2015 BMW X6: Nicher Than Ever

Strong points
  • Great acceleration in V8 trim
  • Standard all-wheel drive
  • High class interior
  • Access to numerous technology features
Weak points
  • Rear seat has limited headroom
  • Cargo space is limited for such a large vehicle
  • Styling is an acquired taste
  • Weight prevents a fun experience behind the wheel
Full report

It's big, it's brash, and it's back for 2015 with revised styling, a nicer interior, and more of the same attitude that has garnered it a cult following amongst wealthy buyers.  The 2015 BMW X6 has been refreshed without losing much of the unique personality that has confounded reason and lined the brand's coffers with the gold of SUV shoppers who care little for practicality in the face of perceived performance and reflected status.  Is the X6 still the less-useful version of the X5?  Of course - but it's also a vehicle that's had some of its rough edges pared back in a bid for the hearts and minds of a wider swathe of BMW fans.

Subtle Changes Without, Big Improvements Within

Coupe fever has taken over at BMW, especially of the four-door variety: witness the recent births of the 4 Series Gran Coupe, the 6 Series Gran Coupe, and the X6's own baby brother, the X4.  It's only natural that BMW would want to be careful when updating the X6 for 2015, given that it's the sloped-roof original that set the tone for the German brand.  As such, the bulky wedge shape that makes up the full-size SUV hasn't really strayed that far from the original playbook: there are some differences at the front fascia (including a revised kidney grille), more chrome on the rear hatch, and gills slit into the sides of the front fenders just behind the wheel.

Inside it's a different story, with the new X6 gaining the improved interior that we first saw in the most recent edition of the BMW X5, albeit sporting a few notable changes in materials befitting the vehicle's higher price point.  Dakota leather makes an appearance on most of the interior panels and also on the X6's seats, and it's as soft as you'd want it to be in a flagship SUV.  The dashboard layout is more interesting to the eye than what you would find in lesser BMW offerings, and the vehicle I drove offered a classy strip of wood bisecting the top and bottom of the dash itself.  Technology is a watchword with the X6, and it encompasses features such as a night vision camera that can highlight pedestrians and animals lurking on the side of the road as well as an adaptive cruise control system that operates at a full range of speeds (a must when dealing with bumper-to-bumper traffic).

Familiar Turbocharged Faces

Mechanically, there aren't many differences between the latest BMW X6 and the one that came before it.  Although BMW claims a better than 20 percent improvement in fuel efficiency for the SUV, power numbers remain flat from the entry-level 3.0-litre turbocharged six-cylinder available in the xDrive30i model (300 horsepower / 300 lb-ft of torque).  For the range-topping xDrive50i and its carryover 4.4-litre V8, however, BMW has turned up to boost to produce an additional 45 ponies compared to the 2014 edition of the X6, giving it a total of 445 horsepower and 480 lb-ft of torque (with the latter figure representing an increase of 30 lb-ft).  All-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission remain standard with each engine.

It's easy to feel the effects of the more robust turbo V8 when piloting the xDrive50i (the only edition of the X6 available to me at launch, as six-cylinder models won't be ready until partway through 2015).  Mashing the throttle in the beast-like SUV sees it leap forward with gusto, and it's an astonishing performer given its two-and-a-half ton curb weight.  All-wheel drive combines with a chorus of electronic suspension systems and safety nannies to keep the BMW pointed straight and true through the corners, but truth be told you'll have to anticipate your braking zones and make sure not to gather too much momentum on a downhill slope in this gargantuan hauler.  On several occasions I found myself carrying more than advisable amounts of speed through a set of S-corners on narrow two-lane blacktop behind the wheel of the X6, forcing me to dive onto the brake to preserve a modicum of respect from my right-seat companion.

Sum Of Its Parts?

The 2015 BMW X6 is a bit of a puzzler.  While front seat riders will enjoy excellent road trip comfort, the rear bench and cargo area are far too small for more than occasional use: the sloped roof intrudes on both headroom and luggage space, with the SUV trumped in both departments by a host of compact crossovers.  In a straight line the xDrive50i pins you back, but dynamically there's no real way to disguise its bulk once the road turns twisty.  It's quick, but in no way fun to drive.  And then there's the styling: if you like it, you love it, but if you don’t, well, it's not something you'll warm to with time.

If the above sounds like the definition of a niche vehicle to you, you're right.  Sales of the X6 hover right around the 1,000 unit mark every year in Canada, which is about a quarter of the number of X5s that BMW sells during the same period.  Given the price gap between the two of them (the X6 starts at an MSRP of just under $69k and ranges all the way up past $90k), plus the significant disparity in practicality, look for this chasm to continue throughout the second generation model's lifespan.

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