First Drive

2020 BMW X6 First Drive | From outcast to trailblazer

The original crossover 'coupe' started a trend. The new model defends its territory

2020 BMW X6 M50i
2020 BMW X6 M50i / Image Credit: Tony Markovich
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BMW offers up tons of performance and styling with the various trims of X6, but it lacks in utility when compared to the largely similar X5. The crossover coupe is the vogue choice, not the practical one.

  • Trim
  • Engine
    4.4L Turbo V8
  • Power
    523 HP / 553 LB-FT
  • Transmission
    8-Speed Auto
  • 0-60 Time
    4.1 Seconds
  • Drivetrain
  • Curb Weight
    5,115 LBS
  • Seating
  • Cargo
    27.4 / 59.6 Cu-Ft
  • MPG
    18 MPG Comb.
  • Base Price
  • As Tested Price

Since the BMW X6 was launched, naysayers have denounced the genre-bending design as impractical and even pointless. Dubbed a “Sports Activity Coupe,” the X6 threw out the checklist of what makes a good utility vehicle and instead aimed to provide a sportier appearance, personality and overall experience. Now, more than a decade later, BMW has proven to be more trailblazer than outcast, as multiple competing (and non-competing) brands have launched their own versions of what are now known as “crossover coupes.” As an all-new, third-generation model, the 2020 BMW X6 doubles down on its core philosophies and improves in nearly every way.

Although bookended by the six-cylinder 40i models below and X6 M model above, we had access to the X6 M50i powered by a twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8 that makes 523 horsepower and 553 pound-feet of torque. That's a massive improvement of 78 horsepower and 73 lb-ft of torque from the previous V8-powered X6. With a curb weight of 5,115 pounds, the new M50i is significantly heavier than the 4,784-pound, six-cylinder xDrive40i, but its quick-twitch demeanor off the line, taut suspension, and light steering hide that fact. The twin-turbo V8 cranks out gobs of power readily available across the rev range, thanks to a consistently decisive and accurate eight-speed transmission standard on every X6.

Throttle tip-in is early, steady and even, and a full stab will snuggle the driver into the seatback. BMW’s official 0-to-60-mph claim is 4.1 seconds. With “manual” mode activated, sturdy paddle shifters call upon calm, quick shifts. An aggressive but contained soundtrack alerts passengers and passersby of something feisty under the hood and exudes the X6's intended impression.

The steering characteristics, unfortunately, do not match the thrilling powertrain or the emotional design. While light and easy to maneuver, there’s a bit of a dead spot on center, and turn-in is a little lazy. A tinge of road vibration comes through the wheel, possibly due to the 22-inch wheels, but the overall feel is numb and disconnected. Pick up the speed, and the steering’s indecisive nature becomes more apparent. The anonymous and inconsistent progression can leave you second-guessing or correcting during the middle of a turn.

It’s a shame because the chassis handles itself with aplomb. Equipped with the Adaptive M Suspension Pro, Integral Active Steering, and Active Roll Stabilization, the X6 M50i feels completely at home putzing around unkempt roads, stretching out on highway runs, or under duress on a track. The ride is relaxed but firm, comfortable but not plush. Bumps serve as suspension fodder, and body motion is minimized to levels unexpected from a hefty crossover. Pushed around corners or halted by the strong M Sport brakes, the X6 gives up a bit of roll but stays impressively flat.

Compared to the outgoing model, the new X6 is an inch longer, 0.7 inch shorter, 0.6 inch wider, and rides on a 1.6-inch longer wheelbase. Despite these changes, interior space is basically the same apart from a welcome uptick in headroom – always an issue with the low-slung X6 – with an extra 0.3 up front and 0.5 in back. Cargo volume behind the back seat grows to 27.4 cubic-feet from 26.6, while maximum space basically remains the same 59.6.

