You have to admire corporate spin doctors and advertising suits: almost anything can be achieved with their supreme powers of persuasion. We’ll use the BMW X6 as an example. When the model was born in 2008, anyone blessed with the gift of sight could see that it was … different. I’m not the arbiter of beauty, but it wouldn’t be unfounded to say that the chunky, pseudo off-roader has looks that aren’t universally pretty.
Yet the clever people at BMW have managed to sell the allure of a large sports activity coupé to more than 260 000 buyers worldwide. They even succeeded in persuading their peers to hop aboard the bandwagon. Mercedes-Benz will launch its GLE Coupé this year. And I wouldn’t put it past Audi, either — the online speculation mill is already circulating convincing renderings of what might be the Q6. BMW South Africa chose the picturesque province of Mpumalanga to launch the extensively revised 2015 X6 to local media.
Any feelings of uneasiness one may have had, given premier David Mabuza’s partiality for keeping tabs on the movements of journalists, quickly subsided in the cushy confines of the car. The old X6 had begun to feel awfully long in the tooth. Even its key fob was the kind you’d find in the batch of older-generation BMW models such as the E90 3 Series. Thankfully, the X6 has finally been brought up to date. The fascia has been redesigned and upgrades include the latest iteration of the iDrive interface, complete with a tablet-like centre screen.
Plusher leather work adorns various surfaces and there are a variety of new upholstery colours. It’s hard to fault and, as in any BMW, it feels ineffably right — from the seating position to the legibility and precision of the driver’s instrument panel. It’s business as usual, then. And unfortunately this includes the abundance of blind spots. Obviously, this is a consequence of the car’s coupé profile and slim window apertures. At least you can specify a 360° camera. It offers an aerial view too, for easy mall car park reconnaissance. Mabuza might dig that.
Eight years was probably enough for the car-buying public to come to terms with the aesthetics of the X6. But the host of tweaks makes this car a little more palatable. At the front it’s sleeker, sharper and less bulbous than before. Same goes for the rear, with elements that are more distinctive to BMW — like those L-shaped lights. From the side you’ll spot little “air-breathers” in the front fenders, à la 4 Series. And apart from looking cool, they have an aerodynamic purpose. There are four derivatives: the xDrive35i (225kW and 400Nm); the xDrive40d (230kW and 630Nm); the xDrive50i (330kW and 650Nm); and the M50d (280kW and 740Nm).
At the launch, the 50i and 50d were available to sample and my driving partner and I scurried to the mighty petrol variant first. Such opportunities must be seized, because V8 engines are a bit of a novelty in these times of downsizing. The beefy 50i emits a wholesome burble when you’re cruising. Kick down the trouble pedal and it does the whole primal, chest-beating thing brilliantly. This is accompanied by impressive pace — a 0-100km/h figure of 4.8sec ensures you’ll keep most performance cars at bay. It’s not long before the heads-up display unit shows you numbers that would necessitate a visit to the confessional box.
But most notable is the tangible improvement in the car’s ride quality. Its predecessor felt like a clumsy beast, amplifying even minor road imperfections. The revisions under the skin have resulted in a more dignified, composed and comfortable experience. Naturally, BMW likes to go on about the fact that it handles with a nimbleness that defies its size. And, certainly, it does corner with surprising stability and there’s very little — if any — roly-poly business in the bends. But you are aware of the fact that it tips the scales at a full-figured 2 170kg. Consumption is surprisingly fair and with a restrained foot on the open road you can get extremely close to BMW’s claimed figure of 9.7l/100km.
Next, we hopped into the M50d. This is a real measure of how far diesel technology has come. An untrained ear wouldn’t be able to tell that it’s an oil-burner. There’s tons of creamy, smooth torque that can be summoned with virtually no interval from the time you put your foot down. Seriously, if there’s any lag, it could probably measured in milliseconds. It’s marginally slower than the 50i though, taking 5.2sec to reach 100km/h. Prices start at R947 000 for the 35i, and the 40d goes for R1 052 500. The 50i will set you back R1 163 000 and the M50d costs R1 327 000. And this is before you start playing with the options list.
The BMW X5 — essentially the same thing albeit in a more conservative frock — is considerably cheaper. So why would anyone want an X6? It’s more expensive and less practical. But the people at BMW are quite vocal about the fact that they’re not targeting the usual analytical left-brain thinkers with this one. It’s for the extrovert types who want to flaunt their wealth and exuberance.
This made little sense until last Sunday when, during a bit of social observation, it all clicked. She was thirty-something with trendy jeggings, a burgundy blouse and a streak of shocking pink in her hair. Imagine my expression when she hopped into the driver’s seat of a BMW X6 — with a vanity plate, of course. It was too good to be true. That’s the archetypal BMW X6 driver. Successful. Creative. A little off the wall. And too moneyed to care that you think their chosen chariot looks ugly.