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Quick take: BMW X6 is the dirty fun no one asked for

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh  June 24, 2009 03:00 PM

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(All photos: Zane Merva/

This never would have occurred to me if I hadn’t wound up idling next to one in traffic over the weekend: The X6 is BMW’s replacement for the late Pontiac Aztek! Same humpbacked silhouette, same tiptoes stance, same identity crisis — what is it? Only, guess what, BMW got it right. Or at least BMW made a vehicle that, whatever its mission may be, offers up terrific entertainment en route to defining that mission.

In the city, the mission was clear: Intimidate other traffic, fire off neck-snapping hole shots, and then hand it off to valet parking.

GM might have done much better than the poor Aztek if it too had been free to select a 400 horsepower turbocharged V-8 and a crisp six-speed automatic transmission, track-ready suspension, 20-inch wheels, and all the other money-is-no-object bits that go into a $75,000 “Sports Activity Coupe”/autobahn cruiser. Check out the X6 from the rear, too: Ever seen such muscular haunches? And look at those steamroller tires framed between the enormous rectangular exhausts, from which emerge a bass rumble and bark nearly forgotten in the Hybrid Age.


The X6 is a high-effort machine. Steering, throttle, and brakes all require conscious muscle — “a bit more Wellie,” as our British cousins say. Then, like powerful German sedans of old, the faster the X6 is moving, the happier it is and the more all the dynamic bits sing in harmony. It turns out that blazing down the interstate in heavy rain and spray is another of the X6’s mission specialties. The wipers can handle anything and the throttle catapults the vehicle out of dicey spots at the merest prod of a toe, each fat tire managed by sensor-controlled AWD.

With startling performance comes rock-solid stability, and somehow BMW manages to make its large, heavy vehicles feel nimble. Not to say that the X6 is perfect. The onboard computer takes long seconds to boot and catch up with real time: You’ve fired up the motor, selected ‘R’ on the shifter (why is Reverse ahead and Drive backward?) and you’re out the driveway and in ‘D’ before the backup screen kicks in. OK, we can live with this on account of the rest of the vehicle.


Displacing two-plus tons while offering only adequate backseat room and slurping down a gallon of premium every 16.4 miles, the X6 is good, old-fashioned dirty fun. Makes you miss the old days.

Silvio Calabi is a Maine-based auto writer and was editor-in-chief of Fly Rod & Reel and Shooting Sportsman magazines and publisher of Speedway Illustrated.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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42 comments so far...
  1. This is an amazing design. It is the first of its kind. Not only does this SUV look like a car, it looks like a sports coupe. Designed by illusionists no doubt.

    The BMW SUV design crew have been confused halfway into their designs causing off set unharmonious lines of the likes of the X5 and X3.

    And then they got it soo right. The X6 easily runs with the elegant and attractive designs of the Porsche Cayenne and Infiniti FX and in some cases surpassing even them.

    Posted by Andy June 24, 09 04:17 PM
  1. I don't see any mention of the dreaded I-Drive. Hmmmmm.

    Posted by gfmohn June 24, 09 04:43 PM
  1. The X6 is, simply put, an ugly, confused vehicle.

    Posted by mike June 24, 09 04:45 PM
  1. I like it one was parked in front of my hotel and many people stopped to look at it... Hats off to bmw for being inovative......

    Posted by tman2000 June 24, 09 05:53 PM
  1. This is a glorified Pontiac Aztec/Subaru B9 Tribeca. People only care about this car because its a BMW. I have seen only a couple around town and I have a feeling that BMW will stop production on this model in a couple of years due to lackluster sales. Just an unecessary segment, especially during these tough economic times.

    Posted by Pluto Nash June 24, 09 06:23 PM
  1. iDrive was updated this year. I own a new 3 series. It works fine. Even the old iDrive was fine if you werent an idiot.

    Posted by Matt June 24, 09 06:25 PM
  1. Great lines, but it sits 4" too high. Sure.... that's what people want, at least the people writing the checks. But the effect on the car is all wrong. Higher is slower, less agile than it shoud be and requires a stiffer suspension to combat the high CG. The lift makes it look awkward, like some teenager who graduated from an '87 IROC to his stepdad's Bimmer went nuts with a pile of parts and a "Kewl Kustoms" magazine.

    But... BMW is a business, not a museum. Unlike some car companies they've figured out how to stay in business.

    Posted by Chatter June 24, 09 06:41 PM
  1. It may not be the ugliest thing in the world (although certainly not the best looking), but it's 'best of both worlds' characteristics will quickly turn into a diluted 'doesnt do one thing great". Owners will get bored quickly. I am already bored with it and I do not own one.

