Text and photographs by Misha Nikolich

The coupe’s menacing big brother.

Recently, Hendrick BMW of Charlotte NC was kind enough to let me test drive a 2011 BMW X6 xDrive50i in Titanium Silver over Black Nappa Leather with Brushed Aluminum trim.

And to set it apart, it was fitted with a few BMW Performance aesthetic modifications:  aluminum running boards, BMW Performance rear deck spoiler ($500), and 21” style 375 BMW Performance Wheels ($5,995.00).

The X6 is marketed by BMW as a Sports Activity Coupé. Essentially what you get is an all wheel drive 4-passenger premium performance crossover with striking and powerful road presence. It offers the feeling of a coupe from the low cockpit seating position with the all around versatility and higher ground clearance of an X vehicle. The X6 shares its chassis architecture with the BMW X5 Sport Activity Vehicle, but the stance slightly lower and wider for better handling dynamics.

It only took me a few minutes to realize what the hype was all about; high performance engine, dynamic handling, comfortable luxurious interior, and edgy yet elegant design. I would not expect anything less from a global leader in premium automobiles. During our short journey I nicknamed my X6 50i Silver Surfer, after the Marvel Comic that appears in Fantastic Four.

The heart of an athlete

As I fired up 4.4-liter 400-hp TwinPower Turbo V8, the exhaust emits a deep raspy German V8 rumble throughout the cabin the (seems to be a little deeper than the X6M I drove in Spartanburg last summer). The twin-turbo N63 engine produces 450 lb-ft of max torque from 1750-4500 rpm. And all that twist launches the X6 50i from 0-60 in just over 5 seconds while getting 15 mpg city/highway combined average. I popped the gear selector to the left to engage manual mode, finger ready on the paddle shifter, and then fired off a 0-60 sprint. The massive 325 series rear rubber grabbed like glue and I was pinned to the seat. “This bad boy can move!” I said to myself. So the straight-line speed box can easily be checked off.

The ZF 8-speed automatic transmission with adaptive drive is well matched to the engine output. This gearbox has a split personality – near dual-clutch quickness for spirited weekend drives and smooth almost seamless engagement for a comfortable drive to the office. With sport mode engaged, gear shifts are quicker and the throttle response is sharpened with linear virtually lag free power delivery throughout the rev range. In fact, if you didn’t know a head of time, this engine could make you believe it’s naturally aspirated – it’s that good. Two thumbs up to the engineers in Munich. If you’re hungry for more exhilaration, take a peek at the 555 hp fire breathing X6M. BMW also offers US customers a more economical, but still plenty powerful 3.0-liter 300-hp turbocharged inline-6 xDrive 35i model starting at $58,900.

All around driving pleasure

BMWs are known for their combination of sporty handling and comfort. The X6 50i is no exception. It starts with an extremely rigid chassis and near perfect weight balance (51% front 49% rear). The engineers also placed the entire drive line and engine as low as possible to decrease the center of gravity. The suspension is tuned to provide incredible road holding, precise turn-in, and low noise levels. This X6 50i was equipped with the $4100 Sport Package option – which includes Adaptive Drive – a self leveling fully adjustable suspension system that uses Active Roll Stabilization and Electronic Damper Control to keep the ride flat and minimize nose dive during braking. A must have option on the X6 in my opinion. Around town with the usual bumps and road surface variations the ride was well damped and comfortable – even with the low profile 21-inch performance tires. The cabin remained pleasantly quiet with nil creaks or rattles – at this point it felt more like I was driving in the luxurious BMW 750i flagship model.

I found my way out of the metro Queen City area onto some peaceful and windy back country roads making sure the suspension was on the sportiest setting in the iDrive menu option. Now the Silver Surfer started to feel as if it was shrinking around me. Dual personalty? Yes! It carved up back roads like a 650i. Great turn in, tons of grip, and the brakes never felt overworked. There is some mild understeer built-in at limit which will keeps you from driving your heavy SUV off a cliff. Don’t expect it to feel as agile and quick on its feet as a 335i coupe, but the way it moves down the road for a 5200 lb sport activity is astounding. Given more time, I would have have taken it for an extended drive up to the mountains in Western North Carolina through the Pisgah National Forest.

