I grabbed the keys to the BMW X6 last night. By the time I got home I was wondering whether, in a quiet corner of the FIZ, BMW's giant engineering center in Munich, a bunch of engineers were crying into their weissbier over this thing.
Don't get me wrong, the X6 -- in this case the six-cylinder version -- is an impressive piece of work. The 3.0-liter turbocharged engine is smooth and torquey and punches the X6 hard away from the lights. The ride is beautifully controlled, a huge improvement on the first-gen X5, which bounced around like a Conestoga wagon on the Oregon Trail. It changes direction with near sport-sedan alacrity.
But driving the BMW X6 hard is a bit like watching an elephant tap dance -- you're left faintly bemused by the whole act, but not entirely sure it belongs anywhere outside a circus. I couldn't help wonder how much time and effort it took the BMW engineers to make this 4894-pound truck perform like, well, a BMW. More to the point, I wondered whether deep down the BMW engineers, car guys all, thought the X6 a waste of their talent. You see, good as it is, the X6 is still a truck. A perfectly pointless truck.
A Ferrari 599GTB has a point. A Toyota Prius has a point. A Ford F-150 has a point. But what, exactly, is the point of a BMW X6? Despite all the clever engineering, it still manages to artfully combine all the disadvantages of a tight-fitting coupe with all the downsides of a big SUV. The result is a vehicle that can't go off-road or carry as much stuff as a regular SUV and doesn't quite go around corners as well -- or use fuel as efficiently -- as any comparable BMW car.
I guess the point the X6 proves is the auto business has long ceased to be about transportation. The auto business is really a fashion business. The X6 exists only because BMW's marketing mavens are convinced there are enough of you out there who want an SUV that thinks it's a coupe. And judging by the approving looks and thumbs up grins our test X6 is generating on L.A.'s streets, it seems they might be right.