After more than a decade of existence, the X6 still elicits strong reactions.
People may not buy the BMW X6, nor any of its “coupe-over” siblings, in the same quantities as the the more traditional X5. But the ol’ two-box model can pass through a town center with nary a second glance. Not the case with the chopped-roof SUV: it demands attention, drawing nods of approval or grimaces in seemingly equal measure.
It’s impossible to tell how much of either comes from that rumbly V8 soundtrack, too. Yes, as a fresh new model for 2020, this third-generation X6 came to me in eight-cylinder M50i guise. It sits smack in the middle of the lineup, between the inline-six-powered models and the full-fat, utterly bonkers X6 M and M Competition. Is it the Goldilocks pick of the lineup, or is it too much of a compromise between both extremes? I spent a week with it to find out.
A sharper suit on a big frame
I’m not going to pretend I’ve been a fan of previous X6 generations. The first one was bulbous, cramped, and not even a particularly good drive. BMW was the first player in the segment, however, and has had more time than others to hone this particular recipe. The results, at least to my eyes, are a vastly better-looking rig than its predecessors. The grille avoids the cartoonish proportions of the X7, especially thanks to the pinched corners. The optional light-up feature, however, is a love-it-or-hate-it affair.
Those thin front lights, complete with the tell-tale blue tinge of BMW’s Laser headlights, are the right amount of aggressive. The flanks are smooth, with just one prominent swage line flowing out of the side air vent before kicking up ahead of the rear wheels.
The most successful angle is the rear three-quarter. Here you get a clearer view of the incredibly narrow taillights, the kicked-up tail complete with small lip spoiler, and that sloping roofline. There’s a lot of black plastic down in the lower half, but otherwise it’s a successful look, especially poised on the 22-inch split-spoke wheels here. The Carbon Black paint looks boring under overcast skies, but shine some light on it and a rich blue hue comes through. It all comes together to visually shrink the X6. Which is good, because once you walk up to it, you’re quickly reminded of how massive it is.
Stepping inside, the X6 interior is awash with high-quality materials. Fit and finish are both high, and while it doesn’t have the high-tech look of the Merc GLE nor the rectilinear solidarity of the Porsche Cayenne, there’s no arguing with its ergonomics. While I can’t say I’m a fan of the flashy light-up grille outside, I absolutely do dig the crystal shifter.
SEE ALSO: 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE Review
The front seats are well-bolstered without feeling restrictive. Here they’re both heated and ventilated, the latter of which proves key during the hot summer drive. My partner is pleased there’s a massaging function too, though her verdict is that it isn’t strong enough.
BMW is still on that bratwurst-thick steering wheel kick, too. It feels just as silly here as in other models.
Stylish roof requires little compromise
The biggest complaint many have with this style of SUV is that it sacrifices practicality—the oft-quoted reason for buying an SUV in the first place—for the sake of “style” (quotes very much intended). BMW has subtly massaged that plunging roofline for the third-gen X6, however, and it’s resulted in a second row that’s downright hospitable for those old enough to have a license. I was able to sit back there with zero issues, and the (optional) four-zone climate control kept it icy during a late-summer heat wave. Headroom might be an issue for those much over the six-foot mark, and the high beltline does make it a little claustrophobic, but adults should be able to spend long periods of time in the second row now.
Pop the trunk (powered, as standard) and you’ll find a vast, flat load floor. My better half and I took a weekend trip to wine country during my time with the X6. The Bavarian bruiser swallowed everything we threw at it, including more bottles of wine than we expected to buy. It never felt restricting: the lost storage space is almost all in the top half of the trunk. If you regularly pack your SUV to its gills, you’ll want to stick to the X5. Otherwise, the X6’s 27.4 cubic feet of room—or 59.6 with the second row folded—should serve you well.
