Reviews

2015 BMW X6 Driving Impressions


The BMW X6 is by no means a sports car, but it handles surprisingly well, especially considering its near-5200-lb. curb weight. To get the best handling requires equipping the X6 with lots of expensive options, including adaptive suspension and active steering, which adjusts the steering ratio to the car’s current speed for better responsiveness.

We drove a BMW X6 xDrive50i at BMW’s Performance Center in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and found power from the 445-hp V8 engine more than plentiful and readily on tap. In Sport mode, body roll is kept at a minimum, and in Sport+, our favorite track setting, less invasive traction control allows for a little more wheel slip around corners. In these modes, the 8-speed automatic transmission holds gears at high revs, and although drivers can change gears manually with paddle shifters, we found the X6 perfectly able to do its thing in Drive. Through the slalom, we experienced the same result: In Sport and Sport+ modes, acceleration and handling was impressive for a car of this size. Switching to Comfort mode, we found the chassis less controlled on the race track, and a lack of oomph from the 8-speed automatic transmission, which changes gears at lower revs in this mode.

Around the skid pad, we tested the X6’s torque vectoring control, which automatically changes the power split between the rear wheels, increasing grip and stability around corners. Again, we found the X6 impressive for its size, but also realizing it was a pricey option contributing to the car’s success.

One of the best attributes of the X6 is its brake system. On our X6 xDrive50i with the M Sport package, we did several panic stops from about 50 mph, and were surprised at the relatively short braking distance. Brake feel is firm, yet progressive and comfortable.

On a moderately challenging off-road course, we drove the X6 through a makeshift stream and up and down rocky hills. The X6 handled them just fine, with enough ground clearance for all of the exercises. Rocks and ruts are best handled in Comfort mode, where the suspension can soak up the bumps better than in the stiffer Sport mode. Hill Descent Control automatically controlled our X6 down steep hills without using the brake pedal. A front-view camera helps drivers see obstacles in the road, but wasn’t particularly helpful in navigating narrow passageways and turns. We’d like to see added graphics on the screen that display the vehicle’s track and wheel angle, like the lines that are displayed when using the rearview camera.

Out on public roads, we enjoyed the smooth acceleration of the powerful V8 engine. In normal driving with only two people in the vehicle, 445 horsepower is overkill, though, combined with a hearty 480 pound-feet of torque, the X6 xDrive50i would be a good choice for towing or carrying heavy loads. For cruising freeways and suburban streets, Comfort mode offers the best balance between good handling and a cushy ride. Once roads get steep or twisty, Sport is the way to go.

The 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6 used in the X6 sDrive35i and xDrive35i carries over from the last generation, but benefits from improved efficiency thanks to additional aerodynamics and other tweaks. The six-cylinder engine is good for 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque and, according to BMW, makes the X6 capable of 0-60 mph in 6 seconds flat, which is quick for a vehicle of this size. We didn’t get to test an X6 powered by this engine, but we’ve experienced this engine in other BMW vehicles, and, wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it for everyday driving, provided the car won’t be doing any towing or hauling heavy cargo. The xDrive35i starts at about $11,000 less than does the xDrive50i and fuel economy is significantly better over the V8 model, so the inline-6 is less expensive all the way around. EPA estimates for the six-cylinder are 19/23 mpg City/Highway for the rear-wheel-drive sDrive35i, and 18/27 mpg City/Highway for the all-wheel-drive xDrive35i.

We drove the X6 M at the Circuit of the Americas, the only purpose-built Formula 1 track in the U.S. We put the X6 M through its paces following behind BMW’s championship racecar driver Bill Auberlen, who wasn’t shy about encouraging us to push the car to its limits. With 567 horses under the hood, we had no problem reaching speeds of over 100 mph in many spots, and up to about 145 on the back straight, where F1 cars can go as fast as 200 mph (Auberlen says he could easily hit the X6 M’s electronically limited speed of 155 mph in the same spot).

The 8-speed automatic gearbox is fast and capable, though we found best performance came from switching over to manual mode and using the paddle shifters. Like other BMW M models, the X6 M also offers customizable driving setups, allowing drivers to choose steering, throttle response and suspension settings separately.

Perhaps more impressive than the speed and power of the X6 M is the engineering wizardry that keeps this nearly 5,200-pound vehicle centered, stable and highly tossable in the most extreme conditions. Not only was cornering responsive and stable, the car’s weight was extremely well managed. Even in the trickiest turns, we never felt like we were pushing a giant heap of metal around corners. Staggered Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires, made of unique compounds designed specifically for the X6 M, further help with traction.

Like other current-day high-performance cars, the electronics are so good on the X6 M it’s sometimes hard to tell whether our driving is getting better, or whether the myriad systems just make it feel that way. A bevvy of mechanical and electronic components work together to make the X6 M feel surprisingly nimble and responsive on the racetrack, including an M-specific sport-tuned suspension, dynamic stability control with torque vectoring, an M-tuned version of the all-wheel-drive system and more. Brakes were consistent lap after lap with hardly any fade, thanks to giant cross-drilled rotors with M-specific compound pads.

On the street, the BMW X6 M, like every M car, is like bringing a gun to a knife fight. In most circumstances, there’s far more power and performance than you’d ever need, but it’s fun to know you have it just in case. Outside of Austin, Texas, where the speed limit is 80 mph, the X6M cruises and passes with ease. On two-lane roads, we blew by what seemed like an endless conga line of gravel trucks. We noticed some wind noise from the A-pillar at higher speeds, but the car was otherwise quiet. The ride is on the firmer side compared to other SUVs, even in Comfort mode, but that’s just what we’d expect for a vehicle wearing an M badge.

Make an Inquiry