Spartanburg S.C.—The sign above a roadside cinder-block barbecue joint read "The Road Kill Grill" — a local joke, I thought as I drove the new 2008 BMW X6 through the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Less than an hour later, I was reminded of that bit of humour when I watched a deer collide with another X6 during the track portion of our test session — putting itself on the menu and the brand-new high-performance CUV in the repair shop with an unremarkable amount of damage.
The sudden collision between the Bimmer and the beast really brought home the fact that despite the best systems and the most skilled drivers, collisions still occur. For the rest of my test, I looked at the array of passive and active safety systems included in the X6 with a new appreciation.
Though the X6 may be the numerical cousin to the X5, style-wise it's anything but. With a coupe roofline grafted onto a four-door body that looks plump and overbuilt, the X6 appears car-like, but it also has a steroid- injected look to its fenders (that encase gargantuan 19-inch run-flat tires) that scream "truck."
From the rear it resembles a trapezoid, anchored below by a massive bumper with twin tailpipes poking through and topped with a savagely raked sheet of glass in the liftgate — very much a three-door coupe look.
Two versions of the X6 are coming to dealer lots in May. The xDrive 3.5i is the base version, powered by a 3.0 L inline six, twin-turbo that makes 300 hp and 300 lb.-ft. of torque. The other offering is the xDrive 5.0i, which is V8 powered, features a 4.4 L twin-turbo engine and puts 400 hp on the ground. Both are coupled to a six-speed sport automatic that can also be controlled using steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
Pricing for these X6 models has not been announced, but a BMW executive suggested that while the X6 will be priced above the X5, it wouldn't be by much. Currently, the 2008 X5 base inline-six starts at $61,900 and the V8-powered version starts at $73,500.
All models for worldwide distribution are being built here — including a diesel-powered version that is for overseas sale only — at least for now. Next year BMW promises to also add a hybrid-powered version to the line which will come to Canada
The base inline-six X6 was particularly impressive up the switchbacks of the Blue Ridge Mountains to Caesar's Head, a local mountain lookout. There I stopped long enough to appreciate the rich, stylish leather interior with its two-tone accents and dark wood trim. The well-soundproofed quiet also made the experience of the tight responsive handling that much more enjoyable — maybe even $60,000-plus enjoyable.
Yet when I stood back and took it all in together I just didn't know what the X6 was. It was not an SUV or a wagon or even a next-generation SAV (Sports Activity Vehicle) — not with that tear-drop shape and low-slung body.
What it felt like though — even standing still — was fast, and with the typical BMW kidney-shaped grille, dual round headlights and central air intake in the bumper, it's heredity was never in doubt.
Those who assume an X-designated BMW has to be some kind of SUV, however, may be critical of the new vehicle for a couple of reasons. For one thing, the X6 design limits cargo space; though there is enough, it's not an X5. For another, the body height does not lend itself to anything rougher than a cottage road, and the going-to-the-opera opulent interior means that it's hardly a vehicle you'd want to hose out.
Surprisingly, the X6 drives small, turns tight, manoeuvres easily and has virtually zero body-roll — despite weighing 2,220 kg. Like me, potential consumers will have to get their heads around the fact that this new X6 drives like a car, with the only similarity to a truck being its elevated driving position.
This sensation of driving small is also, in part, a result of BMW's xDrive all-wheel-drive system that controls and adjusts power distribution between the front and rear axles. But new this year (and added to xDrive) is an additional Dynamic Performance Control function that also changes steering precision in relation to vehicle speed as well as limiting power side-to-side. This is particularly useful in high-speed sweeping curves to stabilize the car.
To get the full feel of this upgraded xDrive system, we took the X6 out on a local test track owned by Michelin. I'd been driving the 300 hp inline-six till then, but on the track I got a taste of the 400 hp V8.
Off the line it hit 100 km/h in just 5.4 seconds, and quickly pushed past 160 km/h. Then with a turn looming large, I feathered the four-channel ABS ventilated disc brakes (348 mm front and 345 mm rear) and scrubbed that speed down to 60 km/h in moments.
As the car drifted to the outside of the pavement, I stabbed at the accelerator at the apex of the turn and the twin-turbos spooled to life — no lag, no dive — the car shot down the straightaway, giving me a few seconds to find my stomach before the next turn.
But where the mechanical ballet that is xDrive came alive was on the wet track. Navigating those tight turns on water-soaked asphalt made overpowering the car easy.
Yet each time I felt the rear break loose, the system brought it back into line, quickly and without being overly heavy-handed with my driving style.
This is a great system, one that very well might save you — from other drivers or wayward wildlife.Travel was provided to freelance reviewer Howard J. Elmer by the automaker. firstname.lastname@example.org
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