- Post is under moderationTouring the Slopes / #BMW-330d / #BMW-330d-F31
A trip to the Austrian Alps for a lesson in driving and to put an xDrive 330d through its paces. We put an xDrive 330d Touring through its paces on a road trip to BMW’s Winter Driving centre in Sölden in the Austrian Alps Words: Ben Barry /// Photography: Richard Pardon
Every time it snows, the news likes to show a BMW 3 Series helplessly spinning its rear wheels on a suburban road. And yet here we are, powering our 330d Touring up an entirely snow-covered mountain pass in the Ötztal Alps. I’m pretty busy at the wheel, but I reckon we’re doing 35mph, maybe more. It’s all down to our two secret weapons: Pirelli Sottozero winter tyres and four-wheel drive.
The four-wheel drive 3 Series is something of a mythical beast for British BMW enthusiasts. It’s been around for decades – indeed, 1985’s E30 325iX was the first four-wheel drive BMW – but Munich never got around to putting the steering wheel on the right for E30, E36, E46 or E9x generations, leaving archrivals Audi unchallenged with the Quattro in the UK. That’s all changed with the latest F3x xDrive 3 Series. Early sales figures must make BMW wonder why on earth it didn’t do it sooner: the xDrive 3 Series is already outselling the A4 Quattro by almost two-toone in the UK. And it’s Touring buyers who’ve proved the real early adopters: despite only going on sale in March 2013, xDrive Tourings accounted for more than 20 per cent of all UK Touring sales. For a brand that built its reputation on rear-wheel drive, that’s a pretty significant shift.
To find out what all the fuss is about, we’re driving BMW UK’s 330d Touring to a ski resort in Sölden, Austria. The trip is a test in itself, but it’s all about the destination: Sölden has been home to BMW’s winter training programme for over a decade. It’s billed as the highest automotive winter training ground in the world at just under 3000 metres above sea level, and the one- or two-day courses take place each winter, offering something for everyone, whether you’re an amateur or an expert.
First though, we’ve go to get out of Britain. We leave early one Sunday, catch a Eurotunnel train in the darkness and roll out on to smooth, deserted French autoroutes by 9am. It’s hard to think of a better place to be than in a 330d Touring: it’s swallowed all our luggage and camera gear, and it’s hushed, comfortable and effortlessly quick. In fact, it’s so effortless that it’s hard to stick at the posted 130km/h speed limit. I peg the cruise control at 150km/h and keep my foot poised over the brake pedal, ready for the dreaded gendarmes on motorbikes – it’s when, not if, these days!
Crossing into Germany near Strasbourg and we’re soon free to give it all we’ve got on a derestricted stretch of autobahn. I accelerate and the six-cylinder turbodiesel’s thumping 413lb ft picks us up in one easy swoosh of boost until we settle at an indicated 155mph, just a little higher than the winter tyres’ maximum rating – I reason that both a conservative tyre rating and a slightly optimistic speedo will be on my side.
My E36 M3 always felt a bit wayward north of 140mph, but the 330d feels incredibly secure; I’d be happy sitting at this speed for as long as conditions allowed. In the event, heavy rain limits our progress and then the big gobs of rain turn to sleet and then snow. We slow dramatically, but the tyres in particular give me confidence to stay out in the slushier overtaking lanes rather than stick behind the lorries.
BMW’s four-wheel drive system has come on a lot since 1985, and my first chance to really feel our 330d’s xDrive setup working comes on the Fern Pass, which winds over the Tyrolean Alps. Back in 1985 you got a permanent torque split biased 38/62 per cent front-to-rear. xDrive changed all that when it debuted on the X3 in 2003. So while the typical torque split is a similar 40/60 per cent, xDrive’s electronically controlled multi-disc centre clutch can shuffle torque front-to-rear as the conditions dictate, with as much as 100 per cent going to either axle in extreme conditions. It reacts within 100 milliseconds, but then a ponderous four-wheel drive system wouldn’t be much use…
The Fern Pass isn’t a scenic diversion, it’s a major route, so it’s pretty fast and very busy with cars and lorries, but it also features the twists and turns you would expect. As we descend into a valley with the sun setting, we can just about make out the tops of the vertiginous mountains that loom above. It’s the last leg of our journey, and the leg that requires the most concentration.
Despite being four-wheel drive, the xDrive 330d retains its rear-drive siblings’ fluidity through these heart-in-mouth sweepers. I can’t even detect the extra pair of driveshafts causing any additional steering interference. I think I’ll always prefer the hoon factor of rear-wheel drive, but in these conditions xDrive just moves the game on, combining trademark BMW sensations with Quattro levels of reassurance and traction.
