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2013 BMW xDrive35i review: BMW X6 puts awkward form above function

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The Good The 2013 BMW X6 xDrive35i offers more good cabin and performance tech options than you probably need, if you're willing to pay for them. The big SUV handles corners well and offers good power from its turbocharged engine.

The Bad Visibility in the X6 is poor. Cargo and people room is limited compared with its X5 sibling, and the X6 still costs more.

The Bottom Line The 2013 BMW X6 xDrive35i isn't a bad sports SUV, but its emphasis of form over function makes it the least appealing of BMW's SUVs.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

7.3 Overall
  • Cabin tech 8
  • Performance tech 8
  • Design 5

Review Sections

It's hard to talk about the 2013 BMW X6 xDrive35i without first getting something off of my chest: I think that its SUV-coupe form is stupid. Now, I'm not talking BMW 5 Series GT levels of stupid -- it doesn't deserve that level of insult -- but I simply can't understand why anyone would walk onto a BMW lot and buy a large SUV that is based on the X5, but with less cargo space, when the X5 itself is sitting right next to it with a lower sticker price.

X6 form factor
By giving the X6 its coupelike roofline -- literally the only visible thing differentiating it from the X5 -- BMW has also given the SUV poor visibility through the gun-slit rear window, which terminates about 4 feet off of the ground and nearly a foot ahead of the high rear bumper, making parking extremely difficult. The blind spots at the rear quarters are big enough to hide a beige 1998 Toyota Camry in -- I know because I nearly rolled over one during a highway lane change despite not one, but two over-the-shoulder and mirror checks. If BMW insists on building a car with such heinous behind-the-driver visibility, the optional rear camera should be standard, but isn't. And blind-spot monitoring isn't even available as an option on the X6. However, a sonar-based parking-distance controller is standard, displaying a graphical heat map of proximity to obstructions on the standard LCD.

The X6 has dramatically less rear-seat headroom than the X5, and total storage space behind the front seats is also down. There's still space enough to toss a bike back there without removing the front wheel, if you don't mind laying it on its side. But two bikes are out of the question. Combine that with the high load-in height and the awkward shape of the storage area and the X6 becomes the perfect SUV for people who don't want to help their friends move.

X6 xDrive35i
The low roof line compromises visibility and cargo space with no real benefit. Josh Miller/CNET

This is to say nothing of the merits of the X6 as a tech car or even a sport premium SUV; I'll get to all of that shortly. But compared at curbside with the X5, the 2013 X6 just feels like an exercise in form over function. It's styling for style's sake -- if you can call the X6's bulbous aesthetic "stylish" -- which I find to be rather obnoxious.

xDrive35i power train
Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's pop the hood, shall we?

xDrive35i engine
The turbocharged V-6 does a good job of motivating the heavy X6. Josh Miller/CNET

Here you'll find the X6 xDrive35i's power plant: a 3.0-liter, direct-injected V-6 that is force-fed air via twin-scroll turbocharger. Output is rated at 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque, which flows through a standard eight-speed automatic transmission and onward through the standard xDrive all-wheel drive system, which is the only drive train configuration offered for the X6.

The xDrive35i is just the entry point for the X6. BMW also offers twin-turbocharged V-8 engines that output 400 horsepower and an excessive 555 horsepower in the X6 xDrive50i and X6 M, respectively. However, the 300 horsepower is nothing to sniff at. The 4,784-pound SUV is adequately powered and never feels strained when accelerating.

The eight-speed gearbox mostly stays out of its own way. The bit of lag that you'll get in its normal Drive mode being par for the course, it's no more offensive than in any other slushbox we've tested. Slap the unconventional shift lever into its Sport setting and the X6 will throttle-blip and downshift as you decelerate in anticipation of a corner and hold each gear longer. You can also grab your own gears with the paddle shifters, but outside of passing maneuvers, I largely let just the Sport mode do its thing. Turbo lag, thankfully, is never an issue thanks to the twin-scroll technology at work behind the scenes.

M Performance options and handling upgrades
The BMW X6 may handle reasonably well in its standard configuration, but our model was equipped with an $8,700 array of suspension and handling upgrades.

Starting with the $4,400 M Performance Package, the X6's wheels are upgraded to 20-inch alloy rollers shod in run-flat performance tires (which sort of sounds like an oxymoron) with an extra-wide 336 width. Our Twitter followers seemed to really like the look of those meaty tires, and I was grateful for the grip they afforded, even at the expense of noticeable road noise and ride harshness.

Exterior upgrades include Carbon Black Metallic paint and Shadowline dark exterior trim; while the X6's cabin gets sporty with an M Sport steering wheel, sport seats (which were replaced by Multi-Contour seats with our tester's addition of the Luxury seating package), and an anthracite-colored headliner.

Sport button
The Sport button firms up the suspension, but the effect is hardly noticeable. Josh Miller/CNET

For $4,300 more, the Dynamic Handling package upgrades the already stiff suspension with Adaptive Drive, which allows the vehicle's dampers to adjust on the fly to counteract roll and give a more controlled ride. Active Steering is also added to the mix, which equips the X6 with a variable-ratio steering rack that offers a quicker steering ratio at low-to-medium speeds and slower, less twitchy, stabler steering for better high-speed stability. The Dynamic Handling package also adds a Sport button that firms up suspension and steering when you're ready to tackle the corners, but I was hard-pressed to tell any difference in the ride quality with Sport mode on or off.

In either mode, the X6 exhibited much less lean, roll, and dive than I expected when cornering, accelerating, and braking, but the X6 doesn't defy the laws of physics. She's a heavy girl and doesn't really like to be jostled and tossed about too much. Give the suspension a moment to settle and the wide tires and firm dampers gift the X6 with more grip through a flowing, twisty bit of road than you may think.

LED headlamps
The full-LED headlamps are a $1,900 option. Josh Miller/CNET

One thing that I noticed about the X6 was that, whether on a back road or on the highway, people tended to get the hell out of the way. Even if I wasn't driving particularly aggressively, slower drivers would always pull aside to let the X6 pass. Maybe I was going faster than I thought -- which is often the case in tall SUVs -- perhaps they were awed by the awesomeness of the $1,900 full-LED front lights filling their rearview mirror, or perhaps the bulk of the X6 bearing down upon them was intimidating.

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