Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2015 BMW X6 xDrive35i

AutoTrader SCORE
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car

“Behold! BMW’s answer to the question nobody asked!” said the blowhard, know-it-all as he climbed out of the X6 for the first time, seven years ago at the Canadian International Auto Show. Over the past seven years, that smart ass was shown that, on average, for a thousand Canadians every year, the X6 is the answer to “What high-fashion luxury machine should I buy?”

Full disclosure: that blowhard was the arrogant jerk writing this review.

“Behold! BMW’s answer to the question nobody asked!” said the blowhard, know-it-all as he climbed out of the X6 for the first time, seven years ago at the Canadian International Auto Show.

On very rare occasion, there have been a few instances when this opinionated auto writer has fashioned pre-conceived opinions before actually spending any time driving the vehicle in question. Regrettably, the X6 is just such an example.

And so in the interest of fairness and good, investigative journalism, a full week has been spent driving the X6, parking it in my garage, loading it up with people and cargo, photographing it and generally just trying to understand why someone would buy one instead of one the segment’s best competitors.

Of course, BMW would like you to believe that their Sport Activity Coupe has no competitors, figuring that with its aggressively sloped roofline and fastback design, it makes it a truly unique offering in all of automotivedom. Perhaps there is good reason for this. Maybe most people don’t want a modern interpretation of an AMC Eagle. The company’s marketing team conjures up images of athletic, outdoorsy (and clearly affluent) men (their target demographic skews male) who seek a single fashionable machine to wear the sports coupe and SUV uniforms simultaneously.

The trouble is, physics and mathematics automatically preclude the X6 from succeeding at either. A tall, heavy vehicle will never drive like a sports coupe, and a squashed, fastback crossover will never possess the volume to contain the people and gear that a traditional SUV will, so we end up with a vehicle that excels only at compromising. But it’s a formula that clearly works for some as the sales numbers suggest and since Mercedes-Benz has recently pulled the wraps off their upcoming ML-based version.

Before you assume I’m anti-Bimmer by nature, consider that I have owned more BMWs than any other brand and consider the X5 – the SUV on which the X6 is based before it undergoes its arse-ectomy – the absolute top choice in the category.

The designers at BMW have made an effort to give the X6 a more aggressive stance than its X5 sibling. Although both cars use the same wheelbase, the X6 is slightly longer than the more utilitarian Bimmer, plus it rides on a wider track and cuts a 60 mm lower profile. The front three-quarter view is arguably more attractive than the X5 and it’s just the aggressively sloped tail end that becomes so polarizing. Also, although our press vehicle normally wears 20-inch wheels, for the winter months, it’s riding on a minus-one size set of wheels and snow boots. Never has a set of 19-inch wheels looked so tiny and lost as it does inside the big wheel wells of the X6.

Once seated within the X6, the similarities between it and its sibling are further reinforced with design and materials being virtually identical. Fitted with nearly $4,000 of optional Nappa Leather Premium seating, the heady aroma of tanned hides is enough to make leather-lovers weak in the knees. Plus, the Comfort Seats come as part of this package and are adjustable enough in every dimension and direction that if you cannot find a suitable position, you should double check that you have human physiology. They are stupendous.

The great news inside the X6 carries on to the rest of the textures and materials, which are either slathered in more top-shelf skins or richly lacquered wood or soft touch, grained plastics. This particular car also featured $575 worth of ceramic controls replacing plastic on parts like the iDrive controller knob and some of the knobs for climate control. If I hadn’t read about them on the spec sheet, I would never have noticed.

The continuing evolution of BMW’s controls occurs here with white-digits-on-black-buttons, and an easy-to-use iDrive system displayed through a 10-inch high-definition widescreen. The Harman-Kardon sound system is excellent too.

No surprise then that from the front seats forward, the X6 is an undisputed triumph of function and form. But it’s the rear seats and cargo that are sacrificed in the name of fashion here, right? Well, not so fast – at least not as much as I had assumed.

Rear seat legroom is shaved by a measly 1.5 cm versus the X5, and is actually 3.5 cm greater than Infiniti’s stylish QX70 moon buggy. Rear seat headroom at 945 mm is 40 mm less than in the X5 which sounds like a lot. In reality, three grown men used this X6 to haul enough camera gear, luggage and ourselves for a several-hour journey to ski country. One six-foot passenger had enough space to sit comfortably behind another 6’2” galloot in the front passenger seat. So really, just how much space does one truly need back there?

And about the cargo capacity? Sure the X6 shows less on paper than the X5 (580 L versus 650 L), but much of the lost space is above the belt line anyway, where it only matters if you’re hauling something big and bulky, like a washing machine or the extra large wheel of cheese from Costco. The reality is, the X6 swallowed several camera cases, lens kits, a portable jib and our personal luggage in its cargo hold that is still larger than other image statement-ute competitors like the Porsche Macan.

BMW’s N55 turbocharged inline-six-cylinder engine is an absolute sweetheart, so it’s no wonder it continues to see duty in one form or another in every model line the company makes. The X6 is the heaviest vehicle I’ve driven to date equipped with the torquey 3.0L engine and it still pulls impressively throughout the rev range. BMW claims a 0-100 km/h time of 6.4 seconds for the nearly 2,200 kg SUV… err… SAC, which drops to 5.9 if you get the M-Sport option. As with the X5, a new 4.4L V8 is available this year that dispenses with 479 ft-lb of torque and turns these machines into astonishingly quick monsters. An even more ferocious X6M will be coming later.

This year, the six-cylinder engine directs its power through the ubiquitous ZF eight-speed automatic that is superbly matched to this engine. Shifts are crisp and lively when called upon in Sport mode, but smooth and virtually imperceptible in Comfort mode. Plus, they helped our test car achieve an overall average fuel consumption rate of just over 11 L/100 km despite a mix of highway, secondary road and urban driving that included a nearly two-hour slog through stop-and-go traffic. For a mid-sized SUV laden with people and heavy gear, in frigid winter conditions, this is impressive efficiency.

The ride-handling balance in the X6 is much like it is in other BMWs – at least those of a utility nature. Compared to a 3 or 5 Series sedan, the X6 feels tall and rolls more in the corners, but will still take a set and hang on sufficiently to take the back roads to cottage country at a rapid pace. The $3,500 Dynamic Adaptive Suspension and $1,650 Active Steering options fitted here give the tasks of managing the steering feel and rate, and the ride-handling trade off to a bunch of microprocessors.

So what have we learned here? Well, that the X6 is luxurious and comfortable, that it possesses competent on-road manners, and that it’s more practical than its appearance would suggest. In short, it exceeded my expectations and I do indeed like it more now that I’ve lived with it than I did before.

And yet I still just don’t get the looks of this thing. If you’re among the thousand or so Canadians each year that embrace the styling of the X6 and buy one, good for you – you’re going to enjoy your SAC. But for me, I’d still rather save a few bucks and have the brilliant and more capacious X5.

4 years/80,000 km; 4 years/80,000 km powertrain; 12 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 4 years/unlimited distance 24-hour roadside assistance

Infiniti QX70
Porsche Cayenne
Porsche Macan
Range Rover Evoque
Range Rover Sport
Common Sense

Model Tested 2015 BMW X6 xDrive35i
Base Price $68,890
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $2,095
Price as Tested $88,610
Optional Equipment
Premium Package ($4,900), Nappa Leather Premium Seating Package ($3,900), LED Lighting Package ($2,500), ConnectedDrive Services ($500), Ceramic Control ($575), Active Steering ($1,650), Dynamic Adaptive Suspension ($3,500)