Two premium coupé-crossovers take on a familiar, boxier favourite...

Arguably the original coupé-styled SUV (or sport activity vehicle in BMW speak), the first-generation X6 was revealed at the 2008 Detroit Auto Show. The SAV added some flavour to the firm’s X-badged line-up. The Munich-based manufacturer took the styling of its large coupés to a (quite literal) “higher level”, superimposing the sleek designs of the former over the box-shaped blueprint of the X5. The result: an SAV walking a line between the practicality of an SUV and the dynamism of a traditional coupé in terms of design and drivability.

A trend was set. Down the line, various automakers would copy the concept, tailoring their standard SUV offerings to fit the coupé-crossover niche. Revealed soon after the launch of the second X6, the previous-generation Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupé followed suit. More recently, Audi and Porsche have sharpened their pencils, handing the flagship Q and the Cayenne slanted silhouettes, while Jaguar Land Rover unveiled the Range Rover Velar. Now in its third generation, the X6 has to prove its mettle not only against an array of similarly fashioned rivals, such as the Audi Q8, but veteran rivals, most specifically the Range Rover Sport which also features in this comparative road test.

Admittedly, the Sport might look out of place among the tapered-tail Teutons. However, it is worth factoring in the buyer’s profile of a person looking to spend their hard-earned money on a car in this segment. The Range Rover Sport is a large and luxurious SUV, endowed with equal amounts of style and versatility while offering some dynamic prowess. Plus, it’s hard to resist the appeal and street-cred associated with the Sport. But which one of the three SUVs – X6, Q8 and Range Rover Sport – manages to balance the latter prerequisites the best? The lines are drawn.

Lined up

Tested here, the BMW X6 M50d, Audi Q8 45 TDI and Range Rover Sport SDV8 employ the apex diesel engines in their respective line-ups (it’s important to note that Land Rover SA has pulled the SDV8 from sale, but there might be some stock left). Obvious styling differences between the German duo and Range Rover Sport aside, viewed on paper, there’s a fair amount that distinguishes these three. The most notable can be found under their bonnets (engine configuration, outputs and the like); measured interior space; performance test results; and price tags.

The X6 M50d and Q8 45 TDI both employ 3,0-litre six-cylinder mills. However, where the BMW’s 294 kW/760 N.m inline motor is fitted with four turbochargers, the (least powerful of the three) Audi’s 183 kW/600 N.m V6 is equipped with a single blower but gains a 48 V mild-hybrid setup.

Meanwhile, the Range Rover Sport boasts the largest capacity oil-burner: a 4,4-litre twin-turbo V8 which churns out 250 kW and 740 N.m of torque. The broad-shouldered Brit was also the most expensive of the trio. In HSE guise (top-line Autobiography specification level was on offer for R210 000 more), the Range Rover Sport SDV8 demanded a R120 000 premium over the BMW’s standard asking price and eclipsing the Q8 45 TDI’s by a hefty R390 000.

There are, however, similarities among the three. All send power to their front and rear axles via eight-speed automatic transmissions and are lavishly equipped as standard. Viewed through a subjective eye, each can be considered a stylish SUV … some more so than others. It was the exterior styling of the Audi that received the most nods from the CAR team.

Outside line

Dressed in Floret Silver metallic, our Q8 45 TDI test unit’s otherwise conservative paintwork contrasted with a set of striking 22-inch Audi Sport alloys. Included with the test car’s optional S Line Platinum package (R80 840), the 22s found favour within the team, with some saying they enhance the Q8’s looks near to that of a show car. Some testers did note they would much rather spend their R4 620 on one of the brand’s brighter body hues, which would highlight the Q8’s sharp lines. Specifying the S Line Platinum package further adds the S Line exterior pack, a matte platinum-grey grille, red brake callipers and adaptive air suspension.

Adjacent to the grille are a pair of standard-fitment Matrix LED headlamps. The single-piece taillamp cluster spanning the rear houses an array of LEDs. Locking/unlocking the Q8 is an event in itself – via fob or keyless entry (standard, including start) – with the animated units putting on a show and evoking many “wows” from passersby. The Q8 cannot be accused of lacking in drama. It turns heads … stationary and on the move.

