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Big power from tri-turbo Beemer


IT’S RELATIVELY easy to justify the existence of every vehicle on sale in South Africa today. The Toyota Etios, for example, exists because there’s a need for cheap, reliable and spacious transport. Even expensive cars like the Audi S8 make a decent case for themselves. The demand may be less, but there are those who need, and can afford, a ridiculously fast luxury barge.

The BMW X6 is perhaps the only car that struggles to justify its existence. Who could possibly need an SUV with a coupé-like body on top? Those are two very different automotive categories that have no business interacting with eachother.
That’s only true if we work under the assumption that humans are rational beings. A quick glance at our behaviour over the last millennium reveals that we are anything but. Obviously the BMW X6 has a right to exist and its sales figures prove that there is an admittedly small number of people who agree.

I’m not one of them, but it would be rude to dismiss the X6 on the basis that I don’t understand what it’s for. After spending a week with one, I think I’ve figured it out though.

A lot of its relatively successful sales figure is down to the styling. It’s imposing from some angles and downright awkward from others, but it’s never boring. Perhaps it’s best described as ‘love it or hate it.’ I don’t like it, but one of my colleagues found the unique styling rather exhilarating. To each his own, I suppose.

The styling may not do it for everyone, but you can’t deny BMW’s prowess in the powertrain department. This X6 is the first model we’ve tested with an engine from BMW’s new M Performance range, meant to fill the gap between normal run-of-the-mill Beemers and the proper hardcore Motorsport fare.

As such, it’s only fair to expect a reasonable turn of speed. A turbocharged petrol V8 would have done the job nicely, but that would have been too easy. So BMW went with an oil-burner instead.

The powertrain in the M50d is a masterpiece. It’s a 3.0-litre, six-cylinder unit with three - yes, you read that correctly – turbochargers, the result of which is 280kW and a colossal 740Nm of torque.

The performance figures speak for themselves. The X6 accelerates to 100km/h in 5.3 seconds and will keep accelerating until the electronic nanny kicks in at 250km/h.  In-gear acceleration is equally impressive. The way this thing accelerates from 80km/h to 120km/h is comical.

But that’s to be expected of a BMW. To be surprised by a BMW’s performance is like being surprised when a politician is caught with his hand in the cookie jar - it’s almost a given. You’re only properly impressed once you see how little fuel it uses compared to the petrol derivative, with more or less the same performance figures.

BMW claims 7.7 litres/100km on the combined cycle, which is something I just had to see for myself. On a long haul journey from Jozi to Ficksburg at a steady 125km/h, the X6 averaged around 8.8 litres/100km. Back in town that figure quickly shot up to 11.3 litres/100km, not bad for an almost two-tonne SUV with three people and their luggage on board.

This 900km journey also highlighted a few things that aren’t so good. The interior, while equipped  with an impressive number of luxury items as standard, is starting to show its age. The X6 still rocks a sport button, which is disappointing considering the cool driver-select programmes you get on even the most basic 1-Series hatch these days. The coupé-like body robs a lot of headroom in the rear as well. Perhaps the X6 is best suited to a couple, rather than a family.

If space is a concern, don’t worry too much. That magnificent engine is now also available in BMW’s best SUV, the X5. The performance figures are more or less the same, as are the fuel consumption numbers.

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