Most people don't realize that Earth Day started way back in 1970. Conceived by politician Gaylord Nelson, it was intended to demonstrate concern about rising environmental issues as well as educate people about conservation. Earth Day celebrations have had their ups and downs through the years; 2007, however, was recognized as one of the biggest ever and arguably the most successful.

Predating the celebration of Earth Day are two things we hold dear at european car-irony and sarcasm. Both have been around since, well, probably the beginning of sentient life itself. This in mind, we set out to compare a collection of European SUVs on the most inappropriate day possible: Earth Day 2008.

Those of us who live in Orange County take solace in the fact that we can drive over 100 miles without running into the untamed wild. At the end of the civilized world, we find the California High Desert. This particular area of barren emptiness is full of varied environments from flat dirt to piled dirt to rocky dirt and even dirty dirt. Unlike most real-world SUV drivers, we decided to use these massive road warriors how they were intended: Cutting out the middle man of global warming from air pollution and using their massive tires and brutal combined torque to rip up plants, soil, and associated wildlife.

Vehicles were first evaluated for on-road manners, then off-road behavior. Even if someone were maverick enough to use their off-road vehicle off-road, they would certainly have to use some paved roads to get there. We then spent an afternoon retooling the Earth's crust, careening across serene dry lakebeds polished smooth by decades of gentle rain and steady winds. In the mountains, we manicured soil that had laid undisturbed for hundreds of years with the graceful arcs of tire tracks, punctuated by the occasional accent gouge from a bumper or skidplate. Then, like natural selection, we picked favorites based solely on qualitative measures.

BMW X6 - On-Road Pick
Face it, 99.9 percent of SUV buyers don't get them for their off-road ability. Most have no interest in what they can tow or how much stuff they can carry. People like SUVs because they want to make a statement about themselves. And the BMW X6 makes the biggest statement. It's by far the best-looking of the vehicles in this test, it's great on-road and even decent off.

It only seats four and gives up a little cargo room to the coupe-like sloping roof, but will anyone care? The seating position is phenomenal, more sport sedan than family hauler. Even the rear seats are comfortable and the center console in the back gets rid of the 'Griswald family vacation' feel of a bench seat.

We all expected it to handle well with that huge amount of rubber under the car, but were surprised that it feels more nimble than the Cayenne, which is touted as the ultimate in SUV handling. The steering is typical BMW, lots of feedback and precise movements. Unlike most BMWs, however, it feels over-damped and sluggish at low speeds.

We love the twin-turbo six in every other BMW platform we've tried and are especially impressed with the big 535i. It doesn't let us down in the X6, either. The big powerband provides a smooth pull at just about any speed. There's a little hiatus right off the line, though. It's tough to tell if this is turbo lag or just the transmission.

By Michael Febbo
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