Five years into its lifecycle, the oldest of the three – the second-generation Range Rover Sport – was facelifted in 2018. As with its Range Rover siblings, the Coventry-based carmaker handed the Sport’s exterior a subtle nip and tuck and the interior tech received the most attention. Updates to the exterior comprised sleeker LED head- and taillamps; a revised and more purposeful front bumper; and new exhaust trims. Although our Fuji White test unit went seemingly unnoticed in traffic – which can be attributed to the number of Sports on the road, rather than it being devoid of style – the Range Rover Sport’s more traditional profile has aged well. HSE specification adds these 21-inch wheels housing red brake callipers to the package, while air suspension is standard fitment on all Sport models.

The X6’s metalwork is the most divisive. You’ll either love it or loathe it. Although the exterior’s no-cost Manhattan Metallic finish managed to visually iron out some of the creases, the CAR team swayed towards the latter category. Donning an angular interpretation of BMW’s signature grille – flanked by optional (R18 900) BMW Laserlight headlamps – and more pronounced lower front-bumper design, it is the X6’s pinched roofline and rear end that set it apart most from its boxier X5 sibling. Before we continue, we have to address the grille … available for the first time on a BMW, the kidneys are illuminated. The Iconic Glow feature can be manually adjusted to light up when opening and closing the car, and during driving, and is accessed via the exterior lighting sub-menu in BMW’s Operating System 7.0. Although some team members didn’t mind it, most switched it off, with one mentioning it looks aftermarket.

Round back, the X6 features slimmer L-shaped taillamps, while the lower bumper has been given more musculature to magnify its imposing stance. A faux diffuser is sited between the model-specific Cerium Grey trapezoidal tailpipe finishers, which house the outlets of the flap-controlled M Sport exhaust system. A boot-mounted spoiler and artificial side and rear vents (as found on the Range Rover) contribute to the X6’s dynamic design. As this is an M Performance model, the X6 M50d gains myriad M-specific items, such as the blue M Sport stoppers seen behind its no-cost 22-inch bicolour alloy wheels.

A fine (roof)line

Measuring 9 mm lower than its predecessor, the X6’s interior space is the most compromised. At 1 780 mm, the Range Rover Sport is the tallest. Up front, however, it was the Audi that was deceptively spacious, offering the most headroom (894 mm compared to the Sport’s 871 mm and BMW’s 828 mm). The Range Rover boasts 22 and 61 mm more rear-passenger headroom than the Q8 and BMW thanks to its upright stance. The latter’s 794 mm of aft kneeroom, however, trumps that of the Audi and Range Rover Sport by 50 mm. The widest (2 073 mm) of the trio and deplete of a transmission tunnel, three occupants should be comfortable on the Range Rover’s rear bench. Fitting a child seat may seem more strenuous than on the Audi and BMW, as the Sport’s Isofix anchorages aren’t as accessible as the items on the other two.

The X6 also offered the most luggage space as standard (424 litres), although sliding the Q8’s 40:20:40-split rear bench to its foremost position – thus encroaching on rear legroom – will extend its 384-litre measured boot capacity to 456 litres. The Range Rover’s boxy compartment, meanwhile, swallows 400 litres. Although slightly less than the BMW, under the Range Rover’s boot board is a full alloy spare wheel. Folding the Sport’s 60:40-split seatbacks reveals an additional 856 litres for utility purposes. Thanks to its flat loading bed and standard air-suspension setup which can be lowered or increased by the press of a button located in the boot, the Range Rover is a cinch to load.

Packed to the brim with our industry-standard ISO blocks, the X6 and Q8 offer a maximum of 1 040 and 1 168 litres respectively. Adding to its utilitarian persona, the Sport also features an ample amount of interior stowage lined with suede inserts.

Interior lining

Opening each SUV’s (optional) soft-close doors reveals well-constructed leather-trimmed cabins. Perceived quality of all three is good. Surprisingly, the Audi left a few team members wanting, with some noting a few creaks in the Q8’s interior. And, because of its frameless doors, a whisper of wind could be heard around the A-pillars of the Q8 when driving at the national limit.

All three come standard with digital instrument clusters. Our BMW test unit was also specified with a crisp head-up display. While the Audi and Range Rover are fitted with a duo of stacked touchscreens for infotainment and climate, the X6 features a 12,3-inch touch-enabled infotainment display – which can also be navigated via the centre-console-sted  scroller – and physical controls for the air-conditioning. The BMW’s setup was universally praised by the CAR team as it’s much easier to use on the move. Others noted the Audi’s haptic-feedback-enabled item required too hard a touch, while some said the Sport would benefit from the new Defender’s Touch Pivi Pro system, as the current Touch Pro Duo arrangement seems outdated in this company.

