The verdict: The 2020 BMW X6 M50i doesn’t make a lot of sense, but its superb powertrain and technology make it enjoyable anyway.
Versus the competition: The X6 M50i doesn’t have trouble keeping up with its competitors, but some of them offer better handling, like the Porsche Cayenne.
The BMW X6 has always puzzled me, as have the rest of its even-numbered BMW SUV brethren. My tongue-in-cheek reasoning for their existence is that BMW wanted to make sure it covered all the numbers; that’s why we get an X2, X4 and X6, which are all oddly shaped mutations of the original X1, X3 and X5 SUV triumvirate. But these days it seems the more SUVs a company can put out, the better — “if you build it, they will come” and all that.
For 2020, the X6 gets a full redesign that feels familiar. That’s because its updates follow those of the 2019 X5, which was redesigned a year prior. These two SUVs have a lot in common, including the same powertrains, wheelbase and technology — just with different bodies on top. The X5 is a more traditional SUV, with high sides and big windows all around, while the X6 has more of a fastback, coupe-esque shape to it, with a roofline that peaks right above the steering wheel and quickly tapers back. The X6 competes against other powerful five-seat, coupe-shaped SUVs, like the Mercedes-AMG GLE 63, Jaguar F-Pace and Porsche Cayenne Coupe (and eventually the Audi SQ8, which is still to come).
There are three X6 variants: 40i, M50i and X6 M. The 40i comes with the smallest engine: a 335-horsepower, turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder that makes 330 pounds-feet of torque. It’s available with rear- or all-wheel drive. The M50i is a big jump up in power, with a 523-hp, turbocharged 4.4-liter V-8 that makes 553 pounds-feet of torque. The M50i also adds standard AWD. The X6 M is the most bonkers of the three, with a high-performance version of the M50i’s engine that bumps output up to 600 hp. All come with an eight-speed automatic transmission.
I tested the middle child, the M50i, though it’s closer in nature to the X6 M than the 40i (200 more hp leaves quite a gap between those two models). What I found was that it’s not necessary to understand the X6 to enjoy the hell out of it.
Giddy-Up: Speed and 0-60
The X6’s V-8, like much of the X6, isn’t new to me. I’ve tested the engine in the 8 Series M850i and X7 M50i, and I’ve tested its technology and safety features throughout the BMW lineup. In this instance, familiarity doesn’t breed contempt; it’s more like anticipation. The strength of its powertrain is what makes the X6 fun to drive.
There’s no reason a vehicle this big should move the way the X6 does. It zips forward with supreme indifference. You start off tentatively, but the easy way it accelerates at half throttle gives you cause to bury your foot into the gas pedal — and then it hurls forward like a meteor. Here one second, gone the next: 60 mph comes in an estimated 4.1 seconds, which is very impressive for a 5,115-pound vehicle.
The X6 isn’t quite as at home on a winding road, especially under braking. Trying to get the vehicle to slow down quickly to prepare for a corner results in a lot of nosedive. Though it feels stable when you stand on the brake pedal, I could also feel the back end of the X6 get a little light. My test vehicle came with the Dynamic Handling Package ($2,600), which added active roll stabilization, an adaptive M suspension and active steering. Yet even with all that electronic wizardry working underneath it, the X6 doesn’t feel agile. It will do the dance steps you ask of it, for the most part, but without great enthusiasm and with plenty of body roll. The throttle response indicates a good deal of athleticism, but curves expose the X6’s SUV soul. I also wished for some more feedback from the steering, as I do from most BMWs these days.
Ride quality is good — especially in the more comfortable driving modes — despite the large (and optional) 22-inch wheels on the SUV I drove. It turns the X6 into a rather good touring vehicle, minus its fuel economy. The X6’s EPA estimates are 21/26/23 mpg city/highway/combined for the RWD 40i and 20/26/22 mpg with AWD. The M50i is even worse, at 16/22/18 mpg. While a long drive might be comfortable for driver and passenger alike, it’ll take a bunch of premium fuel to complete.
Interior and Technology
The interior has no surprises. It uses BMW’s latest iDrive control system, with a standard 12.3-inch touchscreen that can also be operated by a rotary controller to the right of the gear selector. I find the touchscreen to be an easier way to use the system, but it’s kind of far to reach without leaning forward a little. For simpler tasks I found myself using the knob, especially while driving, or the steering-wheel controls. Flipping through radio stations or changing audio sources can be done via another 12.3-inch screen (also standard) that replaces the traditional instrument panel, or through an optional head-up display.
Despite what the roofline may suggest, passenger room is decent in the backseat, and there are good sight lines. The sides don’t dip down that far, and the window gets larger as you move forward, so it feels less claustrophobic than I had feared. Legroom is ample for adult passengers; a couple of 6-foot adults fit back-to-back (driver and driver-side rear passenger) without issue.
That doesn’t mean visibility is great for the driver, though: The blind spots over each shoulder are manageable, but looking directly rearward is a problem thanks to that sharply slanted rear window. It’s not so bad on the road, but low-speed maneuvers in tight spaces are difficult because you won’t be able to see any short objects behind you. BMW’s 360-degree camera system, which is quite good, is almost a must on this vehicle. It’s included in the Parking Assistance Package ($700), and it’s an option box I’d check on any X6.
A Price That’s Gonna Cost You
Like other expensive luxury vehicles, there’s a huge price range for the X6. The 40i starts at $65,295 (including destination charges), while the M50i starts more than $20K higher, at $86,645. All that speed doesn’t come cheap. On top of that, my test vehicle added various option packages and those 22-inch alloy wheels, pushing the final price tag to $99,645.
The X6’s safety features include standard blind spot warning, forward automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, and front and rear parking sensors. Notably missing from that list are adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist and the 360-degree cameras I found so essential. Some of those optional features are standard on much more affordable cars, and others can be added on their own, not just by getting expensive option packages on higher trim levels (I’m thinking of our Hyundai Palisade in particular). I hope luxury makes start following that trend soon.
Why Not an X5?
This ends up being the biggest question about the X6, given it doesn’t seem to have any of the hidden sports car essence its shape might suggest. The X5’s M50i trim level starts $3,500 less, has more cargo room (33.9 cubic feet behind the rear seat vs. 27.4 cubic feet) and a roomier cabin. With equal feature sets and powertrains, it’s hard to give the X6 an edge in any quantitative sense.
That being said, personal preferences and styling have to be taken into account. One of my favorite things to say to folks looking at buying a car is, “buy what you like.” If your heart says to get the X6 because you like the way it looks, go for it. Maybe a traditional SUV isn’t what you want. There’s goofy fun in big vehicles that go fast, and the X6 M50i certainly fits that bill.
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