Those figures are roughly comparable to compact SUVs, rather than midsize ones like the mechanically related BMW X5 that continues to dwarf its sibling. It has 3.2 more inches of rear headroom, 1.7 more inches of legroom, and a whopping 12.7 cubic-feet of extra cargo space. Even if, at 6-foot-1, I had sufficient room in the X6's back seat with the front set for myself, it's nevertheless a bit claustrophobic back there due to the high beltline and low roof. You don't have that problem in the X5, or really, any number of compact-to-midsize luxury crossovers with more conventional SUV body styles. There's also the Audi Q8, which is larger and less rakish, with more passenger and cargo room as a result.

The view out isn't much better up front, as that high beltline gives the feeling of sitting in a hot tub and trying to look out over the edges. That part of the coupe experience is spot on. Although the hood slopes down for a good view of the road ahead, the slim window opening along the X6's sides and rear turn parallel parking, lane changes, and reverse driveway zips into stressful tasks. Driver and safety aids help, including the optional surround-view camera upgrade that's basically a necessity.   

The interior is properly luxurious, with premium soft-touch materials covering most surfaces, excellent fit and finish, and quality metal accents. The X6 carries a traditional but modern BMW dashboard layout, with a top-mounted infotainment display, two central horizontally stacked rows of buttons for climate and radio controls (presets live on!), and a panel of buttons surrounding the gear shift and the rotary iDrive controller.

The user experience is straight-forward, but the cabin feels a bit cluttered due to the busy dashboard paneling pattern, and the amount and variety of buttons. Technically, the system can be controlled through voice commands, touchscreen, the control dial, gesture controls, or steering wheel controls. It's a lot, and although control redundancy is usually appreciated, the latest iDrive's learning curve is still high. There's also the matter of its continued bad behavior with Apple CarPlay, which BMW uniquely makes you pay for after an initial trial.  

In this spec, the X6 had three USB-C ports (two in the rear) and a single USB port in the center console. The changeover might be a bit premature for some customers, but it is an inevitable switch. Likely on purpose, a space for smartphones is tucked beneath the center stack, nearly out of view, but there’s not much space for any other organizational storage. The center console cubby offers volume, but people will be throwing things in the cupholders with this design. A driver’s side door grab handle also obscures window controls and makes for awkward arm resting.

As before, new BMW X6 is with two models/engines, plus the standalone X6 M model. The lineup’s baseline is the rear-wheel-drive sDrive40i, which starts at $65,295 including the $995 destination charge, and the traction-obsessed can pay an additional $2,300 for the all-wheel-drive xDrive40i. Both 40i models are equipped with a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six that makes 335 hp and 330 lb-ft of torque, up 35 hp and 30 lb-ft from the outgoing X6. The 600-horsepower X6 M is available for $109,595, and the 617-horsepower X6 M Competition starts at $118,595.

While the X5 offers a lesser xDrive50i version, the X6's lone V8 offering is the 523-hp M50i that starts at $86,645. That's only $3,500 than the X5 M50i, which is actually a pretty small premium to pay for a coupe-ified luxury vehicle – the difference in Porsche Cayenne body styles is nearly $10,000.

Our X5 M50i tester wore $3,350 black Merino leather, a $500 illuminated kidney grille, $1,000 adaptive LED headlights with Laserlight technology, and $1,900 22-inch M wheels. It also had a $1,250 Premium Package with remote start, head-up display, and gesture control; a $700 Parking Assistance Package with parking assistant plus, active park distance control, and surround view camera; and a $1,700 Drivers Assistance Pro Package with extended traffic jam assistance and active driving assistant pro. The most significant addition was the $2,600 Dynamic Handling Package, which adds integral active steering, adaptive M suspension pro, and active roll stabilization. All said, our test car listed at $99,645.

Although $100,000 for midsize SUV with less utility sounds like a serious ask, that’s the wrong way to look at the situation. A person desiring an X6 probably isn't too concerned with cargo space, especially since what's there is still fairly usable. Instead, a decade's worth of buyers have chosen an X6 with emotion firmly at the reigns. Its shape, positive or negative, instantly creates an impression. Because even though it’s been around for a decade, it’s still an abnormal vehicle that is just now starting to become mainstream. It carries a different air about itself that transfers to its driver, and the booming V8 puts that confidence on display. It is undeniably cooler than the X5, and that’s been the purpose from the start.

BMW X6 Information

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