The X6 still has questionable styling, but there's a lot to like about BMW's all-new SUV coupe.
Style and practicality don't always go hand-in-hand. An expensive pair of shoes can ruin your feet but who cares so long as you look great wearing them, right? This must have been BMW's mindset when it created the original X6 over a decade ago. Creating a vehicle with the practicality of an SUV (SAV in BMW speak) and the style of a two-door coupe was never going to be easy. And the result was a model that was uglier, more expensive and with less room in the back than the X5.
Nevertheless, BMW found plenty of people who favor design and style over practicality with the successful X6 now entering its third generation for the 2020 model year. This all-new X6 arrives with new drivetrains, an improved interior, and for the first time ever, styling that we don't completely hate. We had a chance to drive the 2020 X6 M50i variant in South Carolina where we finally warmed to the idea of an SUV coupe.
Whether you love it or hate it, the X6's highly distinctive shape makes it instantly recognizable. Audi and Porsche undoubtedly did better jobs making the Q8 and Cayenne Coupe look like normal SUVs, but we prefer the new X6's styling over the latest Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe. BMW says the new X6 is an inch longer overall, has a 1.6-inch extended wheelbase, and is 0.6 inches wider. The height has also been reduced by 0.7 inches, giving the X6 a more coupe-like appearance.
Upfront, trapezoidal adaptive full LED headlights shine like diamonds in the night while an all-new illuminated grille option brings even greater flare. 20-inch wheels come standard while 21s and 22s are also available. The two six-cylinder models are offered with either xLine or M Sport appearance packs while the sportiest M50i comes with a darker high-gloss black Shadowline finish and a Cerium Grey finish on the kidney grille, exterior mirror caps, model badges, and exhaust tailpipes.
The 2020 X6 is offered with three engine options (not counting the upcoming X6 M model). The lowest six-cylinder trim X6 is offered with either rear-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive while the V8 is AWD only. BMW product manager John Kelly explained to CarBuzz that there are "certain parts of the US where AWD isn't as necessary. So if you can offer the same product at a lower price tag, it certainly helps."
The sDrive40i and xDrive40i are each offered with BMW's excellent B58 turbocharged inline-six engine rated at 335 horsepower and 330 lb-ft of torque and paired to a ZF eight-speed automatic. BMW says the RWD sDrive model can hit 60 mph in 5.2 seconds while the AWD xDrive model is slightly slower at 5.3 seconds. Both can do 130 mph on all-season tires or 155 mph with the performance tires. Fuel economy is rated at 21/26/23 mpg city/highway/combined with RWD or 20/26/22 with AWD.
We had a chance to sample the far more potent M50i variant, which trades the straight-six for a 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 pushing out 523 hp and 553 lb-ft of torque - the same drivetrain used in the M850i variant of the 8 Series. With nuclear bomb levels of power under the hood, the M50i sprints to 60 mph in just 4.1 seconds, shoving you into the leather chairs in the process. Having this much power in such a large SUV is intoxicating and the bark from the exhaust reaches M car levels of noise. There is a price to pay for all of this power at the pumps, however, because the M50i is rated at just 16/22/18 mpg city/highway/combined.
Sitting in an X6 feels much the same as sitting in an X5 or the larger X7, but with some concessions. All of our favorite cabin design elements like the Swaroski crystal controls and panoramic Sky Lounge moonroof can be found here, but much like the X5 and X7, they are optional extras.
Unlike the X5 or X7, however, the X6 feels slightly claustrophobic. The A-pillar is more heavily raked, giving the impression you are driving a two-door sports car instead of an SUV. Rear seat headroom is also compromised due to the sloping roofline and the whole cabin feels less spacious as a result. Then there's the rearward visibility, which is severely hampered due to the diminutive coupe-like rear window. If you like the feeling of being in a small car, you may enjoy the X6. But we found the relatively cramped cabin coupled with the SUV ride height to feel abnormal.
