The sporting off-roader hasn't been with us for very long, but its rise to success was meteoritic when west London adopted it as a new fashion accessory. This, the X6, is BMW's latest attempt at seducing SW1
Sports cars and 4x4s really have very little in common, and quite rightly. One was designed to scale the unscalable, to go places no tyre had trodden before. And the other was built to hunker down, go like an Exocet missile and corner like a lizard with sticky feet.It seems odd, then, that today's car manufacturers are insistent on blending the two. There is little point blaming them because they are, after all, only building the cars we'll want to buy, and there is no doubt that sport-focused off-roaders sell.Porsche kicked things off when, unsatisfied with a history of making very fast rear-engined sports cars, it decided what the world really needed was a V8 four-wheel-drive monstrosity with the company's badge on the front. Despite the fact it was ugly enough to knock planets out of alignment, the world went mad for it. Land Rover quickly supercharged its Range Rover, BMW launched the X5 and all were instant must-have accessories for west Londoners, despite living in an area which features mainly narrow streets and heavy traffic. Nevertheless, there is a popular and seemingly bottomless market for them, and so here we have the latest attempt at blending the oil and water of pace and weight - BMW's X6.And you have to hand it to the company, it does look a bit sporty. A sloping rear roofline helps to give it more of an aerodynamic feel than its X5 stablemate, and its ride height isn't full 4x4. With familiar BMW design cues, it doesn't actually look a million miles from the X5, and cynics will say it's just an X5 with a coupe rear. The cynics may be right. The X6 is also based on the X5's platform, but don't worry - there are some new elements, chief of which is its revised four-wheel-drive system.Added to the existing set-up is BMW's Dynamic Performance Control, which allows the power to be distributed not just between the front and rear axles, but also between the right and left rear wheels. To you and me, this will make it a more competent car off road, but I suspect its ride height and overhangs will thwart your attempts long before you need to use the DPC.Clambering in, you can't help but be impressed - it's classic BMW. With fine leather, solid built quality and a neat, classy centre console layout, it will be familiar territory to current BMW drivers, and a welcome surprise to those trading up. Controls are all well placed for both drivers and passengers; indeed, the only thing that lets it down is the notoriously fiddly and complicated iDrive system, which controls all the creature comforts. Those travelling in the rear aren't so fortunate, however. The sloping roof which gives the X6 its sporting looks from the outside robs the occupants of headroom, and makes rear travel something you'd only want to do in relatively short spells. It also makes for disappointing rear visibility - something you'll need while shunting the X6 around Chelsea - making do with a reversing camera instead, which is a necessity rather than a luxury. Still, a car like this is always going to be a compromise, and it's probably best that there isn't much room for extra occupants, because you probably wouldn't be able to fit their luggage in anyway. There is also the usual array of buttons and screens to play with, and more if you're willing to pay. Buying a car these days is a bit like ordering breakfast in America. The main bit on the menu is just a base, a place to start you off on an odyssey of anguishing choices which could haunt you forever. Do you really need high-beam assist? Will it annoy you? Will it break? Is it worth the extra money? What on earth is high-beam assist? Should you swap the extra hash browns for another bit of bacon? It's a nightmare. Thankfully, standard kit is good on the X6, with 19-inch alloys, multi-function steering wheel, a parking brake with automatic hold function, four-wheel-drive, sports suspension, front and rear parking sensors, cornering lights, active cruise control and a six-speed automatic gearbox. Obviously, for the compulsive box-tickers, the menu also features sat nav, digital TV, a head-up display, DAB radio and a USB interface should you want to splash out. Oh, and high-beam assist, obviously. So how does it drive? Well, really quite well - it's a BMW remember. The driving position is perfect: you're higher than the rabble around you, but not so high that it feels like you've got an undercarriage instead of wheels. The seats adjust in more ways than you knew existed, and the X6 rides remarkably well. Refined and quiet on the motorway, it's never going to set your pulse racing on a twisty B-road, but it grips nicely and remains unruffled, even if you really throw it at a corner. I don't think you could ever describe the handling as sporty, but it's certainly about as sporty as an off-roader is likely to get.
Safety firstPush it hard and it safely understeers, push it too hard and there are six airbags, force limiters, seatbelt tensioners and crash-activated sensors to play with. There are also rollover sensors which will activate curtain airbags if the car thinks you're likely to be going head over heels. The difficult decision is which one to buy. Obviously, most sold will be diesels, of which there are two - the 30d and 35d.Given the latter's 51bhp power increase over the former, and at only £2k more, it makes sense to opt for the 35d, while returning almost exactly the same mpg figure. Expect to see around 34mpg from the diesels, which makes it a class-leader, but it's still hardly going to stop tree huggers from picketing. Neither will opting for the 50i, which runs a fearsome 408bhp twin-turbocharged V8 and will slingshot you to 60mph from rest in 5.4 seconds. There are other petrols available, but if you want economy, get a diesel, and if you want performance, there seems little point messing about with the little engines - you might as well go the whole hog. The entry level 3.0 litre petrol starts at £41,965, and while this doesn't sound cheap, you'll pay the same for a Land Rover Discovery. For the 50i, you can expect to pay over the £50,000 mark, but, at 22mpg, you'll need to have that sort of cash to keep it ticking over. Cars like this are always going to be a compromise, because excelling in one area is going to let them down in another. What you have here is a car that's not great at being a sports car or an off roader. But, look at it another way. It's a finely built, supremely comfortable mild off-roader, which won't tip you into a ditch if you try and round a bend with a hint of enthusiasm, and a badge that suits the golf club car park like a pair of silly trousers. Excellent engines, a class interior and impeccable road manners make this a great choice, and the more you live with it, the better it'll look. Honest.