Car review: BMW X6 is a new SUV-coupe with oomph and driveability

Despite its heft, BMW's new SUV-coupe delivers oomph and driveability in a luxe package

When BMW first unveiled a "sport activity coupe" called the X6 in 2008, critics wondered what its designers were thinking as the X6 appeared as neither fish nor fowl.

But BMW just kept smiling and selling. A total of 255,000 X6s have found owners around the world since, even if the numbers translate to merely 3 per cent of total BMW sales.

The new X6 is not too different from the original, but is far from being a mere facelift. Every body part has been changed, just like in the new X5.

The interior styling is a complete departure from the original, looking more plush and ornate. The petrol xDrive50i leans towards luxury and the turbodiesel M50d offers more sportiness - this is reflected in the cabin finishing.

The M50d wears the usual sombre black on black, while the xDrive50i is brighter and livelier, with a two-tone scheme with lighter hues.

Not surprisingly, the new X6 is appreciably more comfortable and refined, but no less capable. It offers the obligatory gain in efficiency (22 per cent) as well as a 10 per cent gain in performance.

A chunk of this improvement comes from its rapid shifting ZF eight-speed automatic transmission that matches the superiority of the dual-clutch autobox.

The xDrive50i's twin-turbo V8 has been tweaked for lower emissions and consumption. Yet, it produces 450bhp and 650Nm, about 10 and 8 per cent more respectively than its predecessor. These allow the car to hit 100kmh in 4.8 seconds, from 5.4 previously.

The M50d has even more torque, at 740Nm. And although it has "only" 381bhp at its disposal, it manages a 5.2- second sprint to 100kmh.

In the real world, it will occasionally outmanoeuvre the petrol V8, thanks to instant torque from its triple-turbo 3-litre inline-six diesel.

The X6 M50d benefits from BMW's M department's M-Adaptive Sports suspension which marries excellent handling and well-damped ride comfort.

The X6's 4WD system is electronically managed to distribute torque between front and rear axles, as well as between right and left wheels. This gives it the ability to "vector" torque and allows the car to turn in a more neutral fashion.

At the cornering limit, you can actually feel power being transferred to the outside wheels.

This gently nudges the X6 into the corner and tightens its turning line.

For such a behemoth, the X6 really has surprising agility and precision. Its massive steel brakes also hold up to abuse brilliantly.

At a test track in BMW's sprawling Spartanburg facility in South Carolina, the brakes never wilted despite the car going lap after lap at flank speed.

BMW has given the X6 offroad capability as well. It has good ground clearance and adequate suspension articulation for a moderate crossings of unpaved terrain. But it is doubtful any X6 in Singapore will be subjected to even the slightest degree of mud slinging - not at the stratosphertic prices they command.

More "affordable" variants will follow in the form of the xDrive35i, xDrive30d and a completely new xDrive40d.

BMW reckons the X6 will hit the one-million sales mark by the end of this life cycle.

Cynics will be quieter this time around, as many would have realised by now that BMW is not renowned for making what people need, but it certainly knows how to make what people want.

After all, who really needs a bulky 4WD with a 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 that produces more than 400bhp but offers less headroom and seating than a far more affordable BMW 320i?

stlife@sph.com.sg