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First Spin: 2009 BMW X6

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I'm not the world's biggest fan of the BMW X5 sport-utility vehicle, but the new X6 has me intrigued. This week I have the new "Sports Activity Coupe" in my driveway and I'm going to figure out before Sunday afternoon exactly what the appeal might be.

It has to start with the styling, I think. I don't like the X5 boxy looks. Few SUVs escape that style or even try to, though the Mercedes-Benz GL is tough and square and I like its detailing. The X5 also feels heavy and ponderous, and for all the upright lines, it's not the most space-efficient SUV in the world.

But the X6? It's a wholly new prospect. Similar in size and mechanically related to the X5, the X6 is a different beast entirely, though it shares the X5's chassis, engine and transmission lineup, and South Carolina birthplace. The X6 doesn't bother so much with functionality -- it's a sexy silhouette on top. And it has some lovely details above its beltline, like the cat-eye headlamps, discreet fender jewelry and nicely shaped taillamps.

What doesn't work is unusual. Most cars that have disjointed designs have front and rear ends that part ways on bad terms. Here, it's a top-bottom division. The lower half of the car has unironic fog lamps, beefy wheel wells and cladding. And it's so tall that the coupe-like effect is diminished. You might want to compare it to Porsche's Panamera sedan that's on tap for 2010, but it bears more than a passing resemblance in profile to the AMC Eagle (and we're not the only ones who think so).

How does that slinky roofline affect its function? The X6 - only slightly different in shape from the concept shown at last fall's Frankfurt auto show - is clearly less oriented toward passenger room and cargo capacity and more focused on personal driving pleasure and aesthetics. The same organic lines that give its athletically feminine profile limit any aspiration to be a daily people hauler. With its sloping roofline, it's most likely be driven by consumers who have a high priority on style and status and very little concern for passenger capacity.

And inside it's a busy place. The sweeping dash is festooned with buttons and gadgets trimmed in black and wood and aluminum, and so is the console -- and there's a shifter lever that isn't at all intuitive. But there are paddles to control the gears, a meaty steering wheel, and enough headroom to get comfortable.

How does it rank on cargo and people carrying? I'll check back with more observations, and leave you with BMW's pricing details announced this week. The base six-cylinder X6 xDrive35i goes on sale this month from $53,275. To get the V-8-powered X6 xDrive50i, you'll spend $63,775.
 
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