    "Need work done?" ... not an SUV, too nice to put stuff in and no towing capacity...
    "Want a sports car?"... high center of gravity large and bulky

    Posted by Gus June 24, 09 06:49 PM
  1. My friend Bob wants one

    Posted by bobsfriend June 24, 09 06:57 PM
  1. BMW made super improvements in I-Drive for the 2009 models, not that I thought there were any issues with the previous version. I have no problems with it in my 2007 530xi.

    Posted by Keoni June 24, 09 08:25 PM
  1. Automatic transmission - bah...

    Posted by CrookedPolsandCEOs June 24, 09 10:28 PM
  1. A 5-passenger vehicle that gets 14 mpg is a dinosaur no matter how much bling you glue onto it.

    Posted by Fran Taylor June 25, 09 04:49 AM
  1. BMW rocks!

    Posted by Cory June 25, 09 05:56 AM
  1. To the person who said "I have a feeling that BMW will stop production on this model in a couple of years due to lackluster sales." - you are dead wrong. This is car is in very high demand. There is actually a waiting list for it. BMW can't produce them fast enough to meet the demand. The car is more nimble than you would think and comparing it to a Pontiac Aztec/Subaru B9 Tribeca is a joke. There is no comparison - apples to oranges.

    Posted by K. Guethner June 25, 09 07:01 AM
  1. I saw one on the highway, it reminded me of my 89 CRX SI, on steroids.

    Plenty of room in the rear for a set of R compound tires, tools, etc for a track day.

    Posted by HPDE June 25, 09 07:23 AM
  1. another bloody cross-over with car fun BECAUSE IT IS NOT A SUV it is a car on steriods

    Posted by greg June 25, 09 07:27 AM
  1. keoni - sweet ride :)

    everyone loves to hate on BMW for creating these cars; same deal with the new 5-series semi-hatchback thing (Gran Turismo?). but Acura is making something called the NDX, which is an X6 fighter, and Infiniti has something similar in the FX45: an 8-cylinder beast of a crossover. BMW usually sets the tone and others follow in terms of design, even though everyone loves to hate on Chris Bangle...look at other cars out there (ahem, new A4...) and tell me BMW makes bad decisions.

    Pluto - if you think this is anywhere close to an Aztec or need help.

    Posted by FJ June 25, 09 07:48 AM
  1. overweight tanks that "slurp" gasoline should not be written up as something we should all wish to own.

    Posted by Glen Berkowitz June 25, 09 08:16 AM
  1. It certainly looks better than both the X5 and X3 but with 400hp under the hood, I can't even imagine why they need an M version.

    Posted by kdilkington June 25, 09 09:36 AM
  1. most of you who are talking bad about this car obvioulsy dont know what feeling you get once you start driving it...or any BMW in general...i love the no noise effect on all of the when you are cruzing on the highway

    Posted by albialbi June 25, 09 10:46 AM
  1. Hey, look: BMW made a Scirocco with a V8.

    Posted by Medford Mickey June 25, 09 10:54 AM
  1. I don't think it could pull my boat without blowing-out the suspension. These crossover SUVs are pointless. Just get a sedan and save the fuel. If your argument is that you need all-wheel drive, get an all-wheel drive sedan (BMW, Audi, Mercedes, Jaguar, Volkswagen, Subaru) - they all make one. I can't find the purpose in these vehicles.

    Posted by Bob Duncanson June 25, 09 01:28 PM
  1. I will take my 335xi twin turbo beat machine over the X6. Did they really put in a turbo charged V8? I sort of doubt it. I bet they have a twin turbo N54 just like my 335xi

    Posted by Leonid Dragun June 25, 09 02:06 PM
  1. It's HOT

    Posted by Luis June 25, 09 02:19 PM
  1. "selected ‘R’ on the shifter (why is Reverse ahead and Drive backward?) "

    Are you kidding me? Did you ever drive a car with an automatic tranmission? PRND...

    Posted by K-man June 25, 09 03:41 PM
  1. Hey albialbi - is it "that feeling you get once you start driving" a bmw that turns you into the biggest self-centered a-hole on the road (behind jaguar drivers, arguably)? I don't think I've ever seen a bmw blinker in action - do they even bother putting bulbs in?

    Posted by meh June 25, 09 04:12 PM
  1. Displacing two-plus tons while offering only adequate backseat room and slurping down a gallon of premium every 16.4 miles.

    WOW! REVOLUTIONARY!!!!!!!!!! who WOULDNT want one? and you forgot to mention the luxury of "limited cargo space"!!!