After so long on the road and such tricky weather, it’s a relief to reach Sölden by 5.30pm. We’ve covered 850 miles in just 12 hours, averaging an impressive 37mpg despite some high-speed autobahn work and a boot crammed with luggage. Door-to-door, it would’ve cost more for two of us to fly; probably wouldn’t have been much quicker either. There’s a variety of winter-driving courses on offer in Sölden, but anyone opting for the overnight option will stay in Das Central Hotel. It’s an impressive place, with nice rooms, a large health spa complex and some top quality food too. The only skimping going on here involves the Austrians’ (lack of) sauna attire.
BMW has been running winter-driving courses at Sölden for six weeks a year since 2003, and uses purely xDrive models. The night before the course you’ll get a quick introductory talk, then a briefing on what to expect from the timetable early the morning after. Then it’s up the road out of Sölden, following the twists and turns of a mountain road until you get to what looks like a motorway toll booth. The barriers lift at 9am and you drive into even more breathtaking scenery, with steep drops off to your left and snowcapped peaks above. I wouldn’t dare venture up it in a regular 3 Series on summer tyres, but we sit at an easy 60mph with xDrive and the Sottozeroes. At the top, where everyone else switches to ski lifts, you will stick in your car. There are several courses carved out of the snow: an off-road course, some cones on a wide, flat area to give you the chance to experience oversteer in a risk-free environment and, best of all, a huge run that culminates in you driving up a narrow snow-covered mountain between snowbanks.
You split into groups to rotate through the various courses, around 20 people taking part and pairing up in a car each. The instructors are highly skilled drivers, many of them #BMW test engineers, including Albert Maier who’s doing his fifth season in Sölden.
Chassis engineer Maier has been with BMW since 1984 and was responsible for the first 1 Series, along with 3 Series, Z4 and X1 models. His testing schedule has taken him to Sweden every winter from 1986, where he’s also trained up-and-coming BMW engineers. You’re in safe hands, basically, and he’s better than you. He is. Definitely.
Pretty much every xDrive BMW is available for you to drive in Sölden: during our trip we spot a 7 Series, a 5 Series Touring, a 4 Series and even the left-hand drive-only xDrive M135i, which Maier cites as his current favourite.
“For a chassis guy, the best will always be a small, agile car with a high-performance engine,” he informs us. “Not that you need very much power on a lowfriction surface!”
Maier says he aims to get his students to understand how modern cars perform in tricky conditions and to give them some scope for reacting to dangerous situations in normal driving.
“Most of the students have no idea of the possibilities and performance available in their car,” he says. “Sometimes they’re getting a completely new experience on a low-mu surface and are quite cautious, but some start off going too quickly for normal physics. Nobody can master everything in the time available, but the course will teach them how to drive in slippery conditions as well as what to do in dangerous situations. If they can transfer that to a bad situation on the road, it’s much better than not reacting at all.”
The cars queue up for the junior courses and get to tackle them one-by-one. It’s immediately clear both how capable our xDrive 330d is and how much of BMW’s ultimate-driving-machine ethos it still retains; there’s a very clear rear bias as you swing through the sets of cones, winding on opposite lock and dabbing at the throttle, but that’s combined with the sense of the front end adding to your progress and stopping things becoming ridiculously wayward. It’s undoubtedly faster than rear-wheel drive, yet similarly fun too. Everyone seems pretty eager to return to the back of the short queue and repeat the process all over again.
After a while, the groups switch round, and you’ll convoy to the next stage. For us, it’s our chance to do the big course, and with the extra space, comes extra speed. It starts with a relatively short acceleration run that funnels into a tight run downhill, then flicks uphill and through a coned slalom. The 330d’s traction from a standstill is deeply impressive, and so is its balance; give it an early turn into that tight downhill section and you’ll be set up for a drift right the way through. And if you get it wrong, well, you’ll only nuzzle into the snowbanks which are pretty soft and forgiving; I know, I tried it. The fast and tight slalom proves how much control you’ve still got with winter tyres and xDrive in conditions that’d bring Britain to a standstill: you can really brake hard and use the traction to power on and flick the car from left to right with real precision.
