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BMW breaks SUV mould

BMW breaks SUV mould

BMW's X6 xDrive 50i breaks the traditional SUV mould, and it seems that buyers like it. Craig Donaldson reports BMW is no stranger to innovation. It broke the four-wheel-drive mould in 1999 with…

BMW's X6 xDrive 50i breaks the traditional SUV mould, and it seems that buyers like it. Craig Donaldson reports

BMW is no stranger to innovation. It broke the four-wheel-drive mould in 1999 with the launch of the BMW X5 sports activity vehicle, and this model is now considered the benchmark in a market flooded with many rivals.

BMW has similar hopes for its X6 "sports activity coupé", which the company says is designed to provide stylish coupé looks and combine high performance with the utility of an SUV. There is a risk for car manufacturers in trying to carve out a new niche such as this, because vehicles that try to fit too many categories at once can end up not fitting any of them very well. However, if X6 sales figures are anything to go by, it seems to be working well for BMW.

There are three models to choose from in the X6 range: the xDrive 35i (a twin turbo six-cylinder petrol engine, priced at $115,700); the xDrive 35d (a six-cylinder twin turbo diesel, priced at $121,500); and the top of the line xDrive 50i (a twin turbo petrol V8 engine, priced at $146,000). This last model, which is reviewed here, comes with all the bells and whistles (and a price to match).

First and foremost, the xDrive 50i certainly lives up to the "sports" moniker, with a formidably potent twin-turbocharged 4.4 litre V8 power plant under the hood. When pressed, its brute power is capable of delivering what feels like an automotive equivalent of a headbutt. The xDrive 50i is a remarkably quick beast if need be, and will accelerate from 0-100km/h in 5.4 seconds. Not bad for 2.2 tonnage.

BMW has blessed the xDrive 50i with Dynamic Performance Control, which makes the driving experience more soothing. This technology shifts the drive around the four wheels as needed, virtually eliminating oversteer and understeer. When combined with self-levelling suspension, which helps flatten body roll, the xDrive 50i is balanced and remarkably poised even under hard cornering.

While the X6 is far from a family hauler such as the X5, its interior is designed to carry four passengers in comfort. As with all BMW X series models, the xDrive 50i offers an elevated, command seating position, giving the driver a better feeling of security and visibility (not a problem with acres of sloping glass). A rear-seat entertainment system and console also make backseat life more pleasant, however, the rear seats offer headroom that's only 1.1 inches less than you'll find in the second row of an X5 - a minor compromise that comes with the coupé fastback roofline.

The X6 also seems to have hit a sweet spot with buyers, because approximately 40 per cent of X6 customers are new to BMW, switching from a competitor luxury brand. Its closest competitor, the Porsche Cayenne, was also outsold by the X6 by almost 20 per cent last year.

While it is unconventional in its styling (which is not unreasonable, given that the X6 is essentially a new automotive segment), the xDrive 50i certainly delivers on the claims of combining high performance with the utility of an SUV.

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