Utility is not luxurious. Luxury is nonfunctional. Jimmy Choo stiletto sandals are, strictly speaking, shoes, but their functionality is all but surrendered to sex and gorgeousness. I for one am delighted. The toughest, most versatile, hard-core watch in the world is a Timex Ironman, but wearing one of these ugly timepieces makes you look like a substitute gym teacher.
Luxury sport utility vehicles have to romance a compromise between utility and luxury, and the results are occasionally hilarious. I give you the 2008 BMW X6.
About as useful as a laminated pizza, the X6 is essentially a fastback version of the company's already smallish X5. The X6 has inspired the company's marketing department to new neologistic heights: Whereas BMW calls the X5 a sport-activity vehicle, or SAV, the X6 is dubbed a sport-activity coupe. The resulting acronym makes my inner 12-year-old fall off his chair.
Coupe? Really? This Bavarian beef-alo, this callipygian caribou, is a coupe? What we have here is a giant four-door sedan that weighs a half-ton more than it ought to, seats one fewer person than it should, carries fewer bags than the pencil-necked bellboy at the Four Seasons, and drives like an excellent BMW sedan with an elephant on its back.
The X6 rates the lowest score in recent memory on the Index of Usefulness. The index works like this: Rate any vehicle on a scale of 1 to 10 in the following, no-particular-order categories: speed, handling, affordability, fuel economy, styling, cargo capacity, comfort, off-road and all-weather intrepidity, and image making.
What results is a metrical portrait of a vehicle that most buyers mentally construct in their deliberations, whether they know it or not. A Lamborghini Murcielago scores a 1 in cargo capacity and affordability but a 10+ in speed, handling and image making (that image is of a pornographer).
What is the X6 good at? That isn't a rhetorical question. It seats four -- not five, or seven, like the X5 -- and the rear passengers must contend with the car's seriously sloped roof. The X6 is built alongside the X5 in South Carolina, so you'd think BMW would understand the havoc such a roofline wreaks on beehive hairdos.
Meanwhile, the cargo capacity shrivels to 25 cubic feet (compared with the X5's 40) and the space is long and low, unable to hold items such as dog cages, bicycles and multiple boxes of Jimmy Choos.
So what's the sole and dubious advantage of the X6? It has an H-point (the height above ground of the driver's hip) of 33 inches, whereas the 5-series H-point is a mere 20 inches. But, Mommy, I want to sit up high!
As for BMW's hallmark performance and handling, it's in there, all right, with provisos. The X6 -- arriving this summer, with prices starting at $52,500 -- offers a choice of two monster engines: the company's brilliant twin-turbo, 3.0-liter inline six (300 hp and 300 pound-feet of torque); or great honking twin-turbo 4.0-liter V8 (400 hp and 450 pound-feet of torque) -- and, one hopes, a bumper sticker that says, "Ask me about my carbon footprint."
Both models deploy BMW's six-speed automatic with manual-shift mode, all-wheel drive and a vast array of electronic interventions designed to keep this brimming kettle of fish heading in the desired direction.
I drove an X6 xDrive35i (jeez, even the name of the thing is tedious!) and it is certainly quick enough in a straight line. The inline-six engine, the same as in the 135i and the 335i, puts out maximum torque between a mere 1,400 rpm and 5,000 rpm. Buttoned to the six-speeder, the engine provides a ceaseless willingness and intensity anywhere, all the time.
In a dead sprint, the truck reaches 60 mph in 6.3 seconds and keeps pulling like a panicked marlin until the speedo sweeps well past three digits. The transmission is exceptional, with a lively and fierce sport mode that raises the shift points, holds gears in corners, zings the throttle on downshifts and generally behaves like manual transmission with enchanted gears inside.
Question: Wouldn't this car be much more awesome if it weighed, like, a half-ton less? Answer: Yes. And BMW builds exactly that. The 535xi, with the same powertrain, is nearly a second quicker to 60 mph, gets better fuel economy (17/25 mpg city/highway, compared with the X6's 15/20 mpg), offers more passenger room and is, almost certainly, as capable in winter conditions as the X6.
The same dynamic presides over the handling and performance of the X6: Whatever superlatives you can throw its way, they would all be louder and heartier if this beast were slimmer than its 4,894-pound curb weight.
Still, you have to give BMW engineers credit. They have knitted a complex electronic safety net of traction, anti-lock and stability control, active suspension and steering, and something called Driving Performance Control. Similar in function to Acura's Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive, the DPC system can overdrive the outside rear wheel in a corner by as much as 10% of rotational speed, thereby helping the X6 maintain a cornering line and not push off into the weeds like the overloaded Conestoga that it so desperately wants to be.
By the way, the brakes are spectacular. The low-speed steering, on the other hand, feels like the pump has gone out on Dale Jr.'s No. 88 Chevy.
As with the gallingly heavy Porsche Cayenne SUV, it takes every chassis dynamics trick in the book to make the X6 handle creditably. Which it does, sort of. And yet you never shake the sense of tremendous, ungoverned mass. The thing feels like a neutron star with a steering wheel.
Beautifully constructed, exquisitely appointed, heroically engineered, the X6 is nonetheless a failure as a sports machine. It's not much of an SUV either, because you can't get people or stuff into it.
That shoe just fits too tight.
Neutron star with steering wheel
2008 BMW X6 xDrive35i
* Base price: $52,500
* Price, as tested: $62,000 (est.)
* Powertrain: Twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter, 24-valve inline six with variable valve timing; six-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode; all-wheel drive with electronically controlled rear differential
* Horsepower: 300 at 5,800 rpm
* Torque: 300 pound-feet at 1,400 to 5,000 rpm
* Curb weight: 4,894 pounds
* 0-60 mph: 6.3 seconds
* Top speed: 150 mph+
* Wheelbase: 115.5 inches
* Overall length: 192.1 inches
* EPA fuel economy: 15/20 mpg city/highway
* Final thoughts: A Bavarian bison
Cars.com Expert Reviews
|Mike Hanley||Cars.com National||June 30, 2008|
|Cars.com Staff||Cars.com National||April 29, 2008|
|Scott Burgess||The Detroit Newspapers||September 13, 2008|
|Warren Brown||washingtonpost.com||September 7, 2008|
|Steven Cole Smith||Orlando Sentinel||August 31, 2008|
|Sara Lacey||Mother Proof||August 25, 2008|
|Tom Strongman||KansasCity.com||July 31, 2008|
|Dan Neil||Los Angeles Times||July 25, 2008|
|Jim Mateja||chicagotribune.com||June 1, 2008|
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