But it’s the run up and down the ‘road’ that’s been carved out of the mountain by snow-chain-wearing tractors that’s most fun. Short of finding yourself strapped in a WRC car at the start of Rally Sweden, driving on snow doesn’t get much better than this. And it’s here, with the potential for even greater speed, that you really get to feel the xDrive’s performance benefit. To get up the hill quickly on a surface this slippery inevitably involves oversteer; it’s not showboating, it’s just the key to maintaining momentum. You need to exploit it and maintain it to help the car turn into corners. That’s because braking hard and making violent pointy motions with the steering wheel doesn’t work in the same way it does on dry Tarmac; the front end just doesn’t bite as positively. But if you get the rear end swinging, you can use the pendulum effect to turn the front end instead. So, out of a right-hand corner with a bit of oversteer as you head towards a left-hander, then a quick stab at the throttle before backing off entirely and the rear will want to swing in the opposite direction; you just use that natural weight transfer to get the car turned in. And when you do and you accelerate again, you can feel the centre diff start to push more torque to the front tyres, dragging you up the hill and piling on speed all the while. It’s incredibly satisfying and as fast as you’d ever want to be travelling in these conditions.
It helps you to be a safer driver and it’s addictive too; if they hadn’t made me stop, I’d still be there. Maybe next year. For now, the car that’s just given us two days of solid entertainment is about to deliver us the 12 hours home with a combination of comfort, speed, frugality and safety. Really, there are few more complete cars than the xDrive 330d Touring.
“Nobody can master everything in the time available, but the course will teach them what to do in dangerous situations”
BMW Winter Training
BMW’s winter-driving courses start from €390 for a half-day ‘snow drift training’ and stretch to €1590 for intensive training with two nights’ full board.
For more information visit: www.bmw-drivingexperience.com
TECH DATA #2015 #BMW-330d-xDrive-Touring-F31 / #BMW-F31 / #BMW-330d-F31 / #BMW-330d-xDrive-Touring
ENGINE: #N57 six-cylinder turbodiesel, DOHC, 24-valve / #N57D30O1
MAX POWER: 258hp@4000rpm
MAX TORQUE: 413lb ft@1500-3000rpm
TOP SPEED: 155mph (limited)
“Most of the students have no idea of the possibilities and performance available in their car”
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- Post is under moderationAdded Muscle / #BMW-F16 / #BMW-X6-F16 / #2015 Road test
A brace of X6s with a selection of M-Performance accessories. We sample a brace of M Performance-kitted X6s and try to pick a winner between the #BMW-xDrive30d-F16 and the #BMW-xDrive40d-F16 Words: Bob Harper /// Photography: Dave Smith
I’ll admit that when I first clapped eyes on the X6 at the Frankfurt show back in 2007 I just didn’t ‘get it’. I’d been a big fan of the X5 since its arrival in 1999 but as I studied the concept X6 that BMW had just pulled the wraps off I couldn’t help but wonder who the ‘Sports Activity Coupé’ was aimed at and, more to the point, why wouldn’t you just buy an X5? After all, the X5 was cheaper, offered more interior accommodation and somehow just looked like a more coherent design. Did we really need BMW filling a niche no one knew existed?
I went from doubter to believer after I’d driven an X6 though; it was just a little bit sharper than the X5 with all its responses feeling like they’d been finehoned with the driver in mind. The way you could pulverise a challenging bit of road into submission when behind the wheel of an X6 was something you had to experience to believe. It probably didn’t come as a surprise to BMW, but the car’s sales success certainly raised plenty of eyebrows, and if you believe that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery you only have to have a look at how many other manufacturers have jumped on the X6-style bandwagon – the Mercedes GLC being the latest to join the party.
There are plenty of people who still don’t ‘get’ the X6, though, but I generally find that the vast majority of those who don’t see the car’s appeal have yet to drive one. My first acquaintance with the all-new model, the F16, came a few months back when I drove one back from the Geneva Motor Show and despite it being the entry-level engine for the UK market, the BMW-xDrive30d-F16 , I was mightily impressed with the way it went about its business. This was a ‘nail it back as fast as possible, I’m on press deadline’ sort of a drive and despite it being a long night in the saddle I stepped out of the BMW-X6-F16 without any aches, pains or a feeling of tiredness. All in all it was an impressive performance with my most major gripe being a lack of rear visibility thanks to what is a bit of a letterbox rear screen when looked through via the rear view mirror. This really irritates me in a car, and just about the only machine I can forgive it in is an M1, for obvious reasons.
