CORNWALL, N.Y. Meditation enhances clarity. That occurred to me, sitting on the front steps here, staring at the titanium silver vehicle in the driveway. It was the 2008 BMW X6 xDrive35i Sports Activity Coupe. Its ugliness matched the length of its name, a moniker designed to hide a product development error.
That was the hard truth of it. I was looking at a rare BMW mistake, an attempt to be all things to all people. It didn't work.
The result, poised there in driveway after a 300-mile drive from Northern Virginia, was what could be likened to an expensive Pontiac Aztek -- an unattractive, confused thing of less-than-acceptable fuel efficiency, a neither-nor-mobile of suspect worth.
Consider the company's description of the X6 as the "first-ever Sports Activity Coupe." In automotive parlance, "coupe" refers to a sports car with two doors. The X6 has four side doors and a rear hatch. It is sporty. But it is more sport-utility vehicle than car, minus both the truck-like feel and overall utility of a typical SUV.
That's more than a quibble. Cars and trucks are about feeling and emotion as much as they are about driving and performance. A vehicle that so thoroughly upsets definition without ever truly defining itself, as the X6 xDrive35i does, plays with the mind and, in doing so, tinkers with the soul. It bespeaks cleverness for the sake of cleverness, which can be upsetting.
There's too much cleverness in the X6 xDrive 35i and its more powerful sibling, the X6 xDrive 50i. Both are over the top in terms of technology and market reach.
I understand what BMW was trying to do with its all-wheel-drive X6. The idea of creating an SUV with the performance of a hot coupe has some market appeal. It also has attendant risks. Coupes and trucks have different souls. It's hard to put them together and keep the spirit right. In the X6, we have conflation-turned-abomination.
The thing just doesn't look right. It has the appeal of a four-wheeled bicycle racing helmet, brilliantly aerodynamic in design but still not quite right for something with four wheels that is supposed to be evocative of a coupe.
BMW's engineers point to the X6's highway performance, which, in fact, is stunning, largely thanks to what the company calls "dynamic performance control" (DPC) -- technology that electronically varies power between the two rear wheels to improve control and pulling force over different road surfaces.
DPC renders the X6 virtually slip-free and wonderfully confident on road and off, and in weather fair and foul. It greatly increases the joy of driving. But BMW, like some obsessive-compulsive teenager, has managed to overdo DPC, too. You can follow the power variances between the two rear wheels on a dashboard monitor. Whoopee!
Somewhere in all of this, BMW seems to have forgotten a few things. For example, most people buy specific vehicles for specific reasons. Folks shopping for sport-utility vehicles usually are looking for utility first and foremost. They are willing to sacrifice an economy car's fuel-efficiency and a sports car's handling for improved utility. People shopping for sports coupes usually aren't looking for practicality. Instead, They are shopping for a vehicle that enhances the ideal of driving -- a car that embraces the allure and romance of the open road.
Satisfying all of those competing desires and needs in one vehicle at an affordable price is difficult, which is why BMW and a few of its rivals -- the similarly contorted 2009 Infiniti FX35 comes to mind -- have chosen to target the rich with technologically overstuffed but still not quite satisfying "crossover" vehicles. Those rides are expensive. The X6, for example, starts at $52,500 and can be packed with $20,000 more in options.
Again, that wouldn't be so bad if the thing had some discernible personality, something other than va-voom to justify its egregious consumption of required premium unleaded gasoline, which it gulps at the rate of 15 miles per gallon in the city and 20 miles per gallon on the highway.
It is not enough that X6 runs beautifully. Any vehicle equipped as it is with a 3-liter, 300-horsepower, twin-turbocharged, inline six-cylinder engine and affixed with a nearly $53,000 base price tag should run beautifully. But, for Pete's sake! It should also look good. It should have some discernible, likable personality. It should at least pretend to flirt with common sense, at least in the area of fuel efficiency.
But the X6 fails by those measures. I don't like it.
ON WHEELS WITH WARREN BROWN Listen from noon to 1 p.m. Tuesdays on WMET World Radio (1160 AM) or http://www.wmet1160.com.
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