Review: 2015 BMW X6 xDrive35i

BMW\'s controversial X6 gets a welcome update.

At first it was an awkward premise. How many people in their right minds would actually want a Sport Activity Vehicle (SAV in BMW-Speak), which cuts into the cargo capacity of what turns out to essentially be an X5 Fastback? With global sales in excess of 250,000, apparently quite a few. As a result, the 2015 BMW X6 xDrive35i is back for its turn in this new longer, wider and taller second-generation model.

What is it? The 2015 BMW X6 xDrive35i is version 2.0 of this go-anywhere niche-market player that now seats five rather than the four passengers in the previous version. Powered by BMWs 3.0-liter TwinPower turbocharged inline six-cylinder engine, it is an award winner with 300 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque that is full on between 1,300 and 5,000 rpm.

Key to the 3.0's power is the twin-scroll turbo housing of the TwinPower system. When combined with Valvetronic, which helps it to "chug” the air, it presents boost in two stages to minimize the turbo lag. Zero-to-60 mph comes on in six-seconds flat, which is a three-tenths improvement over the outgoing mill.

All engines in the range (including the optional 4.4-liter V8) will be mated to an eight-speed Steptronic sport automatic transmission.

The eight cogs work in conjunction with the X6's Eco Pro protocols that remap the engine, gears, climate control and other parameters for a more fuel-efficient drive time. As part of the Eco Pro mode, the X6 drivetrain decouples the engine from the rest of the transmission whenever pressure to the accelerator is released. Occurring at speeds from 30 to 100 mph, it lets the engine coast as a fuel saving measure and combines with the Proactive Driving Assistant function, to suggest the driver decelerate the vehicle while nearing corners, or to slow when speed limits change. The engineering team in Munich also added other ideas from their bag of fuel efficiency tricks that include brake energy regeneration, auto start/stop, and electric power steering,

Along with the eight-speed transmission, our example was complete with xDrive, which is BMW's all-wheel-drive system that constantly varies drive bias from the front to the rear tires as needed. Determined by sensors at all four wheels, they read the road hundreds of times a second. An available Dynamic Performance Control system allows for even finer tuning that includes torque-vectoring for even better response. Hill Descent Control (HDC) is standard on all xDrive vehicles.

The X6 xDrive incorporates a double-wishbone double-pivot front suspension kit and integral rear suspension with constantly variable Adaptive M protocol, which allows Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport+ modes. Auto Hold is standard and will hold the X6 in position when idling on an incline.

In addition to our I-6 model with xDrive, the X6 is available as a standard rear-drive model powered by the I-6, while the 445-horsepower 4.4-liter V8 is xDrive only. For those who require the ultimate in brains, beauty and horsepower, there is the hi-po X6 M.

What's it up against? Just by virtue of having the BMW Roundel on its hood causes the automatic assumption that it is a high-performance vehicle. That continues to be the case here and, as such, places the X6 in competition with such luminaries as the Land Rover Range Rover Sport, Porsche's Cayenne, Audi Q7, and in a case of eating their own, the BMW X5. But keep in mind that these competitors populate the (non-fastback) standard SUV-style market. But that doesn't mean the X6 stands alone in the field, as it is now joined by the new Mercedes-Benz GLE.

How does it look?The first generation X6 caused a lot of tongue wagging in 2009 from purists who wondered aloud if the company that pioneered the so-called Bangle Butt, by-then chief designer Chris Bangle, had totally lost their minds. Six years along, and with more then a quarter-million copies sold worldwide, the answer is a resounding no. For 2015, the design has changed with refreshed, and re-creased body parts that help to impart a new freshness to the design.

A typical fastback coupe-come-sedan design, the X6 shares a platform with its boxier X5 sibling. Featuring a long nose, fastback coupe-like roofline, and short tail overhang, it actually wouldn't look too bad as a sports car, if designed to ride lower as such.

The standard BMW touches are all here, including the kidney grille, which leads to twin circular headlights with front LED foglamps. Openings in the lower bout of the grille allow airflow to exit from the leading edge of the front wheel openings, which creates a low-pressure area that BMW calls an air skirt. Making a barrier of air over the front wheels helps to trim the aerodynamics of the X6 in its chase for improving fuel economy.

Our tester included the M Sport package which, in addition to suspension and interior dress up pieces, included an M-inspired aerodynamic kit. It was finished off nicely with the included 2-way power retractable moonroof.

And on the inside? Since our X6 included the M Sport package, that meant it received a seeing-to that brought with it BMW's stellar multi-contour seats with adjustable thigh, lumbar and bolster functions, as well as other top-shelf interior fitments. Also along for the ride is the Fineline oak wood trim package, an M steering wheel, and an anthracite headliner.

A configurable instrument pod changed displays according to the mode we were driving in. This latest generation of iDrive was the easiest to use yet, and included the touchpad controller that operated the 10.2-inch high-resolution screen. In addition to showing audio, navigation, telephone and vehicle information, it also displayed the rear- and top-view cameras.

Both front and rear seating was excellent - once you got into the vehicle. It was the actual getting in that was the trying part as care must be taken to avoid bonking oneself into the doorframe of both the front and rear doors. In addition to the driver and front seat passenger, the rear seats can accommodate three across. Cargo capacity behind the rear seat was good for 26.6 cubic feet. Fold them forward for a total of 59.7 cubic feet behind the front seats.

But does it go?Acceleration is surprisingly robust from the twinpower turbocharged inline six-cylinder. Whether clicking off the 8-speed with the paddle shift levers or leaving the system to its own devices, we had a smooth runner that still managed to put hair on the chest of even the most blasé drivers. While not exactly a rocketship, possessing a 0-60 mph time of six-seconds flat, it still managed to propel its nearly five thousand pounds rather rapidly down the macadam.

The suspension was as varied as our driving mood, with several variations on a theme ranging from Eco Pro to Comfort, Sport and Sport+ modes. We found Eco Pro to be a total buzz-kill, almost like dropping an anchor from the hatchback and then flooring it. Switching to Comfort found a softer, more cushiony ride that felt floaty with more than a hint of side-to-side wallow that would be at home in a vehicle that did not have the eight inches of ground clearance the X6 does.

Finally, following a flip of the toggle switch into Sport mode, which Goldilocks would have deemed "just right,” the X6 was gifted with the perfect amount of firmness and drive dynamics. All in, it was an inspired piece of chassis engineering that made us into participants rather than occupants. The EPA guys say to expect 19 city /27 highway, with 22 mpg combined.

Leftlane's bottom lineNot everyone's cup of tea, BMW makes vehicles that occupy specific segments within segments. In the high-performance subset of the SUV ranks, there are several contenders, which provide thrills, some practicality and still manage to challenge the laws of physics at the same time. Count the X6 as one of the front-runners in that category.

2015 BMW X6 xDrive35i base price, $51,900. As tested, $73,700.Flamenco Red Metallic, $550; M Sport Package, $3,500; 20-inch wheels, $950; Multi contour seats, $950; Adaptive M Suspension, $900; Cold Weather Package, $550; Driver Assistance Package, $1,400; Premium Package, $1,300; Side and TopView Cameras, $750; Destination fee, $950.

Photos by Mark Elias.

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