A notable difference between the X5 is the X6 features Dynamic Performance Control – a sophisticated on-board electronic control module and mechanical rear differential that distributes torque to rear tires. DPC teams up with the xDrive all wheel drive system which only controls power distribution between the front and rear axle. xDrive defaults to 40% front 60% rear power bias, but can adjust in milliseconds depending on driver input and conditions. Here’s how it works – lets say your on a spirited drive and come up to a left hand sweeper – if the vehicle detects any understeer on the front tires, torque is sent to the outside right rear tire to help push the vehicle through the turn. DPC doesn’t just work when you’re on the gas, it works under braking and coasting as well. The result is a more neutral balanced feeling and maximum traction at all times.

Available as a stand alone option is Active Steering – a system that constantly adjusts the steering ratio depending on how fast you’re going. I was a bit skeptical this system would make steering feedback anesthetized, and over boosted (I’m used to the hydraulic power assisted steering rack on my 135i coupe). It took about 30 minutes of driving for me to appreciate the technology and realize this is a beneficial option on the X6 50i. Maneuvering the X6 in a parking lot was a breeze, and I loved not having to do the hand over hand shuffle move. During spirited driving the steering is pleasantly weighted with great feedback and responsiveness. It did feel slightly twitchy and vague driving straight with the wheel at dead center – almost as if the system was overly sensitive to various grooves in the road. This diminished above 60 mph while on the expressway.

PDC coupled with Active Steering and Adaptive Drive can also be beneficial during accident avoidance maneuvers such as sudden lane changes. A BMW service advisor once shared a story with me about why he felt having Active Steering in his BMW helped control his vehicle to avoid a major accident that could have been life life threatening. Overall it worked nicely and evened out the steering effort providing a more comfortable drive. Liking Active Steering is matter of personal taste. You have to experience it for yourself to make the call.

All of these systems are managed by several on-board sensors that worth together with the Dynamic Stability Control, Dynamic Traction Control, and the braking system to ensure class leading driving dynamics and safety on every road surface and weather condition. Although I drove the X6 50i during dry hot summer weather, the X6 would be a great vehicle for those who live where the white fluffy white stuff falls  – as long as you equip the proper snow tires during winter months. I’m going to thank Heinz Krusche, BMW’s chassis guru, and his team for their great work. The X6 50i is able to lap the Nurburgring nearly as quick as an E46 M3.

Interior fit for a CEO

Accustomed to getting into my 135i coupe, stepping up into the X6 50i felt as if I was getting into something a little more special. Intuitive well placed controls, functional, and top shelf fit and finish. From the sporty seating position and driver oriented cockpit to the placement of thick steering wheel, and the supportive 20-way sport seats, I instantly felt comfortable behind the wheel. Standard is the latest generation of the iDrive system with an on-board computer and BMW ConnectedDrive which integrates the BMW interface to your iPhone and allows specially-created BMW apps to function right through the vehicle’s LCD and iDrive controller.

There is a harmonious mix of premium materials like soft touch plastics, brushed silver aluminum, and soft hand stitched black Nappa leather which was draped over the dash, center console, knee pads, and door panels giving an almost bespoke handmade feeling to the cabin. Understated elegance – typical BMW.

The optional head-up display displays your speed and other important information in the windshield – a good safety feature that keeps your eyes on the road. Audiophiles will like the 600-watt 16-speaker premium sound package which provides a live concert like listening experience. Two different wood trims and four leather colors are also available. Along with active ventilated seats which provide heat and cooling functions.

Rearward visibility is poor due to the sloped rear greenhouse and tall rear hatch. Not to worry though, BMW has me covered — as I engage reverse the parking lot behind me appears on the vivid 8.8 inch control screen, thanks to the $900 rear view camera option. I highly recommend checking this option off if you plan on ordering an X6, or shopping carts, trees, and other cars may fall victim to your X6. Also available are side-view front cameras (part of the Technology Package). These are strategically placed on the front fenders and provide a nice shot down the road when you’re pulling out of a space with limited visibility – pretty trick and very useful.