The X6's sloped roofline doesn't just cut into passenger headroom, it also results in less storage space in the cargo area. BMW says the X6 offers 27.4 cubic feet of storage, which opens up to 59.6 cubic feet with the 40:20:40 folding seats in the down position. This might be enough for the empty nesters who don't have to worry about hauling their kid's stuff everywhere, but for parents who need more storage, the X5 is the more practical option. By comparison, the X5 offers 33.9 cubic feet of storage, which opens to 72.3 cubic feet with the seats folded down. The X5 also costs less than the X6, meaning you are paying more for less here.
The X6 doesn't disappoint when the road gets twisty. It drives much like an X5, meaning it feels soft and composed while also offering sporty dynamism when you ask for it. This M50i drivetrain transforms the car from a competent cruiser to a backroad barnstormer, with performance worthy of an M badge. ZF's eight-speed continues to be the best automatic transmission in the business, offering smooth shifts at all times and rapid response when you mash the throttle. The X6 M50i comes with an M Sport exhaust system, resulting in a louder more aggressive bark from the pipes when the car is in Sport Mode.
The M50i doesn't offer nearly as much customizability as a full-on M car but switching between the modes does change the X6's personality from civil luxury to aggressive performance. Our tester was equipped with the Dynamic Handling Package for $2,600, which includes Integral Active Steering, Adaptive M Suspension Pro, and Active Roll Stabilization. BMW says the package helps the X6 remain a comfortable cruiser while reducing body lean through the corners and in our experience, it really works.
The roads surrounding BMW's Spartanburg, South Carolina plant were pretty smooth but the X6 still felt compliant even over rough bumps. The M50i is slightly stiffer than its non-M Performance counterparts but we would never call it uncomfortable. If you prefer a cushier ride, the X6 is also available with an optional two-axle air suspension with automatic self-leveling.
We say the M50i is worth the upgrade if you fancy a healthy dose of performance. The electronically controlled rear M Sport differential helps transfer between the left and right rear wheels, getting the X6 out of corners faster and without fuss. Even the steering feels pretty precise for a vehicle of this size, meaning the X6 feels far more engaging to drive than its counterparts from Audi and Mercedes. It lacks feedback from the wheel, as you'd expect from an SUV of this size, but it responds well to driver inputs and the drivetrain feels perfectly calibrated for cruising or when you decide to push it hard.
BMW charges a premium for the X6, meaning it's more expensive than an X5 despite being less practical. The sDrive40i model starts at $64,300 (plus a $995 destination charge) while the AWD xDrive40i model costs $66,600. The M50i model we drove rockets the price up to $85,650. When asked why a less expensive xDrive50i V8 model isn't also available, Kelly told us the X6 is a "smaller volume model, so we don't need as many models to satisfy customers."
To put these prices into perspective, the equivalent versions of the X5 start at $58,900, $61,200, and $82,150.
Our tester was equipped with a few options like the Dynamic Handling Package, Drivers Assistant Pro Package, Parking Assist Package, and Premium Package, 22-inch M wheels, Adaptive LED lights, and illuminated kidney grille, bringing the as-tested price up to $99,645. We would also recommend opting for the massaging/ventilated seats and glass controls to make the interior feel more special, but these would easily push the price into the six-figure mark. As-tested, the X6 felt luxurious inside but lacked one or two key features to make it feel like a $100,000 motor.
After driving the 2020 X6, we haven't quite come all the way around on SUV Coupes. This new X6 is better than ever but the more practical (and still great looking) X5 is where our money would go. The X6 will attract more attention than an X5 in traffic, so is the better statement car. Just keep in mind, that statement comes with hampered interior volume and rear visibility as a trade-off.
As for the M50i drivetrain, we didn't think the X5, X6, or X7 could need any more power than the xDrive50i trim already provided - until we drove it. The bump from 456 hp to 523 is instantly apparent and the engine is intoxicating. In many ways, we prefer the M50i drivetrain to BMW's full-on M models because it provides a more approachable and comfortable entry into the realm of high-performance. Since a large majority of these SUVs will never go near a race track, we believe the M50i drivetrain offers a near-perfect blend of on-road comfortable and sensational speed - we would just prefer to have it in an X5.