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Forget arguments about politics and football teams. At the CarAdvice office we (quite obviously) argue about cars.
All sizes, shapes, colours and manufacturers are regularly the subject of, sometimes quite heated, discussion. But nothing triggers more involvement or raised blood pressure than the subject of the SUV Coupe.
And the car usually at the centre of the storm is the one that started it all, the 2016 BMW X6.
Forever to be known as the answer to the question nobody asked, the X6 took the fundamental practicalities of a high-riding X5 SUV and squashed them into a swoopy 3 Series coupe that was as big as a 5 Series, but still felt like an SUV on the road.
Who would want a dynamically compromised sports car or a less useful SUV?
Turns out, lots of people. The X6 has sold well over 250,000 units across both generations, spawned its own ‘mini me’ in the BMW X4 as well as competition from Mercedes Benz and soon we expect to see Porsche and Range Rover getting in on the game as well.
So what's the appeal?
Inside the 2016 X6, you could be forgiven for thinking you are in the X5, so similar are the pair. It’s not a bad thing, the X5 remains the top-selling large, premium SUV in the country.
Quality materials, excellent ergonomics and a high level of standard equipment ensures even the entry-point to the X6 range feels like a luxury car.
BMW’s premium ‘Dakota’ leather is standard, as are a leather-stitched dashboard and aluminium trim inlays. The large, 10.2-inch iDrive professional system is standard too.
Along with all the standard navigation and infotainment functions, ConnectedDrive telemetry is included on the X6, and includes the real-time traffic information functionality and compatibility with the BMW remote app, should you need to lock or unlock your car, or just find it in a carpark without being next to it.
Lane departure, forward collision and low-speed automatic braking functions are also included as is adaptive cruise control, blind spot detection and keyless entry as part of the now standard ‘Innovations’ package.
It’s comfy, has great vision – out the front anyway – and feels just that little bit more sporty, with a 60mm lower roof line than the X5.
In the back too, there is good room for adults, even with the sloping roof. Passengers have air vents, cup holders in the arm rest and a 12-volt socket.
The boot too, is a not-impractical 580 litres which expands to over 1500 litres when the 40:20:40 seats are folded.
Under the skin, our Alpine White X6 30d runs the same 190kW / 560Nm 3.0-litre turbo-diesel six-cylinder as the X5. It might be the entry level motor for the X6 line-up, but it’s an absolute cracker.
Peak power isn’t until 4000rpm but the full complement of torque is available between 1500 and 3000rpm, giving the big six great response off the line. It’s good for a bit of quick urban hustle but really shines on B-roads and when touring.
Paired with an eight-speed Steptronic automatic transmission, on cruising sections the drivetrain will relax into a higher gear and can return an impressive 6L/100km on a combined cycle. The slightly more friendly hole-in-the-air shape over the X5 sees this lower than the square-back sibling, which runs a claim of 6.2L/100km.
Sport and Sport-Plus drive modes are standard (as is Eco, but who really uses that…?) but even in its ordinary Comfort setting, the X6 has enough poke to dispatch country overtaking moves with ease.
It can sound a bit rattly under load, but it can pick up and hold speed well enough for a vehicle of its 2000kg bulk. Ownership is made easier too, with the car managing its own ‘condition based servicing’, which triggers an interval depending on how the X6 has been driven.
So all good then? Not exactly…
Technical abilities and market success aside, the X6 still carries the character traits of Justin Bieber. A legion of loyal fans, cheering on one side, and a pitchfork wielding mob looking for blood on the other.
I don’t like Bieber, but I do like the X6. My colleague, Paul Maric, well… lets not mince words. He is not a fan (although, he does like the Beeb).
When I was reviewing this car, Paul was very quick to point out that the X6 costs approximately $15,000 more ($102,855 vs $117,455) than the equivalent X5 30d. It’s the same car underneath, has the same driveline and power outputs, and has the same core equipment. The X6 scores some extra luxury items, like the stitched dash and LED headlamps, but even with these optioned up, that is still a decent price penalty for ‘individuality’.
Then there’s the storage. The X6 drops 70-litres on the X5’s boot with the seats up and a solid 345-litres with the seats down. Plus the coupe has a naff, hard cargo cover that makes the load bay just that little bit less convenient.
Good arguments, sure. But in my mind, an X6 buyer isn’t looking for the ultimate in folded-seat space. It’s more of a personal statement car than the X5.
While we had the car (and for the benefit of the video), I encouraged Paul to spend time driving the big white Bimmer around, and even he conceded that behind the wheel is a nice place to spend time.
But then we get to the issue with the X6 that isn’t so easy to defend.
The M-Sport package is basically standard (it is at the moment as part of a marketing offer), the big M-Sport wheels are standard, it’s pitched as the sports SUV in the line up, so you would imagine that translates to sporty vehicle dynamics?
As noted earlier, the 3.0-litre turbo six is a great engine, and feels strong and responsive both around town and touring, but it’s not what you would call an exciting engine. The ride too, feels solid and compliant in its comfort setting, and firms up nicely in sport, enough to make a nice country run feel enjoyable, but when you try to ‘drive’ the X6, it doesn’t take long to push it out of its comfort zone.
Tip the big SUV into a tighter bend, and the body movement is amplified considerably. The steering is light and direct, but the car feels wallowy and even in the sportiest driveline setting, relies on its traction control to manage corner exit speed with a control rather than enjoyment bias.
What results is a bit of a big, floaty feeling that doesn’t power away like you want it to.
Straighten up, even through to some flowing bends, and the X6 is back on its game. It’s almost as if it has a maximum cornering angle of 30-degrees. Stay within that and you’ve got a big sports coupe, go beyond and you need to treat it like more of a lumbering SUV.
Paul’s argument is that for a sports model, it needs to exhibit proper sports performance, and when thrown the challenge, the X6 doesn’t quite have the answers. And as much as it pains me to say, Paul might just be right here.
And then there is the design.
This is always a subjective area, but has been where the X6 has copped most of its flak. I will admit that our white X6 with the M-Sport package is possibly the least appealing option due to the sheer volume of solid colour, you need to look at one in the Luxury Line trim (like the silver one in the pictures) to see how good the X6 can be.
The break up of paint from the contrasting trim and chrome accents does a lot to improve the big coupe shape, and arguably positions the X6 more along the lines of where it should be, an individual grand tourer but in the XXL size.
I love it from the front, but agree that rear-quarter can look frumpy. Almost like no other car, colour is crucial (there are 16 choices) as are wheels.
The 2016 BMW X6 will no doubt continue to be one of the most controversial cars on sale in Australia. And where it may not be everyone’s favourite, it certainly gets talked about, and in our crowded market, that’s a good place for any car to be.
The original SUV coupe might have its haters, but it also has its fans, and when judged on its DNA, the X6 remains a fundamentally excellent car. Just don’t expect it to behave like a nimble sports coupe, nor be the most practical option in the showroom, and perhaps look beyond the M-Sport package, and you might find yourself coming over to the dark side.
What say you, team James or team Paul?
Let us know in the comments below!
Click on the Photos tab for more images by James Ward and Tom Fraser.