There are certain cars which are just never going to find any love amongst car ‘enthusiasts’. These can range anything from the latest Korean city car right up to the latest luxobarge from a Japanese luxury brand and although sure there is sometimes a little respect for reliability or an interesting driving technology, but when people are asked to name their favourite rides such cars rarely feature. Luckily for manufacturers however, these cars are often not the type purchased by those who actively read reviews in magazines or online and as such often can be perfectly successful and satisfy thousands of happy drivers.
Then there are the cars which far from being loved or even tolerated are actually actively hated by not just enthusiasts but also many otherwise normal and disinterested road users, some of whom are merely led by the likes of Jeremy Clarkson admittedly. Unfortunately for regular readers you may have realised that a lot of these anti-social vehicles are amongst my favourites; a cursory look at my most covered vehicles will reveal Cadillac Escalade’s, Audi Q7’s and of course BMW X5’s rank highly on my list of things I’d happily talk about all day and night!
But whilst most SUV’s can just about justify their existence with the promise of increased practicality and/or off-roading ability (ha!) there is a small group of vehicles whose very existence is near-universally reviled; known as ‘Sports Activity Coupe’s’ or SAC’s they are essentially SUV’s with a less practical rear end and with more focus on road-holding, and the flag bearer for this small but growing band of mongrels is undoubtedly BMW’s X6.
The X6 was launched well back in 2008 and was immediately derided as the answer to a question nobody asked. Based on the second generation X5 platform the car was positioned as a sportier alternative to it’s more practical brother and allowed the X5 to transform into a more family-friendly vehicle complete with 7 seats. For the most part they kept the best bits of the the 5; it’s spacious front seats and modern dashboard remained intact, as did the overall front end despite a few revisions to things like lights and the air intakes. Under the bonnet too the X6 inherited the well received range of engines from the BMW’s stable, with most buyers in the UK opting for one of the two 3L diesels (with between 245bhp and 302bhp), whilst in other countries some favoured the 3L turbo petrol or 4.8L V8.
Once you get past those front doors though the X6 takes on an identity of it’s own, with a dramatically sloping roofline tapering into a saloon-like rear end on the exterior, and inside that roofline means that rear passengers have noticeably less head room than in the X5 and also will find it harder to get in and out thanks to low-cut doors too. Boot space is surprisingly good for what is supposed to be a sporting vehicle, but the lower boot means that taller loads won’t fit and also has a knock on effect for visibility…to the rear it’s totally atrocious and like a letterbox. It’s also worth mentioning that pre-facelift X6’s (produced between 2008 and 2011) were only available with 4 seats; a centre console with storage prevent anyone from sitting 3 abreast in the rear, and although offered optionally later that middle seat is still not usable on a regular basis.
The combination of the X6 being not only a BMW but also an SUV (or SAC) with a smidge of sporting aspirations and highly distinctive styling has meant that the X6’s image problem has only been worsened by the predictable association with ‘tasteless’ buyers who can’t see past a designer badge. I can’t deny that I see a fair few unsavoury types driving around in X6’s (usually an M Sport model in white), but that’s a criticism which can be equally levelled at cars like the current darling of the motoring press, the new Range Rover Sport. Personally the vitriol that is often spat at the X6 and it’s ilk really winds me up because in essence BMW is merely offering buyers another choice and it can’t helped who buys it’s products; OK so the X6 is a little porky in terms of size but it can still return a realistic 30mpg in mixed driving and is more practical (and cheaper) than many ‘proper’ coupe’s, plus many people don’t really need the extra boot space that more upright car’s offer if we’re being honest. Admittedly the X6 has lots of flaws but none are unique, and although it may be relatively unique in combing the negatives of 2 different vehicle types it also offers some benefits from both SUV and coupe too.
The X6 has been pretty successful for what was initially derided as an incredibly niche vehicle, and BMW have managed to sell over 250k copies worldwide and eek a second generation which launched late last year. It is still not a common vehicle by any means but it’s high price and image mean that it’s never going to be sat on every other driveway, however in the last year there have also been a couple of major developments in the SAC field which are worth noting. First and foremost is the emergence of Mercedes’ upcoming rival – the GLE Coupe, not a catchy name by any means but with enough visual and brand clout that it will present the X6 with it’s first serious rival (Honda’s luxury arm Acura previously sold their similar ZDX but it failed spectacularly). I won’t go into too much detail about the GLE Coupe again but essentially it looks to be a formidable force in this niche thanks to styling which is arguably a lot more easy on the eye than the new X6. Mercedes’ engine range and interiors tend to lag a little behind BMW’s efforts but buyers often respond well to something fresh and should Mercedes get it’s finance deals right (and they are usually pretty competitive) then BMW may have something to worry about.
However probably more important for a lot of potential X6 buyers is the recent emergence of a little brother in the BMW line-up. The X4 is to the X3 as the X6 is to the X5, i.e. a less practical version with coupe styling and supposedly a sharper driving experience…maybe not a ringing endorsement but from the amount of X4’s I’ve seen on the road buyers seem to have responded pretty well to this SAC and it could well end up eclipsing it’s bigger brother in the sales charts. I’ve actually seen both the X4 and new X6 close up in the metal and have had the opportunity to sit in both and I have to say I was impressed with both models…maybe moreso with the smaller vehicle thanks to the fact it offers 85% of the product for 60% of the price, or thereabouts. Realistically there are not going to be too many X4’s specced under £45k or so but then again most X6’s are going to require only a little change from £65k, but given that the only major difference to me was the noticeable lack of rear space in the X4 I am not sure that many buyers who rarely carry adult rear passengers will care…plus it’s a problem which also affects the Porsche Macan and Range Rover Evoque too.
So why have I wasted an evening writing about SACs and making you all cringe each time you remember the title of this post? Well it’s really because either the X6 or X4 would be a strong candidate for my next car, although in all honesty my mind wanders too and fro between many different models as you may have guessed! In many ways the vehicle which makes most sense would be either a second generation X5 or X3 as they both provide the things I like about my current car but with a more modern interior (and in the case of the X3 more affordable running costs). The only problem is that the X5 may feel too similar to my current car, and the X3 is noticeably softer in terms of styling and image when compared to it’s bigger brother…so maybe their fraternal twins would be a better bet? Well as the X4 is still so new it is unlikely that I’ll be able to afford a second hand one any time soon, but the previous X6 presents an interesting opportunity in that for more or less the same price as a similarly aged X5 I could get a more distinctive vehicle with generally higher equipment, but my worry would be that the limited practicality would be a pain and without a reversing camera it would be a massive pain to park. Anyway that’s it for now but please if you want to donate to my marathon fundraising the link is: justgiving.com/jdwright90