Multimedia is taken care of with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (wireless in the BMW and Audi), Bluetooth connectivity and an array of USB ports. Sat-nav is standard on all three and inductive smartphone charging can be found in the X6 and Q8. The Audi and BMW featured a 3D Bang & Olufsen surround-sound system, whereas the Range Rover was equipped with a Meridian unit.

Enhancing the interior ambience, panoramic sunroofs are standard fitment on all three. Our BMW test car was equipped with the optional (R17 800) Sky Lounge item, reflecting the interior lighting when driving in the evening; Crafted Clarity glass for the controls (R9 400); and fragrance package. Although these items lift the interior, some testers noted it’s money better spent elsewhere. In addition, all three test units were equipped with multi-zone climate control; heated front pews (with cooling for the BMW and Range Rover), while rear passengers in the X6 and Q8 could dial their seat to a higher temperature. The BMW test car also offered heated and cooled cupholders for the driver and front passenger.

Driving manners

Adhering to its initial brief, the X6 is the most dynamic of the three cars tested here. And it showed during performance testing. On our test strip, the Bavarian SAV managed to sprint to the three-figure mark in only 5,24 seconds, besting the Q8 45 TDI and Sport’s 7,2-second 0-100 km/h times. The BMW excelled in-gear, too; with a blip of the throttle, the X6 reached 80-120 km/h in 3,42 seconds, where the Audi and Range Rover required more than a second more. 

Whereas the BMW offers more dynamism in terms of straight-line speed, its steering, (although seemingly direct) and ride quality somewhat disappointed. It was the Range Rover Sport’s driving manners that received the most accolades. Seated behind the Sport’s pleasingly thin-rimmed tiller is a joy; the well-weighted steering is tops; and the Sport’s V8 mill – which sounds as good as many petrol-powered V8s – sends a nose-lifting surge of torque to all fours from a lowly 1 750 r/min.

The Audi exhibited a fair amount of turbo lag on pull away. It is a comfortable ride, with the Audi’s air-suspension setup soaking up most road scars. Although, its ride quality doesn’t quite match the sophistication of the Range Rover’s.

The Audi managed to come to a halt the quickest, with a best braking time of 2,44 seconds, while matching the X6’s average of 2,68 seconds. The British monolith’s 380 mm fore and 365 mm aft brakes, meanwhile, brought it to a halt in an average time of 2,86 seconds which is quite impressive considering the all-aluminium construction weighs nearly 400 kg more than the BMW and Audi. Average stopping distance required was 34,92 metres for the Audi; 35,54 metres for the BMW; and 38,81 metres for the Sport.

On our mixed-use 100 km fuel route, the Audi sipped just 7,5 L/100 km from its 75-litre fuel tank. The more powerful X6 and Range Rover Sport returned 0,5 and 1,2 L/100 km more than the Q8.



TEST SUMMARY

It’s a pity there’s no empirical manner to determine how special a vehicle is. Indeed, the majority of CAR’s team members favour the six-time Top 12 Best Buys-winning Range Rover Sport over the Audi and BMW. Although subjective, there is no denying the appeal of the Range Rover emblem. The Sport feels classier than its rivals, it has the superior ride quality and predictable, enjoyable handling, although it is not as dynamic as the X6. Should you be inclined to take your R2 million SUV off the beaten track, the Range Rover Sport offers true off-road capability thanks to low-range. Unfortunately, the fact this version of the Sport is no longer on sale rules it out of contention.

If it’s dynamism you want, the X6 offers bucket loads. Its cabin is solidly built and comfortable. However, its exterior styling is divisive, the ride firmer than we’d like and, with its price encroaching on R2 million, a few team members argued it would be worthwhile to consider an alternative Range Rover Sport model with an equivalent cost.

The Audi therefore clinches first place thanks largely to its price tag. The Q8 is arguably the most stylish of the three, is surprisingly practical and, although less so than the other two, has an ample amount of power for everyday use. The Audi thus walks the line between the prerequisites of what is required of the segment’s best, while offering a substantial amount of kit for less.

Audi Q8 45 TDI: Four stars
BMW X6 M50d: Four stars
Range Rover Sport SDV8: Four stars