The original X6 created an absolute sensation when it was launched back in 2008. There was really nothing like it. The sporty coupé-like roofline, those ‘packed-with-muscle’ haunches and the high tail — it was both sensational and unique. Opinion on the car, however, was split right down the middle. You either loved it or hated it; there was no in-between.
On the one hand, you had people who just loved the stance of the car and what it stood for. Half coupé, half SUV, it was the sportiest-looking and sportiest-driving 4X4 in the world: BMW does like to make its cars sportier than the rest.
On the flipside, the X6 also became the focus of much unwarranted attention from the SUV-hating greens. It was too big and bulky, they said; and unnecessarily so. And many car lovers questioned the need for such a big, heavy sporting car too. BMW, meanwhile, kept ploughing away with the X6. And it was rewarded for its perseverance. Over the years, a not inconsiderable 255,000 X6 admirers decided they liked the car so much, they put down money and bought it.
Now BMW is ready to launch the new X6, codenamed F16, no pun intended. The car still looks a bit nuts, but the overall stance is not as shocking as it used to be. Yes, while the high ‘ducktail’-like integrated spoiler still stands out and the near-horizontal ‘fastback’ rear windscreen is still unique, as are those muscled haunches, this new X6 somehow looks less radical. The headlights and larger kidney grille are similar to the X5 and are mounted higher up, the big ‘X’ in the bumper is now more clearly visible and the more horizontal bonnet has some really sharp and interesting cuts and creases. BMW has also reduced aerodynamic drag. The CD is now down to 0.32, a substantial improvement on the old car’s 0.35.
The X6 is new on the inside too. Those of you familiar with BMW’s interior style sheet will find the cabin familiar. The more upright instrument binnacle, the double-deck outer vents and the more bulbous steering boss are all familiar BMW SUV details, but there’s enough new stuff to keep the cabin looking fresh. A wide band of chrome separates the top half of the dash from the lighter lower parts, detailing on the interiors is sumptuous with soft edges, and chrome highlights add to the sporty feel of the cabin.
The new cabin also gets a much more useable rear seat, with better support and space. You can now seat three abreast in comfort. The new X6 also gets a pair of neatly trimmed kneepads for the driver. They flank the centre console to provide supportive leg-bracing when the cornering forces get large, preventing that typical pain in the knee you experience on hard driving.
Under the skin, the X6 M50d is also pretty special. Despite being one step down from a full M car, it gets plenty of bespoke hardware that makes it feel extra special from behind the wheel. The chassis of the standard car is a bit stiffer than the outgoing one. In addition, this full-time four-wheel-drive X6 also gets the so-called adaptive M Sport suspension, which firms up considerably in the Sport mode. Add in a dynamic pack and you also get active roll control and a rear axle that distributes the engine’s power to the rear wheel with the most grip.
Under the hood sits BMW’s most recent gem — a smooth, free-revving diesel six with not one, not two, but three turbos! The M50d’s 3.0-litre, triple-turbo straight-six produces 381bhp and commercial vehicle-like torque of 75.45kgm. All this is achieved because BMW has reduced the compression ratio of this diesel to just 16:1, really low considering few petrols nowadays come with a 12:1 ratio. The lower compression allows for greater ‘fill’ from the three turbos at maximum boost, and BMW has made sure injection pressure is good enough to supply plenty of diesel. The M50d’s injection pressure is upped to a really high 2,200bar when the engine is running at max speed.
How do the three turbos work together? To begin with, a small variable-geometry turbo comes in at low revs. This allows for fast responses and a reduction in lag as the light turbo is easy to spool up even with a small tap on the throttle. There is a hint of lag as you take off, but the quick eight-speed gearbox ratios help you overcome this in a jiffy. The larger main turbo joins the fray at just 1,500rpm, and takes responsibility for most of the meaty midrange. So, after 2,000rpm, responses are massive and explosive bursts of acceleration are just a flex of your right foot away. The third turbo is small again and chimes in at approximately 2,600rpm, helping give the mid range a boost. The best bit is that the turbos overlap so smoothly, you really need to pay attention to notice where each comes in, especially if you accelerate flat out in one long seamless pull all the way to 5,600rpm.
As a result, the X6 M50d is really quick. This 2.2-tonne SUV does 0-100 in an insane 5.3 seconds, and that’s just the start of it. And the manic pull in the higher gears simply has to be experienced. The motor delivers huge thrust from 2,000rpm to 5,000rpm, and the manner in which it progresses up the powerband is so undiesel-like, you almost forget it is one. Yes, it growls like a diesel in the midrange under load and there’s a hint of clatter too, but there’s also a nice snarl in the top end that sounds just great. At speed, the X6’s most remarkable feature is its near-petrol-like hush.
If the road below is broken or full of ruts, you might hear the suspension, and the odd large bump does upset the composure of the car on its huge 19-inch wheels. So ride is unlikely to be a strength of this car when it comes to India. That said, the ride of the new X6 is better than that of the earlier car by a considerable margin; the latter thumped and bumped over even mildly undulating roads.
The M Sport suspension and dynamic pack, while not too effective for ride, is a near revolution when it comes to handling. BMW had also organised both road and track time, but how would the X6 with its massive mass and momentum handle the tight twists and turns?
Really well, actually. I found the body roll so well contained, it felt quite freaky, and there’s just no sense of excessive mass when you drive into a corner. Drive the new X6 harder and that slight understeer dialed in also dissolves into a nice neutral balance. Go harder still and now you are truely into the realm of fantasy. You expect the X6 to wash out, to loose grip and composure. But no, the more you gas it, the more it obediently points into a set of corners. Move up to Sport+, where the ESP is partially switched off, and the balance becomes even sweeter. Slip at the rear happens even more smoothly, the X6 feels even more at ease through a section of corners. Even the torque vectoring and 60 percent rear-biased split of the rear axle work brilliantly. While the steering isn’t communicative and feels a bit wooden, it soon becomes clear — this is possibly the best-handling SUV in the world.
BMW will get the new X6 M50d to India sometime in mid 2015. Less extreme versions will follow later, but BMW seems to want to put its best foot forward first with this car. Sure, the BMW X6 M50d is a bit of an enigma, but there’s no denying it is now more comfortable and practical, fantastic to drive and blessed with what is surely the most charismatic diesel engine around. It won’t be cheap at an expected price of Rs 1.3 crore, but what you will get is one of the most unique and accomplished cars around. Yes, people will still question its existence and what it stands for, but if you like BMW’s sporty take on cars, and you like big SUVs, chances are you’ll absolutely love this one. Make sure you drive it before you choose your fast luxury SUV.