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2013 BMW xDrive35i review:

BMW X6 puts awkward form above function

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Tech and comfort upgrades
Although many consider BMW to be a luxury brand, the X6 xDrive35i seems to think that it's a freakishly large sports car. Its cabin, while premium in fit and finish, certainly doesn't feel luxurious. For example, the top surface of the dashboard is covered in an odd soft-touch material that looks suspiciously like freshly poured asphalt. Don't get me wrong, the X6 certainly feels like a vehicle that bases at almost $60,000, but the aesthete is more athletic and sporty than luxe and stylish.

That didn't stop BMW from equipping our X6 with a $2,100 Luxury Seating package, which upgrades the front sport seats to Multi-Contour buckets that feature much more articulation to their power-adjustability, perforated leather trim, and active ventilation in addition to the standard heated surfaces. The weirdest addition of the Luxury Seating package is the Active Driver's Seat, which massages only your butt by lifting one cheek at a time with a pair of air bladders located in the bucket. Maybe this helps to combat seat fatigue on long trips, but I found it rather unsettling being fondled by the car.

The cabin has a decidedly premium feel. Josh Miller/CNET

The X6 rolls with a pretty good standard iDrive-based infotainment system, but tech-lovers will want to opt for the $3,300 Premium Package. It's a pricey box to check, but if you're interested in BMW's navigation with traffic, voice command, keyless entry and push-button start, and Connected Online destination search, it's the only box that you'll need to check. This package also rolls in four-zone automatic climate control -- which seems like overkill -- and an upgraded interior mirror with a compass and universal garage door opener.

Top View
The Premium Package is worth the money for the Rear View Camera with Top View. Josh Miller/CNET

Most importantly, the Premium Package solves the X6's massive visibility issues by adding a rearview camera "with Top View" to the mix. This system operates largely like Infiniti's Around View camera system, giving a bird's-eye view of the area around the vehicle by stitching together feeds from multiple cameras. However, where the Infiniti uses four cameras to give a 360-degree view, the BMW system only uses three cameras to cover the sides and rear view, but not the front.

But BMW will slap a camera on the front bumper too, if you opt for the $1,700 Technology Package. The Side View camera uses an ultrawide angle lens to display left and right views perpendicular to the vehicle's nose -- it's a remarkably useful feature for monitoring cross-traffic when inching out of blind alleys. The rest of that $1,700 pays for automatic high-beam headlights that dim when oncoming traffic is sensed and a head-up display that projects speed and navigation data onto the windshield ahead of the driver.

Side-view camera
The Side View camera lets drivers peek around corners. Josh Miller/CNET

Our tester was also equipped with the Premium Sound system, a $950 option that upgrades the stereo to a nine-channel, 16-speaker surround-sound rig with 600 watts of amplification -- including two 125-watt subwoofers located under the front seats. That's not even the top audio tier offered. A yet-higher-trim Enhanced Premium Sound option is available for $1,000 more, which bumps the output to 825 total watts and adds further sound optimization technologies, but our vehicle was not so equipped and didn't seem to suffer for it.

In sum
Our BMW X6 xDrive35i based at $59,800 and so far I've discussed $18,650 in performance, styling, tech, and comfort options. But I'm not done yet.

Rear entertainment
The rear-seat entertainment system uses a separate DVD player and audio system from the front. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Our vehicle was also equipped with a $1,700 rear-seat DVD entertainment system that tucks into the elbow room between the front seats and is not at all integrated into the rest of the audio system, using its own DVD player and headphone jacks. (Of course, the driver can still watch and listen to DVDs through the premium audio system on the front screen when parked.)

We've also got $300 aluminum running boards that look good, but didn't really help with entering or exiting the high X6, $600 for soft-close automatic doors, and $250 for BMW Apps, which you can skip if you don't carry an iPhone. (Actually, you can probably skip it either way.) For $350, you can bump the four-seater X6 up to a five-seater, not that any adult will want to cram into a middle seat on a rear bench that offers less headroom than the X1.

The cold-weather package is a skippable $750 option for drivers in all but the chilliest climes, adding a heated steering wheel, retractable headlight washers, heated rear seats, and a ski bag -- half of which aren't really what I'd consider useful additions. The fact that BMW wants $150 for a space-saver spare is a bit ridiculous and insulting.

BMW X6 heroic
The X6 xDrive35i is good, if not pricey, but I'd rather be driving the more conventional X5. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

All in and with the $895 destination charge, our 2013 X6 xDrive35i bottom-lines at over $83,445. But you might be happy with just the Dynamic Handling and Premium packages, skipping most of the other options and keeping the price below $70K. Either way, I can't help but think I'd be happier in an X5 xDrive35i.

Tech specs
Model 2013 BMW X6
Trim xDrive35i
Power train 3.0-liter, turbocharged and direct-injected V-6, 8-speed automatic transmission, standard xDrive all-wheel drive
EPA fuel economy 16 city, 23 highway, 19 combined mpg
Observed fuel economy n/a
Navigation optional with traffic
Bluetooth phone support yes
Disc player single-slot DVD, optional rear-seat DVD player
MP3 player support standard analog 3.5mm auxiliary input, USB connection, Bluetooth audio streaming, USB iPod connection
Other digital audio HD Radio tuning, Optional SiriusXM Satellite Radio, HDD storage
Audio system optional Premium Sound package, 16 speakers, 600 watts
Driver aids optional Side View Camera, Rear View Camera with Top View, standard Park Distance Control
Base price $59,800
Price as tested $83,445

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