May 3, 2008

A mixed breed with pedigree

BMW's new creation - a sports activity coupe - lives up to its hype and drives like a dream

By Andre Lam

METHOD IN THE MADNESS: The X6 has the tall stance of an SUV, the cabin ergonomics of a luxury sedan, coupe-like styling and a sporty engine. -- PHOTOS: BMW

IN SPARTANBURG, UNITED STATES - WHAT looks like a coupe but is not, is sized like an SUV but is not and drives like a sports car but is not?

Easy, BMW's segment-busting and mind-boggling X6, which the company calls a 'sports activity coupe''.

Is this marketing gone awry or is there some method to BMW's madness?

The truth is, BMW would rather be focusing on its established and accomplished sedans. But, apparently, the world increasingly wants cars which are not sedans.

Hence the X-series was born. Now, BMW believes it has spotted a niche between the X5 and 7-series. Hence the X6.

Based on the platform of the X5, the car has the tall stance of an SUV but the cabin ergonomics of a luxury sedan (without the need for a step ladder to get in and out of). Its coupe-like styling is bold and takes the crossover genre to a new level.

Some may argue that Mazda's CX-7 has already introduced this concept, but BMW wishes to differ. Unlike the Mazda, the X6 does not have the proportions of an SUV.

Its roofline clearly slopes to the rear like a fastback coupe. This means rear occupants cannot be more than 1.8m tall.

The X6, which should arrive in Singapore in the second half of the year, has a decidedly sporty flavour. Engines include the brilliant 335i's 306bhp twin-turbo 3-litre inline-6 and an all-new twin-turbo 4.4-litre V8 that puts out a walloping 407bhp and 600Nm of torque.

In light of Singapore's easing of diesel rules, we should mention the brilliant 286bhp 3-litre twin-turbo diesel engine which generates 580Nm of torque and consumes just 11.8 litres per 100km in urban conditions.

To further distance the X6 from any mundane comparison, the car has an active torque-splitting 4WD system called Dynamic Performance Control, which uses BMW's unique X-Drive system to the fullest. The systems found in the Mitsubishi Evo X and Honda Legend SH-AWD are similar in concept though the processes and mechanics vary.

The general idea is to proactively deliver more torque to the outside wheels in any cornering situation to maximise torque delivery and also promote neutral handling.

It may have taken BMW just three years to go from concept to production, but the X6 is a complete package. Its twin-turbo V8 variant, despite weighing nearly 2.3 tonnes, clocks 100kmh in just 5.4 seconds.

With huge 19-inch run-flat tyres, there is stupendous grip - far more than the average driver will ever need - to help deliver the dynamics that BMW drivers expect.

These 19-inch performance tyres seem to be the staple for the range. Shod with them, the turbodiesel version sprints to 100kmh in 6.9 seconds, which is impressive for a diesel.

The X6's new Integrated Chassis Management system has perfect damping for every occasion, even in Sport mode. It offers a subtle but useful difference in the steering acuity with not much penalty in the ride department.

Where it will not do too well is in the affordability stakes, being priced above the X5 and venturing into 7-series territory. Apart from that, the X6 certainly delivers an excellent drive experience worthy of the hype.

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Price: To be announced
Engine: 4,395cc 32-valve V8
Transmission: Six-speed Steptronic
Power: 406bhp at 5,500rpm
Torque: 600Nm at 1,750-4,500rpm
0-100kmh: 5.4 seconds
Top speed: 250kmh (electronically limited)
Fuel consumption: 19.6 litres/100km (city)
Agent: Performance Motors