Another complaint stems from the ride quality. The vehicle rides well as a whole, but seems to have really stiff antiroll bars. It makes for flat, predictable cornering, but hitting bumps on only one side of the vehicle at freeway speeds causes the entire body to suddenly buck left or right. We expect this sort of thing in an older sports car, but not in a passenger vehicle like this. Higher-spec vehicles with active suspension systems certainly won't have the same problem. They will most likely have adjustable ride height as well, which is strangely missing from the X6. Every other vehicle tested has the ability to raise and lower-either for off-road clearance, ease of loading, or just for looks.

Even at the standard ride height, the X6 turns heads. The other vehicles roll through traffic without a glance. Everywhere the X6 stomps, it starts conversations. The most common lookers seem to be women in other pricey SUVs, furious that someone had something, newer, shinier, and cooler. Their Lexus needs to be traded in immediately at the nearest Bimmer dealer.

Off-road manners are on par with any soft-roader, although the lack of an off-road setting becomes obvious on rocky terrain. The bottom line is that the X6 will do everything and more than even the most adventurous of four-seat sports activity vehicle buyers will ever expect.

Land Rover LR3 - Off-Road Pick
The LR3 impresses by being the only vehicle in the group that doesn't seem embarrassed to be an SUV. It's clearly an off-roader and is unapologetic about it. Next to the LR3, the rest of the competition seems like station wagons with big tires. As soon as you mount the barstool-height driver's seat, you feel unstoppable. You want to take short cuts through shrubs and gardens; paved roads seem useless and pedestrian.

With all its off-road ability, it's still good on the pavement. It doesn't have a sport mode for the street, but that isn't particularly missed. Even with a torquey V8, the urge to go fast and run over the plebs driving mere cars isn't there, like in the other vehicles. The LR3 feels the least urgent of the bunch, but that's not a negative thing.

The panoramic 360-degree view out of the giant windows and the amazing light from the sunroofs (one over each of the three rows of seats) are absolute delights. More impressive is the fact that average-sized adults can fit in the third-row seats, not just small children or hobbits. Every row comes equipped with dedicated stereo and vent controls. Not only is the stereo the best of the group, some commented that it was the best stock system they had ever experienced.

The LR3 comes with a center console refrigerator, ideal for mineral water and anti-venom during globe-trekking wilderness expeditions. Also adding to the adventurous feel are control surfaces in soft, tactile rubber. All the knobs, buttons, and even the dash vent sliders are covered in it. One of the testers made a comment on how peculiar the wood dash trim looks. It does appear different than in most other cars, mainly because it's real.

The downside to all this off-road greatness is that the LR3 is the only one that feels as though it could be put it on its side with little effort. I'm sure this is illusory, based on the off-road-friendly narrow track and high center of gravity, but it's still there. And under hard braking, there is so much dive that those giant sunroofs nearly become useful for forward vision. Speaking of which, the windshield has an electric defroster, which is amazingly effective, but the thin wires make every light "halo" at night.

If you're buying an SUV for off-road ability and aren't just trying to impress the other PTA members, then the LR3 is the one. The other 90 percent of SUV buyers just hoping to deal with low self-esteem must look elsewhere. They won't like the sacrifices required on the streets in order to leave the road.

By Michael Febbo
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