The Marmite #2015
/// Test Longtermers contributor Mark Williams takes a new X6 xDrive40d for a week long test-drive. Marmite Confirmed 4x4-phobic Mark Williams tries an X6 for size to see if its charms can win him over Photography: Mark Williams /// The Test #BMW-X6-xDrive40d-SE
For how long would you test-drive a prospective new car purchase? An hour or so, a day or more, or over a weekend? Does it depend upon the list price, your buying history, your relationship with the dealership or your energy, patience and interest in the process? Up until very recently, I’d seldom bothered with testdrives. I knew what I was buying (BMWs for the most part), I knew I would like them and the odds of resultant issues were quite remote. The kind of cars I buy, though, aren’t candidates for the ‘Marmite list’, which prescribes in one’s mind those cars which appeal by default, and those which do not.
I’ve never owned an SUV or driven one for any meaningful distance or duration. Not my cup of tea. Dynamically they’re all wrong, I told myself: the weight is in the wrong place; traffic behind can’t see past them due to their girth; the tyres are wider than our doormat, so would be useless in the snow. You need a stepladder to effect entry blah, blah, blah… So I was curious to see how I would respond to a week-long loan of an X6 40d SE from North Oxford BMW, followed by some context in the shape of an X5 30d M Sport from the same proprietor. Would they realign my preconceptions of SUVs, or cement their position on that Marmite list?
So footstool at the ready I hauled my 15st plus change up into the X6 to start us off. A little over £50k buys you the basic article (if such a term can be used at this level) to which North Oxford had then added over £8k’s worth of options. Most notable of these were the Dynamic Package at £1965 (plus 20- inch alloys at around £1k) and a head-up display at £1015. The last one of these is a curio which I’ve paid for myself in previous cars, then not missed when changing into other cars not similarly equipped. Bearing in mind it was 2007 when I last spec’d it on a new car, I was a little surprised to see the exact same design and appearance staring back at me from the windscreen. No funky coloured graphics à la F10 here. And now my eyes are roaming the dashboard, aren’t those heater controls a tad out of date, too?
Crikey, I’m having to press the air distribution button in order to change the air temperature, just as I did in my ’07 E60. It’s resolutely put together, and quite elegant after a few days’ worth of exposure. But it’s clearly due a refresh. One is imminent apparently. First impressions weren’t good then, not helped by my immediate response to the exterior styling which is not exactly subtle. I’d already sought the counsel of a colleague at work who owns an early example and enquired as to why he’d chosen the model. He specifically cited the looks as a deciding factor, commenting that too many cars take on a derivative appearance nowadays and he wanted something distinctive. He certainly got what he wanted.
Anyway, let’s get on with the driving. So out onto the M40 and off yet again in Suffolk’s direction (I do wish our friends lived closer). One thing becomes abundantly clear as soon as we join the traffic: this thing owns the motorways. I’ve never driven a car which clears the outside lane quite so effectively. Buy one in white and don a high-vis jacket for maximum traffic ploughing effect. Pinned to the surface through the sheer weight (2185kg unladen), it seems impressively immune from crosswinds, too. And despite the 315/35s wrapped around 20-inch rears, it isn’t that fussed about standing water either.
Combine this relentless kinetic energy with the 306hp and 444lb ft output from the 3.0-litre twinturbo diesel and it soon becomes clear that this is a car which monsters long distances, pummelling inclines into submission and relaxing the occupants with the sheer inexorability of it all.
It brings out the darker side of your character, though, and before long I’m sat there with one arm slung out across the transmission tunnel, glaring at any flea-like hatchback that has the temerity to wander into my path. I’m taller than you. Ergo remove yourself from my road. In other words, if you’re big enough to admit you have a certain arrogance to your character, then you will love this car. The meek may inherit the earth but they won’t be driving an X6 when they sign the ownership papers.
Once the M11 is despatched, I’m looking forward to the battle between the A120 east of Braintree and the X6’s dynamic side along roads on which the F10 M5 I drove a couple of months back shone so brightly. And it soon becomes clear that it’s really rather good. It’s no sports car, of course. A moderately well-driven hot hatchback would leave it floundering and you’re constantly aware of the sheer width of the thing but the combination of roll suppression, laidback steering, the torque pouring from the diesel mill and the fade-free brakes results in a rich potpourri of ability. I’m starting to warm to this car.