Visibility is more of a concern. From the driver’s seat, the rear window is very tiny, and whole cars can disappear below that high tail. The chunky B-pillars are also a concern: pulling out of a driveway onto a curved road, they can obscure oncoming traffic entirely. Thankfully, every X6 comes standard with a suite of active safety assists, including pedestrian detection, automated emergency braking, lane departure warning, blind-spot detection, and rear cross-traffic alert.
Safety features are just a small, but important, part of the vast X6 tech lineup. My loaded tester comes with every bell and whistle BMW can throw at the SUV. Driving Assistant Professional, present here, is the company’s semi-autonomous highway driving system. It uses a combination of the adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assists to make short work of long drives. It (thankfully) still requires the driver to keep their hands on the wheel, too. To test it, I kept them off, and after five seconds the X6 started beeping at me. Go longer and the audio and visual warnings get more aggressive. The X6 will even stop itself, either by pulling over or right in the lane, if the driver doesn’t grab the wheel.
SEE ALSO: 2020 BMW X1 xDrive28i Review
A full 360-degree camera makes parking a breeze. Speaking of light winds, there’s even an Ambient Air package, with multiple scents for your preferred driving environment. A new feature making its way across the BMW lineup is the Drive Recorder. This records up to 40 seconds of footage, either as selected by the driver, or automatically in case of an accident. It’s not present on our early-production tester, but available on showroom models.
On the more aesthetic front is the Sky Lounge glass roof. This huge pane features 15,000 LEDs, providing a seriously cool night-time aesthetic.
For 2020 the X6 comes equipped with iDrive 7.0. The latest BMW system is one of the best in the biz, with responsive menus, crisp graphics, and more options than there are ponies from that V8. It features that new standard of luxury car infotainment, a voice assistant, though happily it isn’t quite as eager to respond to anything even resembling its activation line as the equivalent system in modern Mercs.
Oh yeah, and heated/cooled cup holders always earn bonus points from me. More of these please, automakers.
How does it drive?
You’re probably wondering why this section is saved for the end. It’s not that the X6 is a bad steer—it isn’t—but rather that how it drove never really defined its character.
First, the good news: it’s fast enough that the only reason you’d want the full-fat M is for bragging rights. The V8 flexes its muscles from barely off-idle, feeling every one of its 523 hp no matter what the tach or speedo read. The eight-speed auto cracks off shifts with authority when you’re pushing, but it’s just as happy slurring the ratios at more sedate speeds. From low revs up to the higher reaches of its range, the V8 sounds great, with a deep-chested rumble that is perfectly in step with the X6’s mean looks.
SEE ALSO: 2020 Porsche Cayenne GTS Coupe First Drive Review: Pick of the Litter
The steering is very heavy, though that doesn’t translate to any additional road feel. There are two driving modes, including a Sport mode, but even the softer option feels quite firm. On the big 22-inch wheels, the X6 crashes into potholes around the city. It’s a shock from such a large vehicle, especially as it’s pretty smooth in every other circumstance. The X6 settles into a comfortable gait on the highway, but peeling off for some windier roads, it holds it own. The massive tires—275s up front, 315s in back—find obscene levels of grip, and while you never completely forget about the X6’s 5,000-pound curb weight, it’s entertaining.
Verdict: 2020 BMW X6 M50i Review
How much the X6 appeals to you depends on how much you’re willing to spend over the equivalent X5 for that sloping roofline. Style, as ever, costs extra: as built our tester sits right around $100,000 US, ($112,500 CAD, as tested).
The M50i in particular is a tougher question. It’s barely slower than the X6 M in a straight line, but the move up from the inline-six is $20k.
On the other hand, it’s a huge performance bargain over something like the Porsche Cayenne Coupe GTS, packing 70-odd more horsepower. The Porsche has the edge on the dynamic front, but are you really worried about the nth degree of handling finesse in 5,000-pound SUVs?
Not that any of that matters: the X6 is a heart-over-head purchase, like all of the “coupe-overs”. Those that favor style over utility, enjoy a bevy of high-tech wonder, and want a heavy turn of speed with it, should look to the M50i version of the niche’s originator. Best of all, it even looks pretty good now.
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