    4894 is more than two-plus tons. that's nearly 2.5 tons, dude. for $75K, I could think of a laundry list of vehicles I'd rather have. including BMWs: 7-series and upcoming 5-series Gran Turismo.

    see 5-series GT.

    Posted by mikeybigboy June 25, 09 05:03 PM
  1. i love the no noise effect on all of the when you are cruzing on the highway

    well put!

    i'd take the 335i (no X for me, thanks) over this any day. i'd also take the 535i.

    this car is unnecessary, there are many, MANY cars i'd put before it at this price. MANY, yaheard?

    Posted by mikeybigboy June 25, 09 05:06 PM
  1. The Germans really do know how to build terrific cars. Sure the Japanese might innovate a lot technology into their vehicles, but the Germans have the lead on stylish designs; they are light years ahead of the U.S. GM has offered up mediocre designs, lackluster performance and cheap materials for decades only changing now that they HAVE to. I don't typically care for BMW interiors (I prefer VW and Audi), but the exteriors of BMWs are very hot.

    Posted by R.J. June 25, 09 06:05 PM
  1. AMC Javelin!

    Posted by knightrider June 25, 09 10:25 PM
  1. Too tall and heavy to be a sports car.
    Too low and light duty to be an SUV.
    The worst of both worlds.

    Posted by Anonymous June 26, 09 06:44 AM
  1. The reason people didn't like the idrive was because it was a new concept... It changed everything and people hate change...

    Posted by Bo jingels June 26, 09 07:54 AM
  1. Not a fan, especially for $75k.

    I like my X5

    Curious, what is the underlying message here about "i" drive? Were there inherent problems with it?

    Posted by Bob June 26, 09 09:50 AM
  1. I don't see any mention of the dreaded I-Drive. Hmmmmm.

    Posted by gfmohn June 24, 09 04:43 PM

    ...uh, maybe because it's not dreaded. What are you 90. You probably dislike iphones, blackberries, or anything more advanced than Atari with the one red button. All of these high end vehicles have very involved interfaces. it's a must with so many gadgets. Stop using lines from 2001.

    Posted by kaif thompson June 26, 09 12:07 PM
  1. This machine ROCKS. I'd love one if I could afford it. It is a "no apologies" vehicle made for folks who want to drive something different. Well done, BMW. Now, if only I could pick up a gorgeous used model for about $40K I'd be first in line at the door.

    Posted by david June 26, 09 01:17 PM
  1. This car will soon be obsolete not just because of its confused design but because it represents everything that is wrong with personal transport. Unfortunately the government will soon use my tax dollars to credit people who trade in these pointless bloated machines for something better aligned to our energy future. Its also sad to see the U.S. influence foreign makers who never would have otherwise made SUVs or silly crossovers.

    Posted by erik June 27, 09 04:05 PM
  1. if you were shopping for a vehicle and you had $75K to spend - and THIS was the one you went with - well... i don't wanna know you.

    Posted by mikeybigboy June 27, 09 08:19 PM
  1. "slurping down a gallon of premium every 16.4 miles"
    Hey Clifford wakeup! A bad-a$$ SAV that has 400HP and STILL gets 16.4 MPG???? Now that is why BMW rules the planet on vehicles that drivers really enjoy owning and driving. I own a 4.6is X5 that I can never get enough of . Sure they are expensive to maintain but the rewards are worth it. Oh by the way this X6 has a Formula One inspired Steptronic transmission... you would not want a standard shift in this traffic choked state!

    Posted by workingman1 June 27, 09 08:44 PM
  1. I own a 7 series and use my blinker all the time... that was such an incredibly obnoxious comment.

    Posted by Siamese Twins June 28, 09 11:20 AM
  1. "you would not want a standard shift in this traffic choked state"

    ladies and gentlemen.... bmw drivers.

    don't like to shift, prefer laser cruise control and talking into cell phone.

    Posted by mikeybigboy June 28, 09 07:35 PM
  1. I can see the "value" and "utility" of a X5, but this X6 is really a vehicle with not much purpose, utility, or versatility. Why spend $75K on something so useless? I agree that BMW will probably fold production within a year. I do have to wonder about anyone who drops money on something like this ... real strange set of consumers. Oh well.

    Posted by PaulR July 8, 09 10:46 PM
  1. I was stunned when I saw this beast in the wild. My God, what an amazingly ugly ugly ugly machine. It looks like a pumped-up cockroach on steroids. There is no excuse for anything this ugly.

    Posted by thorgan77 August 13, 09 04:59 PM

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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
AAA's Car Doctor, John Paul John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
In the garage: Hyundai Sante Fe, Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible
Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
In the garage: 1968 Buick Riviera, 1996 Buick Roadmaster, 1974 Honda CB450
Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
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George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
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