If only it didn’t fidget so much. Compared to this suspension setup, sitting next to my daughter for 90 minutes in the cinema is serenity itself. On anything less than glass-smooth surfaces, the suspension activity becomes irksome. Interestingly, it’s not uncomfortable per se, just busy. Not once over the week and 550 miles that we had the car did anybody actually complain about the ride but it nevertheless seems to belie an imbalance between the wheel size and the tuning of the suspension. It almost feels as if somebody forgot about the impact unsprung weight can have on the ride quality, and upon realising they decided to leave it in the pursuit of ‘sportiness’. It’s not clear what effect the comfort or sport modes has on it either, as it seems unaffected whether mooching along in normal mode or storming along in sport. It doesn’t spoil the car and over the course of the week I became more used to it but it’s the biggest flaw I’d level against this car’s road behaviour.
And don’t, whatever you do, order yours without the parking camera. On my F30 the camera is a frivolity. But on the X6, it’s an absolute necessity. Top view, by comparison, is pretty pointless. And whilst we’re on the subject of vision, I found the view through the rear screen somewhat distorted due to the angle of the glass. Following traffic occasionally takes on a ‘hall of mirrors’ appearance and I’m also not sure why BMW evidently saw fit to omit the rear wiper. Windows still get wet at low speeds you know.
Day two dawns clear and jolly cold, the X6 covered in sparkling frost crystals, and I’m soon itching to get out and about in search of some quiet lanes for an attempt at some off-road stuff. Obligatory late-60s father of our family friend duly installed into the passenger seat, “oh… is this heated? How nice…”, we plunge his local knowledge and set off in search of some grassy scenery and quiet lanes, eventually pitching up at Kentwell Hall, not far from our Lavenham base. Whereupon we promptly get mistaken for the owner and everybody starts bowing their heads as we rumble up the drive. How peculiar. We grab some photos and sulk off back down the drive, our cover blown and nobody waves. What nice, friendly people. Back out onto the main road and Richard (let’s name him as it’s so much easier) suggests we go this way, then that way, and ah yes, turn right just… here.
Ah, did I mention that this is an SUV matey? So why are we now on a lane barely wide enough for a rickshaw? Stick with it he says, and sure enough we round a bend to be greeted by a frozen wilderness set into a slight valley. I busy myself taking some pictures whilst Richard tries to work out the sat nav and clambering back into the car, snicking ‘drive’ and pinning the throttle, I realise he’s somehow managed to set our destination for somewhere in Lincolnshire. So much for local knowledge. Click, twirl, click and we’re on our way again.
We make fairly swift progress on the run back to Lavenham, and I marvel at the X6’s ability to almost shrug off its bulk and hustle. Storming up through the gears, the sound from upfront is quite pleasant to the ears and, on the overrun especially, there’s a soft V8- edge to the soundwaves. It’s during these few minutes of frenetic activity that the climate control goes on the blink, point-blank refusing to allow any amendment to air temperature or direction. It fixes itself later after a restart and behaves itself for the remainder of our week with the car, but is odd nonetheless. Smearing our way across Suffolk like this does nothing for the economy, though, and the deadon 30mpg average for the entire week is probably partly due to this.
The run home from Suffolk was mostly a tale of more relentless hacking down the motorways, except for one rather special moment. Those of who you who regularly traverse the M25 anti-clockwise may be familiar with the long, long left-hander which sucks you onto the northbound M40. Constant-radius, easy at 50mph or requiring a little commitment at 60mph, it’s just the sort of corner on which I’d expect an SUV to come a little unstuck. It doesn’t, of course. The X6 just tacks around with minimal fuss and drama, the chassis nicely loaded up and here, at last, I can see the benefit of that uncompromising suspension, flexing its muscles to lend a hand and maintain body control. Deeply impressive.
The rest of our time with the X6 is filled with the more mundane but fundamental aspects of life, such as popping to the shops or the recycling centre. I feel slightly guilty lowering the seats before loading up the pristine interior with a load of crap from our garage, but console myself with the thought that if you’re going to test a car, then you may as well do it properly. And we can always vacuum the interior out afterwards. The boot is enormous incidentally, certainly bigger than I was expecting given the exterior styling. The X6, however, shrugs off the duties and just gets on with it, the powered tailgate providing instant hands-free access to the boot-full of booty on the walk up to the car at the recycling centre. Here the high ride height is a boon not a bane as it means you can load up your arms without contorting your back, and I have to say that later installing my daughter into her car seat was a damn sight easier for much the same reason.
