Thursday, December 8, 2011

Review: 2011 BMW X6 xDrive35i

Photos by Ulysses Ang
BMW’s claim to fame has always been anything sporty. Be it a coupe, convertible or sedan, as long as it carries the famed blue and white propeller upfront, you immediately know it carves curves like no other car could. But what about BMW’s recent product expansion; specifically the likes of the X1, X3 and X5? They certainly sound antithetical to what the brand stands for, especially carrying the moniker: Sport Activity Vehicle. Things become even more confusing with the X6—BMW’s newest niche—the Sport Activity Coupe. It’s an odd prescient for a vehicle that’s essentially a tarted up X5. Beyond the looks which are an acquired taste, does the X6 still have some BMW goodness baked into it?


Thanks to Chris Bangle, recent BMW styling has been a study on how much people are willing to accept individuality rather than beauty as a styling statement. The X6 looks like two different vehicles, each individually cool, yet when merged add up to something less perfect. The coupe-like roofline would befit a sports sedan, but it looks out of place married to an extra chunky lower body. Beautiful it most certainly isn’t, but does strike an imposing presence that’s unmistakable be it standing still or at speed. It also looks downright expensive.

The fastback roofline of the X6 sometimes rewards the front passengers with a bump on the noggin thanks to the rakish A-pillar; while the backseat passengers are also shortchanged slightly on headroom. The sportier appearance also limits usefulness in the cargo area for taller items. Though interior volume is only down about 140 cubic centimeters to the squarer X5, the X6 feels tight for its gigantic size. The rear seat occupants don’t get a good vantage point as well, so those suffering from car sickness will find the view of the front headrests a bit discontenting. The X6’s hatch opens to the point of beyond reach, so thankfully it comes standard with motorized opening and closing. The opening angle’s adjustable to boot, giving owners with limited vertical clearance some breathing room.

Inside, the X6 is typical BMW fare—rich looking and quality feeling. The seats, which are adjustable in, at the very least, 14 ways is downright comfortable; and together with the power adjustable tilt/telescopic steering, makes for the perfect driving position. The interior scheme suits the X6’s sporty nature with its all-black scheme and muted accents of brushed metal scattered around.

Having iDrive facilitates a relatively clean panel, and the center stack in the X6 has some additional buttons for the most commonly used controls. For example, BMW smartly gave shortcuts to basic infotainment functions as well as the climate control system. Tons of other functions though are accessible with the iDrive’s four-way multi-function knob and a trip through the sub-menus may need some getting used to, but is rarely confusing.

The xDrive35i version connotes that this X6 is powered by BMW’s 300-horsepower, twin-turbo inline-6 which surprisingly pushes this behemoth effortlessly. Hooked up to a six-speed automatic, and it makes this powertrain beyond compare. There’s an even more powerful version in the twin-turbo V8 xDrive50i or even the recently launched X6 M, but those are just too insane. The 35i version feels more than powerful enough for Philippine roads. Initially, it feels sluggish from standstill, but as the revs build up and the sequential turbos begin to spool, the X6 transforms into a road-going freight train. It can outgun pretty much anything on the road, while still managing to return commendable fuel mileage figures: 6.2 km/L in purely city driving.



Much like the iDrive system, driving the X6 requires a bit of a re-think. Like the X5 and the other new BMWs following it, the shifter and parking brake’s electronically actuated. This means, there’s no reassuring chunk as you engage from P to D—only a slight tug as the vehicle lurches forward; there’s no ratcheting from the parking brake as well, only a switch that toggles up or down and an indicator on the dash telling whether it’s on or off.

After you get used to the revised start-up procedure, the X6 lives up to BMW’s driving excitement. It takes much courage to fling this much mass around, but this car can take it. No other 2,145-kilogram vehicle can dance better the way the X6 can. BMW’s xDrive puts majority of the power across the rear axle, but when needed, it can transfer power 100 percent to the front axle or even from side to side. Despite its tall height and heft, it still feels connected to the road, with enough cornering prowess to put other sports sedans to shame. Of course, the very same heft limits the X6’s ability to dart through tight roads, so luckily it comes standard with front and rear proximity sensors as well as a parking camera. The mixed ratio tires (255/50 R 19s at front, 285/45 R 19s at the back) give excellent traction, though it makes the steering somewhat of a handful on less than perfect roads. At the same time, the low-profile tires make it much more sensitive to air pressure adjustments—where a 2-4 PSI addition transforms the firm ride into a jiggly one.

Overall, the BMW X6 doesn’t carry out the doldrums of everyday tasks like picking up the kids from school or doing the groceries all that well. Buyers seeking practicality will surely head for the X5. Meanwhile, the X6 is clearly form over function, where it compromises space and functionality for more style and gravitas. Not everyone will get what the X6 is all about and again, BMW didn’t design it for everyone’s sake. Naysayers will cast down the X6 as an unnecessary and impractical product. However, for those who understand the X6, they’ll see it as something truly unique, truly different from pretty much anything else that plies the roads today.

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