BMW ventured into new territory last year when it launched the X6. As the world's first sports activity coupé, the model is a unique proposition offering owners the safety and convenience of a 4x4 with the on-road performance of a sports car, all wrapped in the svelte lines of a coupé.
It may sound like a strange mix – and some would say it looks odd – but it has made it stand out on the road against so many other identikit vehicles. Perhaps this is why its crossover combination has proved such a winner in the local market where almost 1,800 vehicles were sold to the end of December, helping to boost BMW's overall sales growth by five per cent in 2008 compared to 2007. Other strong performances came from the Three Series, One Series and Mini Clubman.
Although BMW's saloons get continuously great reviews, the same has not always been said against its foray into the 4x4 market. The X5 gained particularly bad reviews as it is just a big city car rather than a true off-roader.
Nevertheless, the X6 is onto a winner in the performance department.
The xDrive 50i model we tested is the latest addition to the line up, featuring a 4.4-litre V8 engine with twin turbo technology. Not surprisingly, the power the car emits is second-to-none with a maximum output of 407bhp and 442lb-ft of torque. For a big car it doesn't hang around and, as ever, with BMWs it is supremely comfortable, making the drive even easier.
Once inside the car – remember to duck on entry otherwise the low sloping roof could cause a headache – it is equipped with a number of gadgets and special features. It has BMW's stable display screen, we saw on the M3, many elements of which are controlled by a circular knob in the central column between the front seats, while a separate auxiliary connection allows an MP3 to be plugged in. It also comes with an optional DVD player for passengers.
It has BMW's intelligent xDrive all-wheel drive technology and Dynamic Performance Control to aid agility, stability, precision and traction through giving the back wheels more grip when turning corners.
Its sports suspension gives a slightly stiffer ride, but it isn't uncomfortable in the slightest. The leather seats add to the luxury factor, while the side mirrors come in very handy due to the narrow rear windscreen.
A six speed manual transmission with optimal gearshift comes as standard on both this and the x35i, while the cruise control is easy to get to grips with. It also has paddles on the steering wheel for easy triptronic changes although they are stiffer than in other cars and take a bit of getting used to.
There are a number of fun, quirky features, such as the added highlighters on the speedometer when cruising that gives the impression the designers have really thought about the small things in every aspect of the model.
The car accelerates from 0-100km/h in just 5.4 seconds, which is faster than other cars of its size, such as the Land Rover LR2 or Jeep Grand Cherokee, while it's top speed of 250km/h is even faster than the power house that is the Range Rover Sport – all positive nods for the X6 that will no doubt attract potential wealthy buyers. It also has decent fuel consumption for its size, using 12.5 litres of petrol per 100km, which is in line with European Union (EU) standards.
One thing that makes the X6 stand out against others in its class is that it only has two back seats and thanks to the roof, boot space is reduced. The tyres, however, are flat run thus omitting the need to carry a spare.
The back seat, however, does have a small storage space in the middle for drinks and other items, while a hatch provides direct access to the boot. Even though it doesn't have space for a third person, leg room is plentiful and as long as they aren't too tall the two rear passengers will be able to relax in comfort.
Later this year we will see another addition to the X6 line-up as the ActiveHybrid is introduced to the local market. The first of BMW's fleet to have the "green" treatment, the manufacturer has spent many years looking at environment friendly options. Although this model does not have the full technology, it still incorporates some aspects to reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions ensuring that at 299g/km, the latter again meets EU standards.
The X6 ActiveHybrid will go on sale towards the end of the year, with the Seven Series due to hit showrooms next year. Meanwhile, the Mini E is under going pilot tests in the United States and Germany.
The ActiveHybrid is estimated to cost about 20 per cent more than the X50i's hefty Dh445,000 – considerably more than other 4x4s, including the top-of-the-range Land Cruiser or Range Rover Sport – with the x30i at Dh380,000.
But with the X5, which had almost double the number of sales last year, starting at Dh325,000 it remains to be seen whether BMW's new concept can usurp the X5 to become its second biggest seller behind the ever-popular Three Series.
The Cayenne continues Porsche's quality and has excellent grip. Although it does not quite match up in the style department, it is still hugely in demand.
Range Rover Sport
This is a great 4x4 bursting with power and has a great GPS system but high fuel consumption makes it expensive to run.
Mercedes M Class
The M Class is not only well designed but a great performer on and off the road.