On reflection, I didn’t expect great things from the X6 before our encounter, and I was quite cool towards it upon first acquaintance. That’s entirely my failing and not the car’s and proof that one should leave your preconceptions at home when trying something new. Over the course of the week neither the X6 nor X5 (see opposite) ultimately proved themselves as sporting options but they did demonstrate that it’s just about possible to cover all the bases, which I guess is the point. Elevated driving position, power, half-decent economy considering the weight, refinement and long-distance ability and oodles of space. These are core values which make life more pleasurable.
Over time, they’re not cars I could love. The arrogance factor would probably preclude that, especially with the X6. But I would certainly grow to respect their abilities. And that’s something you only really come to realise when you spend a week in their company.
Counterpoint: X5 xDrive30d M Sport
Compared to the X6, where it took a day or so for its qualities to sink in, I clicked with the X5 almost immediately and, given the choice, would opt for it over its cousin. Leaving aside the subjective discussion over the styling, the biggest difference between the two is in the X5’s superior ride quality. Where the X6 chatters away underneath you, never really leaving you in peace, the X5 glides serenely. Engage ‘Comfort’ on the standard-fit Adaptive M suspension on this M Sport example and the fact it’s running on 20-inch alloys is quickly forgotten. Surface imperfections pass by in the background and it’s only when you really up the pace that you sense the suspension starting to work. Select ‘Sport’ at this point and some control is introduced into the mix, although unfortunately some more of that X6-like fidget also creeps in. But by this point you’re hacking along at a serious lick and I doubt most X5’s will be driven in this manner. For nine-tenths of the time, the X5 is leagues ahead in terms of comfort.
It has a better looking and feeling interior, too, although to be fair the recent evolution will be passed onto the X6 at some point and the difference will be less marked. I particularly appreciated the variable ambient lighting, split-level tailgate, the crystal clear version of the latest iDrive screen and the flexibility offered by the seating arrangements of this (optional at £990) seven seater-equipped example. I’m also starting to warm to the new rotary controller. It’s also incredibly refined at speed with only the slightest diesel murmur floating back through the bulkhead. Kind of makes one wonder why you’d want to spend close on £80k or £90k for one of those new fangled Range Rovers? It’s snug at night and appreciably airy during the day and has that feel good factor which is important at this level. Economy? Well 28mpg may sound pretty poor but bear in mind that was mostly around town, local lanes and spirited country driving. On a run, I suspect mid-30s would easily be doable. Ultimately for driving thrills mixed with practicality I’d stick with an F11 M Sport but I’m no longer so certain that one of these won’t eventually make it off my Marmite list.
THANKS TO: North Oxford #BMW
Tel: 01865 319000 Web: www.oxfordbmw.co.uk
BMW-X5 xDrive30d M Sport-F15 / #N57D30O1
ENGINE: Straight-six, 24-valve turbo diesel
MAX POWER: 258hp @ 4000rpm
MAX TORQUE: 413lb ft @ 1500-3000rpm
TOP SPEED: 143mph
0-62MPH: 6.9 seconds
ECONOMY: 45.6mpg (claimed), 28.0 (on test)
EMISSIONS (CO²): 164g/km
PRICE: £52,595 (OTR), £56,700 (as tested)
The reversing camera was found to be essential on the X6, more so than any other BMW due to its size and hampered visability through the angled rear window
X5 is the new F15 model and it feels it. The ride is better and the interior looks and feels far more modern.
Interior feels well made and the iDrive screen doubles as the reversing camera monitor, complete with guidelines and warnings for reverse parking .
TECH DATA #BMW-X6-xDrive40d-SE-E71
ENGINE: Straight-six, 24-valve turbo diesel #N57D30T0
MAX POWER: 306hp @ 4400rpm
MAX TORQUE: 443lb ft @ 1500-2500rpm
TOP SPEED: 147mph
0-62MPH: 6.5 seconds
ECONOMY: 37.7mpg (claimed) 30.0 (on test)
EMISSIONS (CO²): 198g/km
PRICE: £50,290 (OTR), £58,500 (as tested) 550 miles covered, 30mpg on test
Even the loading space got a thorough workout. It’s a big space and happy to accomodate anything it seems, including the rubbish for a trip to the dump.