It was rather unfair on the woman who’d just parked her new Mini Countryman. I walked across the street to check it out and she assumed I’d come to admire it. In fact, I wanted a closer look at this ugly, lardy monstrosity. I was baffled that anyone would buy one. A three-door Mini, yes, but this?
The Countryman, like so many oddball cars, is the result of “niche marketing”, the motor industry’s current buzzword. Build the sort of car no one has ever dreamt of and, who knows, you could be onto a winner. The funny thing about the few oddball cars that gain traction in the market – like the Countryman – is that they seem to get less ugly the more you see them around.
Which brings us to the BMW X6. You’d have needed a few mind expanding drugs before you thought the concept of taking a massive 4x4 and turning it into a coupé was a sure-fire winner, but that’s what BMW did. The result was brazen, the 2008 equivalent of those red Porsche 911s with the huge rear wings from the late 80s. The X6 shouldn’t have worked, but buyers lapped them up.
Now there’s a brand new model. It looks similar to the last one but subtly more sophisticated, with additional vents and more detailing to the side profile. The roof is more rounded too, which helps headroom in the rear seats.
I drove the X6 M50d version through the Carolinas, where BMW builds these machines for worldwide consumption. It feels perfectly sized for US roads, protectively wrapping you in its tough outer skin.
The X6 is a nice place to be, and with the top-end diesel engine you get scorching acceleration and a sound you’d swear was from a V8. In reality the power unit is three litres and six cylinders, but no fewer than three turbochargers result in a mighty 381hp, which is plenty.
This “M” model comes with BMW’s “Servotronic” steering system, which was a little too drive-by-wire for my liking, but otherwise the suspension, with its multitude of settings, is impressive.
It’s still more comfortable for four passengers than five, but there are far fewer space compromises compared to the X5. Case in point: luggage space is cavernous, so it’s a genuine proposition for family holidays. Parking, meanwhile, is a breeze: simply press a button and the X6 will slide itself into a space without the need for manual controls.
The X6’s efficiency also stands out – look at the numbers below for the equivalent Range Rover Sport and Porsche Cayenne and you can see its economy and CO2 figures are easily the best. It may have the smallest capacity engine, but the performance is right on the button, too. Sales start in a matter of weeks, with £55,000 getting you a decently specified X6 30d.
No one crossed the road to look at my new X6, maybe because South Carolina has become the second home of BMW, and maybe because every pick-up truck here sounds like it’s fitted with a race-bred V8. Or perhaps it’s because we’ve all got used to this niche car, even if it was initially hard to love.
Peter Burgess works for motoringresearch.com.
THE FACTS: BMW X6 M50D
0-62MPH: 5.2 secs
TOP SPEED: 155mph
CO2 G/KM: 174g/km
MPG COMBINED: 42.8mpg
DESIGN: Three Stars
PERFORMANCE: Four Stars
PRACTICALITY: Four Stars
VALUE FOR MONEY: Three Stars