When a professional wrestler like Shaun Koen, a three time All Africa Heavyweight Champion, walks into the room, heads turn and the conversation dries up. This man mountain is massive, his 172kg packed into a frame that’s almost two metres long. His intimidating wrestling persona, better known as “The Lion of Africa”, will make small babies (and some grown men) wet their nappies. Which neatly brings us to the BMW X6, one of the most controversial and head-turning cars we’ve driven all year. BMW claims it’s the world’s first sports activity coupe, marrying the design and dynamic abilities of a large coupe with the dominating size and four-wheel drive of an X model.It’s the equivalent of Shaun Koen pounding his opponent into submission in the ring and then doing a sub ten second 100 m sprint for fun straight afterwards. Shaun reminds us of Obelix. Now Obelix could do it. He fell into a cauldron of magic potion when he was a baby, endowing him with superhuman strength and speed. Could it be that BMW have built the automotive equivalent of Obelix?
The first time I drove the X6 on local roads, and older gentleman in a tiny and economical Citroën C1 almost drove over the pavement because he was shaking his head so vigorously at the X6 that he lost sight of the road and control over his steering wheel. Clearly the sight of this behemoth had offended him. We’re living in a time where frugal has become a necessity and small has become fashionable. The X6 is big, brash and in your face. It’s an offensive weapon. You don’t believe me? Let me quote from BMW’s media information pack: “Through its design alone, the BMW X6 authentically visualises superior driving dynamics and outstanding supremacy” and “the commanding seating position (gives the driver) an even better feeling of security and superiority”.
No, it’s not the press pack for the latest Wehrmacht Panzer, it really belongs to the X6. I checked. There are currently very few cars out there that attract as much attention as an X6. People either love the looks or they hate it, but they do react to it.
The design itself is extravagant and messes with your mind. The low slung windows and tapering roofline to the rear is coupe-like, but the high stance on fat 19-inch alloys leaves you in no doubt that this is a big, powerful 4×4. We’ll reserve the word “beautiful” for classic sport cars and settle for “striking” in the case of the X6.
If you’ve seen one BMW interior, you’ve seen them all. Right? Personally I think the buyer of a BMW couldn’t give a fig if the X6’s facia looked a lot like an X5 or a 3 series. So long as it’s functional, luxurious and made of quality materials, and on these counts the X6 delivers the goods.
There a few differences though, the biggest being that there are only two single bucket seats in the back, separated by a large centre console. These seats are supremely comfortable and offer plenty of legroom and, surprisingly taking into account the sloping roof to the rear, enough headroom for even tall adults.
It’s a bit of a bastard though if you get singled out to do the school run since you’ve got the biggest car in the neighbourhood, and you can only fit two primary school kids in the rear. The fact that it’s the only X model to feature sports steering wheel with shift paddles as standard and kneepads on the centre console confirms that this not meant to be used as a family run around.
The large boot offers loading space of 570ℓ, enough for four golf bags, and the rear seat backrests can fold down asymmetrically to increase space to 1 450ℓ. The biggest quibble mention by most of the testers was that the small rear window offered limited vision to the rear. Even though our test car was equipped with a reversing camera, the grainy image meant that we relied more on good old fashioned side mirrors when reversing than on modern technology.
PERFORMANCE & HANDLING
Nothing this big should be able to go this fast. Nothing this big should be able to attack sweeps and corners this well. But the X6 does. Our testing at Killarney race track confirmed that this 2.2 tonne monster would put quite a few smaller “performance” cars to shame. We drove the “base model” with the award winning twin-turbo petrol 3.0 litre six cylinder engine and sprinted from 0 – 100km/h in 7.15 seconds. The bigger twin-turbo 4.4 litre V8, which is due locally early next year, will do it in less than six seconds.
More impressive than straight-line speed though is how our test car went around the track. There’s almost no bodyroll in corners. Instead the big car stays flat and balanced as the tyres grip the tarmac and the nose heads for the point on the horizon that you’re aiming at. A new system called Dynamic Performance Control works in conjunction with the four-wheel drive system (xDrive) to not only apportion power between front and rear wheels but between left and right wheels as well.
Let’s say the car understeers into a corner: xDrive will reduce power to the front wheels while Dynamic Performance Control sends more power to the outer rear wheel, which creates yaw momentum to better turn the car into the bend. Not only can Obelix run fast, but he can sidestep like Danie Gerber.
With fuel prices this high and environmental concern on the increase, one would think the X6 is a car whose time has come and gone. You would be wrong. Thanks to clever fuel management systems BMW claims fuel consumption of 12.1ℓ/100km and the CO2 emission is a tolerable 286g/km. And there’s no slack in demand for these powerful, dynamic SUV’s in burgeoning markets like China and Russia. It’s a car that shouldn’t make common sense, but somehow it makes perfect business sense. Love it or hate it, but BMW have got a winner on their hands.