BIG BRUISER Chelsea tractor is a term that could have been invented for the BMW X6; Sloane Square or the Kings Road seem to be the natural habitat of a big luxury 4×4, especially one with coupé pretensions. So what am I doing just up the road from John O’Groats at Dounreay nuclear power station, waiting my turn to tread the throttle of an X6 through a slalom of cones snaking across a car park? We’re here because BMW chose the empty terrain of Caithness and a sports car type of handling course to demonstrate what is different about its latest big bruiser of an urbanite 4×4. Not only am I sitting behind the world’s most powerful six-cylinder diesel engine, I’m also about to experience BMW’s new Dynamic Performance Control system making its world premiere as standard kit in the X6. The system is designed to stabilise the car in tricky situations, such as when travelling fast into a tight bend or when forced into a sudden lanechange. It works by means of sensors that detect the beginnings of oversteer or understeer, either of which could dangerously de-stabilise the vehicle. It then instinctively varies the distribution of power to different wheels, in particular supplying extra torque to the outer rear wheel, to push the car safely round the corner or into another lane.
It certainly works very well indeed. Driving the same twisty tight slalom course first with the system switched on, then deactivated, is a telling demonstration. First time it all feels safe and controlled, even sporty. Second time is much more what you’d expect of a big and relatively top-heavy 4×4 lurching about as it’s pushed to the limits of stability. A long drive down through Caithness on a meandering single-track road confirmed the initial impression on the Dounreay handling course. The X6 sets a new standard for big 4×4 ride and handling.
It feels very sure-footed with excellent chassis dynamics and although it’s undeniably a bulky car, from behind the wheel it manages to minimise its dimensions. Big on the outside, it ‘drives small’. That gloriously powerful six-cylinder twin-turbodiesel is smooth, refined and accelerates seamlessly. Its accolade as International Engine of the Year 2007 tells the story. It comes teamed with standard sixspeed auto transmission. ‘Active’ steering is optional. BMW hails the South Carolina-built X6 as the world’s first Sports Activity Coupé. That’s a bold claim, and a bit dubious. Arguably Land Rover got there first. Range Rover Sport, anyone?
Effectively a coupé-styled X5 with updates, the X6 is pricey, but a lot of car for the money. It has a terrific engine, is great to drive and amazingly sure-footed for a hunky 4×4. The styling is debatable but the car’s build quality certainly isn’t. Dynamic Performance Control is a very convincing asset.
RIVALS: AUDI Q7, MERCEDES-BENZ M-CLASS, RANGE ROVER SPORT
- Engine: 2993cc, 6 cylinder, common rail injection twin turbo diesel
- Gearbox: 6-speed automatic
- Max Power: 286bhp at 4,400rpm
- Max Torque: 428b ft at 1750-2250rpm
- Max Towing Weight: 2700kg
- Combined Consumption: 34.0mpg
- CO2 Emissions (taxband): 220/km (F)
- 0-62mph: 6.9secs
- Max speed: 147mph
- Insurance Group: 19