Owners and potential owners don’t seem so bothered by this if the order book is anything to go by and while many owners are happy with their X6s as they left the factory there seem to be an equal number who like to personalise them, too. The X6’s success can also be judged by the number of European (and American) firms that are making aftermarket components for it and, as is often the case, what’s available from the tuners ranges from the mild to the wild with varying degrees of success – there are some very dubious-looking wide-body kits out there on the market!
BMW itself obviously has its own set of accessories for the X6 and if any expression of the car’s sporting intent were needed you only have to look at the fact that BMW has made sure its range of M Performance accessories were ready for market virtually from the moment the car was launched. As per the rest of the model range we have a selection of parts available for the Sports Activity Coupé, including aerodynamic components (in a mixture of plastic and carbon), wheel and tyre sets and some choice interior goodies too.
We sampled what’s on offer on a brace of X6s – an xDrive30d M Sport and an xDrive40d SE – with the former being kitted-out with a host of exterior items and the latter being blessed with the interior upgrades. As the M Performance styling can only be fitted to an M Sport model all the SE makes do externally is a fancy set of wheels. As well as evaluating the accessories it was quite interesting to drive the 30d and 40d models back-to-back as the question of whether to go for the M Sport with its sexy styling or to have the additional performance of the 40d but with the less aggressive SE looks may be on potential owners’ minds. For the record, in standard non-accessorised form the 30d M Sport weighs in at £56,100 whereas the 40d SE is actually a chunk of cash cheaper at £54,060.
They both use the same 2993cc turbodiesel in different states of tune – 258hp versus 313hp – and naturally enough the 40d wins the torque output battle at 465lb ft compared to the 30d’s 413lb ft. Their top speeds are both pretty academic unless you live a stone’s throw from the autobahn, but both can do double the UK speed limit and the 40d wins the 0-62mph gong by quite a margin, recording 5.8 seconds compared to the 30d’s 6.7. It’s perhaps slightly surprising then that on the road the 40d doesn’t feel significantly faster under normal traffic conditions than the 30d. I guess if you were Sebastian Vettel attempting to come from the second row of the grid to beat Lewis Hamilton into the first corner you’d appreciate the 40d’s extra urge, but both pull away from the lights with more than acceptable acceleration without having to bury the throttle pedal into the carpet. There’s very little in economy and emissions too – both with official mpg figures in the mid- to upper-40s, but unless you drive like a saint you’ll not see much more than mid-30s in everyday driving and if you do a lot of town work it’ll be even less than that.
When you do get hold of them and try to extract the maximum from both cars the 40d does delve into its extra bag of tricks and you do start to feel the presence of the extra power and torque. It’s the latter that’s most important – it feels less stressed when trying to extract the maximum from it and when the 30d is becoming a little breathless or a little strained the 40d keeps pulling hard and is less out of its comfort zone. It does have to be said that by the time you discover this you’re probably going to be travelling far faster than is generally deemed acceptable on the public road, and at the back of your mind you do have to keep remembering that you’re in command (and hopefully in control) of over two tonnes of metal. Overall the X6s – both 30d and 40d – do hide their bulk very well, but there’s only so much clever chassis work and the excellent xDrive system can mask. Ultimately the laws of physics do take over, but long before then you should really have backed off anyway. The bottom line is that something this big should not be this entertaining to drive.
Which machine I would actually choose to own is a very tricky decision, ignoring the fact for one moment that I don’t have upwards of £50k burning a hole in my pocket. I do like the M Sport styling and I think its aggressive looks do suit the X6 more than the SE. But if I was in a hurry I’d much rather be behind the wheel of the 40d. I could be more than happy with either machine but would more than likely err towards the 30d M Sport, and if that was my ultimate decision then I’d also be able to add some of the fine M Performance accessories that we have here. In case you haven’t spotted it the Space grey 30d is the exact same machine I drove back from Geneva but since the last time I saw it it’s been slathered in a selection of M Performance accessories. If you approach from the front it’s hard to miss the lovely carbon fibre front lower spoiler which complements the M Sport front bumper treatment perfectly. Additional carbon items are the mirror caps and a rear diffuser which looks rather fetching, and a neat bootlid spoiler which is perfectly judged – not too small and not too ostentatious either.