Rear cabin passenger get two supportive and comfortable bucket seats, separated by a center console with large cup-holders. The X6 only gives up .7 inches of legroom and 1.8 inches of headroom compared to the X5. You will sacrifice some rear seat comfort due to the sporty sloping roofline. At 6’3” my hair just grazed the roof when sitting up straight. The seat does not adjust so a long trip may get a little uncomfortable compared to say a 5GT or even an X3. However I had ample leg and shoulder room and the optional rear entertainment system may make you forget about the lowered ceiling. A three-person rear bench also available as an option.

The cargo area is able to hold up to 4 golf bags or 4 full size suitcases. Drop the 60/40 split rear seats forward and flat via a quick release latch in the trunk, and you’re provided with a  generous 51 cubic feet (1,450 liters) of maximum space – 8 less cubic feet than the new 5 Series Touring. A standard power rear hatch can be opened with the remote control key and can be set to open and stop at two different heights. So those with a lower garage door don’t have to ding up their investment. The rear opening of the X6 is higher up off the ground, so some may find it difficult to lift up and load items in the back.

The X6 makes for a great family car with an optional trailer hitch to tow your small boat or power toys. Access the accessories catalog for different roof racks that can hold just about anything.

Unique innovative exterior lines

The X6 commands attention on the road with its low wide sporty stance, flared wheel arches, and elegant coupé-like window silhouette. The metallic silver paint is a perfect shade to show off the lines and it looks beautiful in the sunlight. The entire exterior design theme, which was overseen by Pierre Leclercq, was meant to tell the story of the X6 – that it is the sportiest sport utility vehicle ever made. The highlight feature on the X6 is the dramatic roofline that peaks right above the driver’s head and flows back towards the rear spoiler. This really sets the X6 apart from every other vehicle on the road. From side-view you notice the stretched wheelbase and short overhangs which gives the X6 an elegant and fast look. Below the window is a strong character line  that starts just behind the front wheel arch and stretches through the door handles concluding at the tail lamp. This give the X6 a strong sense of forward motion, even when it’s not moving. There is another more subtle character line further down between the bulging wheel arches. This surface break gives the X6 a sense of agility and lightness.

The sculpted hood and wide front fenders bear resemblance to the X5 brother and highlight the powerful engine. There are large intakes to feed air to the engine and brakes. The skid plate and x pattern mesh grilles show off the versatility and ruggedness of the X6. There are also BMW typical design elements present up front – wide double kidney grills and double round head lamps with integrated corona ring daytime running lights. The shape of the bi-xenon cluster looks focused on the road. If you see the X6 in your rear-view you will know it means business.

The rear bumper is unique play of convex and concave surfaces – especially the lower part. A grey plastic diffuser starts on the side underneath the rear fender and wraps around the integrated exhaust tips which are placed low near the out side edges – giving the X6 a wide sporty stance. A silver aluminum skid plate sits in between echoing the design theme up front. The broad muscular wheel arches and strong rear shoulder highlights the all wheel drive platform. The X6 looks firmly planted on the road with the presence of a lean triathlete ready to compete. The shape of the rear light cluster and integrated led light tubes that wrap around give the X6 a striking look at night and keeps your attention as it passes by. The overall rear design has the bold look an X vehicle combined with the elegance of a sporty coupe. This is mobile art at its best.

Final thoughts

I feel the X6 was designed for active adventurous individuals with passion for driving and a keen sense to details. But is the X6 50i worth the $70,000 admission ticket? It’s roughly $6,000 more than a X5 50i which is more functional and versatile. As tested our X6 50i was nearly $86,000 with almost every available option packed in. For a few thousand more you can get into a better performing X6M. If you enjoy the feeling of a sporty GT coupe, like a higher view of the road, and need all wheel drive, the X6 may be just the right compromise. It’s truly an all-rounder. So you can have your cake and eat it to!

Disclaimer: Hendrick BMW provided BMWBLOG the BMW X6 xDrive50i for evaluation purposes

Hendrick BMW of Charlotte, North Carolina, the largest volume retailer for New and Pre-owned BMW’s in the Carolinas picked up their 7th consecutive “Center of Excellence” award in 2011. The Center of Excellence designation is only awarded to the top 8% of dealerships in the entire nation. If you would like to order an individualized model, one of the friendly and knowledgeable client advisors will guide you every step of the way. (Facebook Page)

A special thanks to Rooz Rafie and the Hendrick BMW team for facilitating the test drive.