the front wheels. Instead of building up and creating more drag upon the wheels, the air is re-routed behind the wheel wells, where it's channeled through those side vents.

As a result, fuel consumption has dropped by as much as 22 percent in some models, and coefficient of drag is reduced from 0.34 to 0.32.

Significantly more luxurious than its predecessor, the cabin is crafted with premium materials in what BMW calls a "layered design approach". There's plenty of high contrast between a variety of textures, colours, and real wood trim – and it all comes together in a look that's elegant, yet comfortable. On top of the stitched leather dash is a free-standing, 10.2-inch graphic display, standard as part of the iDrive operating system, and accessed via the console-mounted controller. One of the best we've ever seen, it boasts the crystal clarity of a high definition screen – really helpful when using the rear-view camera.

The full-color head-up display shows speed, speed limit, entertainment information and navigation routes. Gauges are now fully digital.

Originally produced as a four-seater, the X6 now has seatbelts for five passengers, and its trunk space has grown by 10 litres to 580. Drop the 40/20/40 rear seats, and that number increases to 1,525 – 75 litres more than the previous model.

Initially, there will be two engine choices here in Canada, with a hybrid and range-topping X6 M to come later. Europeans will also be able to get their hands on a 3.0L turbo diesel with 255 hp and 413 lb-ft, and a tri-turbo 3.0L diesel with 381 hp and 546 lb-ft.

For now, we'll have to be content with the 3.0L turbo-straight-six producing 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque in the the X6 xDrive35i, and a 4.4L twin-turbo V8 with 445 hp and 480 lb-ft in the X6 xDrive50i. Both engines will come mated to an eight-speed automatic Steptronic transmission.

The X6 xDrive35i accelerates from 0-100 km/hr in 6.4 seconds – shaving 0.3 seconds off its previous best. Adding the $1,500 M Performance Power kit bumps it to 5.9 seconds. Fuel consumption is rated at 8.5 L/100 km combined.

The X6 xDrive50i's V8 has been reworked to produce 45 more horsepower and 30 lb-ft more torque – enabling it to sprint from 0 to 100 in 4.8 seconds, an improvement of 0.5 ticks. BMW claims a combined 9.7 L/100 km fuel consumption rating for this vehicle.

An X6M model, expected to arrive within the next couple of years, has a 0–60 mph (96 km/h) of 4.7.

Models equipped with tow packages have a max tow rating from 1,134 to 1,588 kg.

Our morning was spent exploring the countryside in an X6 xDrive50i. Solid, quiet, serene and comfortable, it's a grand tourer of the highest order. The plump, leather seating is all-day comfortable, and the front row now features extra bolstering on the sides of the centre console to protect the knees.

For those who want more than the X6's stock suspension setup, there's a $1,500 Adaptive Comfort Suspension, and ramping it further, the $3,500 Adaptive Suspension Package Dynamic as in our tester, with Eco, Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus modes.

While Eco and Comfort sufficed trundling through the small villages of upstate South Carolina, the winding roads called for the firmer Sports setup with its more aggressive response.

There's a nice, discreet whuffle from the twin tailpipes, while suspension, steering and throttle response quicken appropriately. The wheel is fat and grippy, relaying adequate levels of feedback and decent heft for a vehicle of this size. The eight-speed transmission has been reengineered to have more closely spaced gears, and it rips through shifts quickly and smoothly.

Our only beef is with the shifter, which takes some getting used to – both my drive partner and I sat, foolishly going nowhere while trying to successfully locate Drive.

The remainder of our drive was spent at BMW's performance centre, piloting the X6 xDrive50i through the slalom, on the skid pad and finally, on a challenging little test track. There's no getting around the fact that the X6 is large.

But it was surprisingly stable through slalom exercises while in Sport Mode, engaging the optional Dynamic Adaptive system's active body roll control. However, flogging it through the hairpins in Eco is not an experience I'd care to repeat.

The track sessions required a bit of manhandling, but the X6 xDrive50i is very willing to be tossed around tight corners at high speed thanks to an electronic torque vectoring system that selectively sends power to whichever wheel has the most grip. It was a lot more fun than you'd expect from a 2,260-kg utility vehicle activity coupe.

We rounded off our day by going off the tarmac and onto an off-road course. The highlight of this was fording a deep trough, water lapping at the door sills, climbing a 22 percent vertical rock hill, nose pointing at the sky and using an onboard camera to navigate the trail below. Just a typical day in the life of a premium German sports utility vehicle activity coupe.

Arriving later this year, the BMW X6 is available for the first time with a rear-wheel-drive model, the X6 sDrive35i.

Basic, xLine and M sport trims and a host of features through the "Pure Extravagance" design option will be available. Prices will start at $68,890 for the X6 35i, and $83,190 for the X6 50i.

While opinions on its styling may be divided, there's no denying that the X6 has been a sales success for BMW, with more than 260,000... 10/15/2014 10:28:48 AM