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First Drive

First Drive: BMW X6 xDrive M50d 5dr Auto

£72,230 when new
Published: 12 Oct 2014


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Ooh, has the BMW X6 been facelifted?

No. Though it does look mighty similar to the original X6, launched back in 2008, this is in fact an all-new version of BMW's socially questionable SUV-coupe, sharing its underpinnings with the recently launched third-gen X5.

Will it finally get me on my eco-conscious neighbours' Christmas card list?

Afraid not. The X6 remains every bit as large and, um, self-confident as before. In fact, larger and more self-confident, if anything. The new X6 is a couple of centimetres longer and wider than the car it replaces, and boasts an even snoutier interpretation of BMW's ‘kidney grille' front end.

Your eco-conscious neighbours might not think much of the X6's engine range, either, despite BMW's claims of greatly improved efficiency and reduced consumption. The X6 launches with a choice of two entirely unapologetic powerplants, badged 50i and 50d. The former sees BMW's 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 generating 443bhp and 480lb ft, with a 0-62mph time of just 4.8 secs and a top speed limited to 155mph. The latter gets a tri-turbo iteration of that lovely 3.0-litre straight six diesel, making 376bhp and a tectonic 545lb ft of torque.

Both engines pipe their power to all four wheels through BMW's cracking eight-speed ‘Steptronic' auto box.

So how does the big lad drive?

The big lad drives quite unlike a two-tonne SUV and quite like a seriously grippy sports saloon. No matter how rowdily you chuck the X6 about, there's virtually no body roll, and quite extraordinary reserves of grip and composure.

On greasy roads, driving like utter buffons, we discovered you can force the X6 into a mite of initial understeer followed by, if you disable the (excellent) traction control and mash the throttle on the exit of a sharp corner, a decent lump of oversteer. Mostly, though, the X6 just clings on with ferocious tenacity. On a bumpy, cambered mountain pass, all that grip, power and handy suspension travel could leave some pretty serious sports cars red-cheeked.

The X6 perhaps feels a little less mechanical, less hands-on, than Porsche's Macan or Cayenne (the GTS at least), but it's every bit as devastatingly effective.

Diesel or petrol, then?

Interestingly the diesel feels marginally the more focused drive than the petrol. The M50d has had a gentle working over by BMW's M division, its air suspension beefed up at the rear to keep things locked down when you decide to discover what happens when you apply full brake force midway round a fast hairpin. Not that the petrol feels wayward in any regard, but if you're planning on taking your X6 for a lap of the Nurburgring, the diesel's the one to have.

Assessing engines alone, both are crackers, but the 50d's claimed 43mpg against the 50i's 29mpg is enough to swing the deal. It's a stellar diesel, quick to rev and capable of serving up a genuine gut-punch of power. Even so, we might advise holding out for the arrival of the 254bhp/413lb ft X6 30d next year, expected to comprise the vast majority of UK sales and likely offering the smartest blend of economy - BMW quotes a potential 47mpg - and shove.

So that's the ‘sport' sorted. What about the ‘utility'?

The X6 has never been a car bought with your rational, practical head on, but BMW has attempted to add a little more practicality to the behemoth's unquestionable road smarts. The rear seats now fold in three separate sections to reveal a boot some 100 litres larger than that of its predecessor. But, as you doubtless guessed from looking at the photos with your eyes, the rear loadspace is a low, wide ferry-berth of a space. You won't be taking any wardrobes to the dump in this thing.

There's masses of legroom in the back, though under that squished roofline, rear headroom remains tight for six-footers.

Business as usual for the X6, then?

Quite. This is a reboot that does nothing to mess with the formula established by the 2008 original. But, of course, when the X6 launched six years ago, the BMW line-up didn't contain the dizzying array of crossover contraptions it does today. In addition to the X5 (same size as the X6, bigger boot), there's the 5-Series GT (same sort of size, bit more headroom, bit lower) and the 6-Series Gran Coupe (same sort of size, similar profile, quite a bit lower), not to mention the X4, 3-Series GT, 4-Series Gran Coupe and probably a few others we've forgotten.

Impressive though the X6 is on the road, TopGear cannot quite comprehend the precise set of customer demands that would lead you to choose it over the more practical X5 or more overtly sporty 6-Series GC. Then again the X6 has never catered to box-ticking demand, but rather to those who want, well, an X6. The new X6 should fit that demand rather well.

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