BMW builds on the strong base it created more than a decade ago.
These days, BMW leaves no niche unconquered. Thank the X6 – credited as the world's first “crossover coupe” – for helping create a whole class of oddly styled, confusingly proportioned vehicles that consumers love at the moment. The once tiny segment, then occupied by merely a few, is now overflowing with man good options.
The 2020 BMW X6 is a new take on the original. The crossover gets brand-new bones, based on the more-traditional X5, as well as some of the best powertrain options BMW has to offer. The third-generation X6 is the apex of more than 12 years of experience in the segment. But buyer beware; all that expertise comes at a cost.
My, What A Face
The BMW X6 is not suitable for all tastes. The single-piece dual kidney grilles are daunting (and probably a bit too big), the LED headlights extend well out over the front fenders (killing any sort of cohesive flow), and the black mesh of the lower vents and grille occupies a ton of real estate around the lower front fascia. The design is extremely busy, even by BMW standards.
But photos don't do the X6’s mug justice – this is a much more attractive vehicle in person. Something about the overstyled angles and massive dual kidneys make it look concept car-like head-on, especially with the fantastic illuminated grille option ($500). Our M50i tester looks good with the matte grille surround and matching trim pieces, which fit with the excellent Manhattan Green paint job.
Just don't go sniffing around too much out back. The BMW X6 looks frumpy from certain rearward angles. The over-the-top elements that work so well up front don't translate to the coupe-styled rear. Though this current X6 bears an obvious resemblance to the generation before it, the wider taillights that extend too far in on the trunk lid, non-functional vents, and faux exhaust housings (which hide four otherwise ugly exhaust tips) don't do anything to up the styling. If anything, the outgoing model looked much cleaner from the rear.
Those versed in the current crop of BMW products should immediately be familiar with elements of the X6's cabin. The same 12.3-inch central touchscreen and coordinating 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster (part of iDrive 7.0) from the X5, X7, and others carry over. There's little that differentiates the X6 from its siblings.
But the X6's obvious hand-me-downs aren't a bad thing. The cabin is well-finished, highlighted by a clean layout, high-quality materials, and the cushy full Merino Leather package ($3,350). Vernasca Leather comes standard, even on the base model. And even with the dramatically raked roofline, there's enough space in the rear for two average-size adults. Though, when comparing apples-to-apples, the Porsche Cayenne Coupe's lower-mounted seats and oversized glass feels like the more comfortable option of the two.
Those versed in the current crop of BMW products should immediately be familiar with elements of the X6's cabin.
The rear window of the X6 is especially raked, making it both difficult to see out of from the driver's seat, and more claustrophobic from the backseat. And of course, trunk space takes a hit over the non-coupe X5; the X6 offers just 20 cubic feet behind the second row versus the X5's 33.9 cubic feet.
At least the tech is mostly flawless. Touch inputs on the 12.3-inch screen react quickly, as they would on a smartphone. The iDrive rotary controller remains one of the simplest ways to scroll through different features. And though we find the baked-in navigation somewhat system busy, free wireless CarPlay for one year (before the annual subscription service kicks in) means easy access to Apple and Google Maps.
Power Over Everything
The star of the show – as it is in other BMW products – is the twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8. Standard on the M50i, the engine pumps out a pretty serious 523 horsepower and 553 pound-feet of torque. Paired to a quick-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission, the X6 M50i sprints to 60 miles per hour in just 4.1 seconds. Poke the accelerator pedal and the twin-turbo delivers gobs of torque, propelling the X6 off the line with urgency akin to that of a four-door sports car. The X6's abilities in a straight line are genuinely impressive.
As with most M-badged BMWs, the X6 is pretty good through the twisties, too, although BMW’s description of this big thing as “agile” and “versatile” may be a bit overzealous. The X6 is thwarted by its 5,115-pound curb weight. Instead, the big BMW is agile enough and versatile-ish. Adding the optional Dynamic Handling package ($2,600), which includes dynamic steering, an adaptive M suspension, and body roll mitigation, helps. The big BMW welcomes the curvaceous, cracked pavement of Greeneville County, South Carolina, where we have our test with genuine enthusiasm.
The X6 is thwarted by its 5,115-pound curb weight.
The X6 responds agreeably in the first tight turn. Its ability to transfer power smoothly between all four wheels is welcomed, and its rear-drive bias (especially on the tight stuff) and limited slip rear differential help mitigate some of the size issues we mentioned through these roads. There’s definitely body roll – it’s pretty much impossible to avoid given the X6’s size – but otherwise cornering is flat and quick for its size, and the steering feels well-weighted and communicative. The super-wide tires are noisy, but at least they’re super sticky, too, allowing us to push the X6 to previously unimaginable limits.
Even without manually shifting the steering wheel-mounted paddles, the ZF eight-speed automatic swaps cogs quickly and efficiently, more so in Sport mode where it’s more willing to hang revs. The singe-piston, fixed-caliper brakes are great, too, giving the X6 ample stopping power. Just beware of over-grabbiness.
Less For More
The BMW X6 does exactly what it’s designed to do: be the sporty alternative to the X5 with which it shares its base. And it does a good job of it. The raked roofline and unique design elements offer more to look at, for better or worse. Improvements in handling and power help up the appeal, as well. And though it requires sacrifice in some areas, most notably interior and trunk space, it’s a relatively small price to pay for a crossover that’s otherwise really good all around.
Speaking of price. The base 2020 X6 sDrive40i starts at $64,300 in the U.S. That’s a $5,400 premium over an entry-level X5 . But the starting point for the M50i model is much steeper: it costs $85,650 before options (a $3,500 premium over the X5 50i). After tacking on things like the Dynamic Handling package ($2,600), Driver Assistance Pro ($1,700), the Premium package ($1,250), and a few other necessary options, our tester topped out at $99,645. That’s a helluva price to pay for what essentially equates to an X5 with less space.