The 2020 BMW X6 excels in the very niche it created more than ten years ago. Back then, the first-gen X6 was polarizing, to say the least. But it found its way into garages of people who embraced the concept of a sportier type of SUV: in fact, the X6 has been one of BMW’s best sellers for the past decade or so, and hence the introduction of an all-new third-generation X6 to carry that torch.
It’s no secret the X6 is equipped with the underpinnings of an X5. That’s a normal-looking SUV that, ironically, also created the on-road SUV niche, a type of people mover that looks like an SUV but feels more at home on regular roads. The hallmark of an X6 is the diminishing roofline, sloping over the rear quarters like in a sports car.
In the new X6, the roofline is lower still, which means a sportier design and a more streamlined rear end, neither as bulbous nor as voluptuous as previous generations of the X6. The sloping shape also means less rear headroom along with a smaller cargo area, of course. That said, I didn’t feel cramped when I sat in the back for a short stint as we drove to BMW’s performance driving school for their annual test fest.
Even if it did feel a little snug in the back, I’m fine with it: I suspect all X6 buyers will be fully aware that their sporty SUV eschews practicality in favor of athleticism. The dimensional changes aren’t all downward, either: the 2020 X6 is an inch longer and more than half an inch wider than the previous model. It also has a longer wheelbase for added legroom, which is an attempt to compensate for the diminished rear headroom, and it works. Also, despite being marginally longer, it also happens to sit lower to the ground by 0.7 inches, giving it a lower center of gravity and a speedier profile, which I really like.
The X6 once had the market to itself, but it now faces an onslaught of competitors in the form of Porsche’s Cayenne Coupe and Mercedes-Benz’s GLE Coupe. Resting on its laurels won’t win BMW any sales. For all intent and purposes – and with the acknowledgement that, yes, design is subjective – this third-generation X6 is the better-looking of the bunch. It still has a rather large and awkward rear end, but the lower and curvier roof has given the back treatment more suitable proportions. It also grew a larger pair of kidney grilles, which fits the personality of the X6. Equally humongous 20-inch alloys are standard and fill the wheel arches nicely, lending an aggressive stance, but larger 21-inch or 22-inch alloys are optional if you want to get sportier still.
There are three versions of the 2020 BMW X6. The base model is the $64,300 rear-wheel-drive sDrive40i powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-six producing 335-horsepower and 330 pound-feet of torque. Next is the $66,600 xDrive40i, powered by the same turbocharged inline-six but with all-wheel-drive. The RWD model goes from 0 to 60 mph in 5.2-seconds while the AWD does it fractionally slower at 5.3-seconds. I spent the most time in the third model on the road and racetrack; a more potent X6 M50i that – at $85,650 – is equipped with a twin-turbocharged V8 lifted from the new 8-Series M850i.
The V8 churns out 523-horsepower and 553 pound-feet of torque, enough to push the X6 from 0 to 60 mph in 4.1-seconds, more than enough to shame sports cars and fast sedans. And when you think about it, that’s approximately 78 more horsepower than the previous X6 V8, so I’m talking about a massive leap in performance. But then again, you also get those engines in an X5, and I’m curious how it all translates in the X6. And before I forget, all engines are mated to an eight-speed gearbox. The xDrive model I drove also comes with an electronic rear M Sport differential, which optimizes the transferring of torque between the left and right rear wheels.
True enough, it was exactly what I was expecting: the X6 feels remarkably similar to an X5, which again is not a bad thing especially with a burly V8 motor under the hood. All I can say is the X6 M50i has more than enough power to excite normal, everyday drivers. At the same time, the V8-powered X6 can be just as easy to drive at slow to moderate speeds as an X5.
With this much power on tap, though, it helps to know a thing or two about performance driving when you’re pushing the X6 to the limit. Stabbing the throttle pushed me back hard enough to make me think that I was driving a high-powered muscle car. The feeling was magnified by a magnificent soundtrack courtesy of the angry V8 and quad exhaust pipes, but the sound is not as raucous or as mechanical as in a muscle car. On the track, thanks to the excellent XDrive AWD system and the M Sport differential, it’s easy to recover the nose of the vehicle after missing the apex, the result of relishing the pure and unadulterated shove of that glorious turbocharged V8.
Hard on the brakes, give it a dab of the throttle, and the vehicle sorts itself out, pointing the nose towards the direction of the curve. At this point, all I had to do was to unwind the steering, push the throttle hard, and hold on for dear life as the turbochargers wind up. Many times, I had to remind myself I’m in an SUV and not in an 8-Series. The new BMW X6 serves up tons of grip and feels light on its feet despite weighing 2.5 tons, but you need to have a firm hand and quick reflexes to catch the back of the X6 on a steep and winding curve. If anything, the AWD system makes the vehicle feel more exciting and safer to drive.
Equipped with a double-wishbone front and five-link rear suspension with standard dynamic damper control, the ride is firm yet unobtrusive. It manages to float over road bumps like in an SUV, but there’s always a hint of sportiness (read: firmness) in the overall setup. Thankfully, BMW’s excellent two-axle air suspension with automatic self-leveling is an option if you can’t stand some ruffled tail feathers in your X6. If you’re really pining for a sporty driving experience, the optional Dynamic Handling Package comes complete with active roll stabilization and active steering to significantly improve handling and stability around corners. My tester came with all that, and it works when you need it most. Body lean is not as pronounced when entering a corner, giving you the confidence to wind it up more aggressively without fear of losing control – unless you’re really breaching the limits of adhesion.
In a nutshell, the 2020 BMW X6 is one heck of a driving machine. If you’re onboard with the styling, it’s a more eye-catching X5 with some proper attitude for show.
Dislikes? While light and easy to turn when parking or making a three-point turn, the steering is not as responsive for my driving preference, most especially behind the wheel of the V8-powered X6 M50i. The tiller seems unprecise and lumpy, disconnected, and quite frankly a bit numb when driving aggressively. This might have something to the vehicle’s optional 22-inch wheels, but I’m not trying to compare the X6 with an M8 in terms of driving feel. Also, I wish the dashboard felt less cluttered with its bevy of buttons and switches. I find this ironic given the infotainment and vehicle systems can be accessed through gesture controls, voice commands, or by pressing some buttons on the steering wheel.
However, the X6 is still an SUV – or as BMW calls it, an SAV or sports-activity vehicle – so we need to talk about the interior and cargo room. That sloping roofline is not helping the cause, but you still get 27.4 cubic feet of storage space with the rear seats in the upright position. Folding the rear seats down gives you around 60 cubic feet of space, which is not bad given the sporting shape of the X6, although it fails in comparison to the X5 with around 34 cubic feet with seats up and 74 cubic feet with the rear seats down.
Considering the X5 has a lower base price than the X6, it seems you’re giving up more than practicality and rear headroom in choosing the X6. But, as I said before, that’s not the point.
Say what you want about the 2020 BMW X6. Once you get to drive it – most especially the M50i – all pretensions are laid to rest. Sure, a large part of the sporty driving feel has something to do with the steeply raked windshield and curving roofline, and you’ll need X-ray vision to see out the back with its ridiculously small rear window. But, after getting a whiff of the premium leather-lined interior and hearing the burbling exhaust note in the X6, stepping hard on the gas pedal becomes second nature.