When BMW launched their X6 Sports Activity Coupé in May 2008, they were criticised for designing it purely as a 4-seater. Customers were disappointed over the lack of a 5-seat option, but BMW were unrepentant – declaring the X6 as a niche model designed to offer a distinct alternative to the X5, which was already available in either 5 or 7-seat configurations.

BMW’s sales targets at the time were to sell one X6 for every three X5’s, but in practice the X6 has proven considerably more popular and in 2010 BMW sold 46,000 X6’s worldwide compared to 102,000 X5s during the same period.

So from April 2011, BMW will be offering the X6 with a rear bench seat capable of seating 3 people. It has not been a simple transformation, you see the X6’s rear compartment was specifically designed for two, with individual bucket seats, storage trays either side and the bench height positioned to optimise the passenger’s view forwards whilst minimising obstruction to the drivers’ view through the rear window.

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Due to the significant changes required to accommodate the three-seat rear bench, BMW’s X6 will no longer be available in its original 4-seater configuration. Whilst for some customer this will come as good news, for others it destroys one of the unique virtues of the X6 – namely the cosy and individualised zone for rear passengers.

I’d better declare my interest in this subject – I’ve owned an X6 since they were first launched in 2008 and the most frequent accolade I’ve received over the years is how cosy it is in the rear, almost like having front seats for rear passengers.

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With its move to becoming a purely 5-seater, this individualised rear environment is lost. One further downside to this change is the loss of rear vision – this has never been a strong point of the X6, but it’s manageable, particularly when the optional reversing camera is specified. Now as a 5-seater the X6 comes with a 3rd rear headrest, virtually eliminating the driver’s rear vision and making a rear camera even more of an essential item (here’s hoping BMW make this standard from now on).

Further changes for the 2011 X6 concern the shift paddles on the steering wheel, the operating logic now corresponds to the same principle used on BMW M cars. When manual operation of the eight-speed sport automatic is chosen, the right paddle shift the gears up whilst the left paddle is now for downshifts.

From April 2011, both X5 and X6 models will become available with comfort access and enhancements to BMW ConnectedDrive Services, including BMW Apps which allows owners of an Apple iPhone to keep the vehicle in contact with the online services through Facebook and Twitter, and web radio broadcasts from all over the world, regardless of location. In addition to the current applications available in BMW ConnectedDrive customers will be able to add more features and apps as free downloads, when they are available from the Apple App Store.

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Written By

Steve Davies

Steve is an investor, private equity advisor and former Partner at KPMG, PwC and Bain.   Most importantly he's a life-long car enthusiast, mountain biker and active sports enthusiast. He designs and builds technology platforms and is the architect behind Transmission.

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