These rather lovely carbon goodies are backed up by black kidney grilles, M Performance side decals along the sills, a pair of winglets that sit just aft of the rear wheels and a couple of plastic rear fins that run up the side of the rear screen. Finishing off the whole look are a set of 21-inch Double-spoke 599M M Performance wheels complete with Pirelli tyres. These really are pretty impressive looking and measure 10x21 inches up front and 11.5x21 inches at the rear and are shod with equally huge 285/35 and 325/30 Pirellis, front and rear respectively. It says something about the size of the X6 that these 21-inch wheels don’t actually look that big on the car! Overall the M Performance accessories look pretty smart, although I’m going to add the usual caveat that the sill stickers aren’t my favourite part of the package and I’m not 100 per cent certain the little winglets or plastic fins by the rear screen bring all that much to the party. The carbon I love, though, although you do need to be pretty keen on it as the splitter, rear diffuser, mirror caps and spoiler will set you back over £3000 – and that doesn’t include fitting. To be fair, though, it’s certainly no more than you’d pay for similar parts from the aftermarket and obviously these ones have been fully tested by BMW and are backed by BMW’s warranty, too.
If I was pretty keen on the exterior upgrades on the Space grey 30d then the interior on the Flamenco red 40d is equally impressive. There are swathes of carbon fibre running around the dash and onto the door cappings, and along the dash there’s also a nice sliver of Alcantara with the M Performance script woven into it. The gear selector and the surrounding trims are also in carbon fibre and look all the better for it and to cap things off there’s an Alcantara-clad M Performance steering wheel that feels absolutely lovely to hold and has a delicate piece of red leather at the 12 o’clock point. A set of M Performance floor mats and some rather natty illuminated front door sill trims complete the package. The whole setup exudes quality and makes the interior seem significantly more sporting, too.
The X6 might not seem like the most obvious choice of a sporting #BMW suitable for a set of #M-Performance accessories but in a way it makes more sense than on an X5 as the Sports Activity Coupé is the more sporting of the two big X machines. Some folk will still struggle to get their heads around the whole X6 concept but my advice to them would be to take one for an extended test-drive – they really do drive very, very well and are far more wieldy than their size and weight might lead you to believe. Of course this brace of machines we have here aren’t going to rival an M235i when it comes to ultimate cross-country pace, but they’re not quite as far as away as you might imagine. I’ll take mine as an #M-Sport and sign me up for the carbon fibre M Performance parts please…
The bottom line is that something this big should not be this entertaining to drive.
It’s perhaps slightly surprising then that on the road the 40d doesn’t feel significantly faster.
M Performance #BMW-X6-xDrive30d-F16 and #BMW-X6-40d-xDrive30d-M-Sport xDrive40d SE.
ENGINE: Six-cylinder, turbodiesel #N57 #N57D30O1 / Six-cylinder, turbodiesel #N57D30T1
CAPACITY: 2993cc 2993cc
MAX POWER: 258hp @ 4000rpm 313hp @ 4400rpm
MAX TORQUE: 413lb ft @ 1500-3000rpm 465lb ft @ 1500-2500rpm
0-62MPH: 6.7 seconds 5.8 seconds
TOP SPEED: 143mph 149mph
ECONOMY: 47.1mpg 45.6mpg
EMISSIONS: 159g/km 165g/km
WEIGHT: 2140kg 2180kg
PRICE (OTR): £56,100 (M Sport) £54,060 (SE)
M PERFORMANCE EXTERIOR PARTS FITTED TO SPACE GREY M SPORT: Front splitter, carbon: £1225. Rear diffuser, carbon: £925. Rear spoiler, carbon: £595. Black kidney grilles: £131. Rear fins: £229. Rear winglets: £530. Carbon door mirror covers: £498. 21-inch Double-spoke 599M complete wheel and tyre set; Front 10x21-inch with 285/35 R21 Pirelli tyres; Rear 11.5x21-inch with 325/30 R21 Pirelli tyres: £5250.
M PERFORMANCE INTERIOR PARTS FITTED TO FLAMENCO RED SE: LED door sills: £206. M Performance steering wheel: £775. Carbon interior trims: £1175. Gear selector and lower trim: £532. M Performance mats: £192.50 All prices quoted are for parts only but include VAT. Contact your local dealer for painting and fitting costs, plus details of any promotions running on M Performance packages.
To cap things off there’s an Alcantara-clad M Performance steering wheel that feels absolutely lovely to hold.
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- Post is under moderationThe 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 / #BMW-X6-xDrive40d-E71 / #BMW-X6 / #BMW-X6-E71 / #BMW-E71 / #BMW-X5-xDrive30d-M-Sport-F15 / #BMW-X5-xDrive30d-F15 / #BMW-X5-F15 / #BMW-X5 / #BMW-F15
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 / #N57
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.
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