If any vehicle genre is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma it is the SUV Coupe. After all why would a manufacturer attempt to make a large box on wheels look sleek by removing some of the load space that otherwise makes it practical, and then charge more for it?
However, perhaps the biggest mystery of all is why anyone would queue up to buy a large box on wheels that has lost some of its practicality, call it a fashion statement, and happily pay more for it?
BMW invented the sporting SUV (Sports Utility Vehicle) segment in 1999 with their first X5, and by calling it an SAV (Sports Activity Vehicle) they presumed to distance it from the lumbering off-roaders that went before. However, the X5 was an instant hit for BMW, and two decades and four generations later it is still a best seller.
It is said that the first thing to go out of fashion is fashion, but 11 years after BMW debuted the first generation X6, creating the SUV Coupe segment in the process, they have sold around 480,000 cars across three generations. Tellingly, the X6 has also spawned rivals from Mercedes and Porsche, as well as the smaller X4 and X2 within its own ranks.
From day one BMW was careful to position the X6 as a more sporting and driver focused machine compared to its more utilitarian X5 sister. So apart from the sleeker fastback roof, it came with a sportier chassis set up aimed at the enthusiast driver. This worked particularly well for the X6 M versions, which have always impressed us with their ability to defy the laws of physics on a racetrack.
In its fastback form the latest X6 (G06) is once again a platform and many component share with its roomier and cheaper X5 (G05) sister. The front section is largely the same but the cut down roofline chops the 645-litre boot area down to 580-litres. With the 40-20-40 split rear seat back folded flat the X6 can swallow a decent 1,525 litres of cargo.
To differential the X5 and X6 from the front, BMW has made adaptive LED headlamps standard while an optional illuminated grille called ‘Iconic Glow’ (!) is available as an adjunct to the daytime running lights. We did find it hard to discern on a bright day and quickly relegated the idea to our marketing gimmick dustbin.
However, there is no mistaking the new X6 from the rear where its tail light clusters appear radically different from any other BMW model especially so when the LEDs are on.
The M50i and M50d feature a purposeful M body styling kit featuring a more aggressive front spoiler with large intakes, side skirts, rear valence with big air outlets and a bootlid spoiler. Together with the optional 22-inch wheels fitted to our test car the resulting composition looks menacing and entirely fit for purpose.
The well finished cabin of the M50i features leather clad sports seats and a thick M Sport steering wheel, but the dashboard and much of the interior is carried over from the X5 unchanged. The TFT display with the speedometer on the left and rev counter on the right, flanked by smaller fuel level and water temperature gauges are straight from the X5, the only difference being the X6 logo that appears when you switch on.
Other data like navigation directions can be called up between these major instruments, with the optional Head Up display a less distracting way of gaining vital information like speed and navigational data.
Meanwhile the 12.3-inch high-resolution infotainment touchscreen display is clear and easy to use with the latest iDrive 7.0 standing out as a very well resolved system. Other refinements like an induction phone charger and heated and cooled drinks holders in the centre console are there for the asking.
Our test car was equipped with the optional crystal design that displays the ‘X’ in the various facets of its diamond-like capping. It is one of those features that you either love or hate, but those who find it too bling can save money with the standard leather covered shift lever.
This time round BMW did not take us to America where the X5 and X6 are made in their Spartanburg plant. On the upside, with the launch being based in Munich we had the opportunity to max the new X6 out on the nearby autobahns, legally reaching speeds that would have had the US Highway Patrol in conniptions.
Until the X6M joins the range next year the latest X6 range starts with the 265hp xDrive 30d straight-six diesel, which will be the most popular model in Europe, and rises through the 340hp xDrive 40i to the 400hp xDrive 50d and finally the 530hp xDrive M50i that we drove on the launch.
The lusty character and soundtrack of this twin-turbo V8 motor are deeply satisfying, and dare I say it in some ways more so than even the more powerful engine in the X6 M.
While both engines share the same bent crank V8 base with two turbochargers the reason for this is simply that the air intake configuration and firing pulses of the engine the X6M shares with the M5 creates a unique soundtrack akin to two four-cylinder engines firing slightly out of synch.
Not so for the 4,395cc twin-turbo V8 in the M50i, which also has a pair of turbochargers in the engine’s Vee, but a more conventional intake system that bestows it with a deep chested American V8 muscle car growl.
When the traffic finally clears and you can push the throttle all the way to the plush carpet and hold it there through the gears, the strong push in the back and that inspirational soundtrack quickly reward your patience. In this case the M50i rocketed up to its electronically limited 250km/h top speed with relative ease, showing the ability of the powerful engine to maximise the respectable 0.34 drag coefficient and 2.83 square metre frontal area.
The smooth power flows perfectly to all four wheels thanks to BMW’s super slick eight-speed Steptronic automatic transmission. You experience rapid and seamless up and down shifts whether you use the steering wheel paddles or simply leave the system to its own devices.
While the M50i carries its M designation ahead of rather then after its model designation that does not mean it is short on power and torque. Its 530hp at 5,500-6,000rpm and 750Nm from 1,800-4,600rpm are numbers that many junior league supercars would be proud to call their own, and only 45hp short of the outgoing X6M while matching it for twisting force.
Thus, despite weighing a hefty 2,235kg (DIN) the X6 M50i is able to claim a 4.3 seconds time for its 0-100km/h sprint, and thanks to 4WD and that rapid fire close ratio eight-speed auto, can deliver it with a consistency that will flummox supercar drivers away from the lights.
Rumours say that the new X6M due in 2020 might have as much as 620hp on tap but the fact is that it will have to up its game significantly to justify its existence and heftier price tag.
A vehicle that is only rapid in a straight line can be described as two-dimensional. The original X5 of 1999 was much smaller, lighter and stiffer than today’s more comfort biased model and was effective in the twisty bits at the expense of ride quality.
The much larger, heavier and luxury laden fourth generation X5 is basically too soft to be flung around bends, but an X6 M50i fully equipped with the optional air-suspension, active anti-roll bars and rear steering is up for some serious physics challenging stunts.
Our M50i test cars had the intermediate stage of steel springs and active damping still seemed capable of performing minor miracles when pushed hard on winding country roads. In fact so long as you trail brake into a bend and get the front tyres working you can then pile on the throttle past the apex, the clever four-wheel-drive system and M Sport differential apportioning exactly the right amount of torque to maximise the grip of the four big contact patches.
On that score the M50i comes with 9.5J and 10.5J x 21-inch alloys shod with 274/40ZR21 and 315/35ZR21 rubber, but our test cars were equipped with the optional 22-inch footwear.
The steering is meaty and gives you good feedback on your angular velocity, and thanks to the active elements of the chassis it all feels secure and together when you are committed to a bend. BMW has also learned a lot about brakes, a weak point with M cars in particular a decade or so ago. The new stoppers work just fine and inspire confidence when you lean on them.
While it does not have anything like the ride comfort of a 7-Series the active damping of the X6 surprised us with its capable ride/handling balance. Perhaps the optional air suspension would have delivered a more cossetting ride but despite its 22-inch wheels our test car never once came close to approaching discomfort over any of the varied surfaces we encountered.
While we ascertained that the new X6 M50i is good to drive and more finely appointed than ever we are still no closer to understanding the attraction prospective buyers have for such cars. All we can truthfully say is that if you really must have a full-size SUV Coupe then the new X6 has the right heritage, image and dynamic credentials to ensure you will not be disappointed.