by Jared Rosenholtz
BMW made an interesting discovery back in 2009. Its customers wanted the styling of a two-door coupe but weren't willing to sacrifice the practicality of an SUV. Thus, the X6 was born, creating a segment that has spawned many copycats. Now in its third generation, the 2020 BMW X6 M is joined by its more conventional X5 M counterpart, both of which are available with more powerful Competition variants.
BMW invited us out to Phoenix, Arizona to drive both of its new high-powered SUVs and although the two feel nearly identical from behind the wheel, there are still many reasons why a buyer might prefer the X6 M over its more practical sibling.
I've never been interested in the fashion-forward SUV-coupe trend. The more conventional SUV styling of the X5 has always appealed more and the X6 didn't seem worth the additional cost and loss in cargo capacity. But clearly, BMW buyers don't all agree. Customers are attracted to the X6 M's rakish roofline and coupe-like rear end as impractical as it may be. The X6 M makes a fashion statement that the X5 M simply can't.
BMW targeted my weakness for flashy colors by supplying an X6 M in a wonderful new shade of purple called Ametrin Metallic. The gambit certainly worked, causing me to loosen up my opposition to the X6 M's existence, though it is worth noting this color is also available on the X5 M.
You can tell an X6 M apart from a standard X6 via M-specific kidney grilles, flared wheel arches, and rear diffuser with quad exhaust tips. 21-inch wheels come standard but Competition models get staggered wheels with 22-inchers in the back. You can also spot an X6 Competition via its roof and lower tailgate spoiler.
There are no mechanical differences between the X5 M and the X6 M under the hood, although the latter does weigh around 50 pounds less. A 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 produces 600 horsepower and 553 lb-ft while the Competition model bumps the first figure up to 617 hp. Power is routed to a rear-biased xDrive all-wheel-drive system with an Active M differential through an eight-speed M Steptronic transmission. This yields a 0-60 mph time of just 3.8 seconds in the standard X6 M and 3.7 seconds in the Competition model. Both models top out at 155 mph or 177 mph if you get the M Driver's Package.
As a sacrifice for this blistering performance, the X6 M makes you pay at the pump. Both versions receive terrible EPA ratings of 13/18/15 mpg city/highway/combined.
Unless you just hopped out of an X5 M, you may not notice that the X6 M is any different. Most of the layout including the iDrive infotainment, M-specific shifter and steering wheel, carbon-fiber trim, and M multifunction seats are exactly the same. The subtle differences can be noticed when you are on the move and attempt to make your first turn into traffic. Thanks to the X6 M's rakish roofline, the A-pillars are less upright, making you feel as though you are driving a two-door coupe. This difference is quantified in the headroom, which is 1.4 inches less than in the X5 M. If you prefer to feel like you are driving a car instead of an SUV, the X6 M may be for you. Those with claustrophobia may feel differently.
Visibility out of the back is also noticeably worse than in the X5 M, while the X6 M uses different door cards with large handles that block the window switches that some drivers may find annoying.
Since the X6 M is purchased mainly by people who might otherwise buy a two-door vehicle, its limited cargo capacity may not be a major issue. The trunk offers 27.4 cubic feet of space with additional storage under the floor since there is no spare tire. Folding the rear seats down opens the carrying space up to 59.6 cubic feet, which pales in comparison to the X5 M's 72.3 cubic foot cargo hold. The X6 M will be flummoxed by taller items, though the vehicle still boasts larger measurements than the smaller BMW X3. Practicality is limited over the X5 M but it far from non-existent.
Even BMW admits the X6 M doesn't drive differently than the X5 M, so everything we liked and didn't like about that car rings true for this one as well. BMW's Adaptive M suspension Professional with Active Roll Stabilization is impressive when you toss the nearly 5,400-pound SUV through a corner. Body roll is minimal but it is impossible to ignore the sheer size of it through tighter bends. On perfect road surfaces, the X6 M rides beautifully but over torn up pavement, the suspension tends to feel jittery.
Driver involvement is lacking, as you might expect from a large SUV. Steering is heavy and responsive but there is no feedback delivered to your fingertips. Ditto with the new brake-by-wire system, which was a bit tricky to get used to during our brief time with the X6 M. As with most M cars, BMW offers an endless array of customizable modes, which change the character of the drive depending on the occasion.
Pricing for the 2020 BMW X6 M starts at $108,600 (plus a $995 destination fee), meaning it is exactly $3,500 more than the X5 M. Ponying up for the X6 M Competiton will cost you $117,600, adding 17 additional hp, an M Sports Exhaust, staggered wheels, M stripe seatbelts, and extended leather. At this price level, you may as well go all out with the Competition model.
This third-generation of the BMW X6 has certainly won us over more than the two previous models. This is the most attractive X6 model yet and we wouldn't criticize anyone for buying it over an X5 if they enjoy the styling and don't need the cargo space. But we still take some issue with the X6 M. Having recently driven the X6 M50i, an SUV with 523 hp, the X6 M seems a bit silly.
The M50i is more comfortable over bumpy roads and with a starting price of $85,650, it costs much less than the X6 M. For the price difference between the two, you could probably go buy a decent E46 M3 to drive on the weekends. We think the M50i is the sweet spot of the X6 lineup but if you live for weekend drag races against Porsche Cayenne Turbo and Mercedes GLE 63 Coupes, go ahead and get the X6 M.