The subject of our test drive is a 2020 BMW X6 M50i, the top non-M model of the new range.
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While not as popular as its X family, the BMW X6 holds a special place in the Bavarian lineup. Trying to understand BMW’s logic behind the plan to create a Sports Activity Coupe is quite easy, if you only look at the marketing and financial aspects. But if you look at the car from a different angle, you might see another story.
The History Of The BMW X6
The large and luxurious crossover was released for sale in April 2008. It surprised the industry since it created a new niche. It was revolutionary in a way for an SUV-like vehicle and paved the road not only for another BMW premium crossover, but also for competitors.
The X6 was marketed as a Sports Activity Coupé (SAC) by BMW, combining the usual features of a Sports Utility Vehicle (size, ground clearance, large wheels and lots of space on the inside) together with the design cues before seen only on coupes – a perfect mix of things.
First and foremost, the X6 gave the customer base a vehicle that can be used as both a performance vehicle with some off road capabilities, as a fashion statement, a luxury status symbol and a comfortable long trip vehicle as well.
BMW sold 26,580 X6 cars during the first year alone. Now in its third generation, the BMW X6 is proud to have found a home in nearly 450,000 garages.
Just like the previous models, the new G06 X6 platform is controversial. Simply put, people either love it or hate it. And its design is one of the most subjective ones in the BMW lineup, and not only.
The Exterior Design – Subjective As Always
So let’s start with that. In many conversations I’ve had off the record with car designers, the topic of proportions and design constraints came forward. Basically, I was told that when designing an X6-like vehicle, there is only so much room for creativity.
The crossover has some exact requirements to fulfill with very little room to go off-the-books. Hence why other cars in the segment take a similar design approach.
Yet, with every new generation BMW X6, the design has gotten cleaner and more streamlined, as well as sleeker and more pleasant to the eye. At the front, the new X6 successfully differentiates itself from the X5 with more angular kidneys and simply enormous lower front intakes in ‘M50i’ spec.
The profile of the new X6 is certainly better looking than before and with a decent interpretation of the iconic Hoffmeister Kink, a pet peeve of ours with recent BMW models. Despite the sleek roofline, the new BMW X6 manages to offer more headroom inside, thanks to some simple engineering tricks – like the slightly angled rear bench.
In the back, the G06 X6 retains the tall boot and the large trunk opening, while adding some very wide and narrow taillights. Those wide taillights fulfill another role as well – they visually enhance the width of the rear-end for that powerful stance on the road.
The only thing I’m not sold on in the rear are the non-functional vertical air vents which are just a gimmick.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve personally tried to defend the new BMW designs by encouraging people to see the cars in person. With many auto shows going away, it’s often not easy for potential customers to have a first-hand experience with the cars. But in the case of the new X6, seeing in person, it certainly makes a positive difference.
In dark colors, the multiple design lines are less in your face and bring together a cohesive design with a good amount of visual aggressiveness. Its increased dimension is also more obvious. The new BMW X6 is bigger than the car it replaces in every single way, save for height. It’s 26 mm longer, 15 mm wider and has a 42 mm longer wheelbase but is 6 mm lower and has a lower center of gravity.
Yet again, it’s unlikely that the design of the new BMW X6 will please everyone.
Interior Design – A Welcome Upgrade
A lot less controversial is the interior design. The new X6 builds upon the beautiful and luxurious cabin of the X5, with small touches, like the cocoon feel around the driver and the reshaped door handles. Other than that, this is an X5 transplant, and that’s a good thing.
It’s a fantastic interior that prioritizes quality, comfort and ergonomics over flash and unnecessary LEDs. Just like the BMW X5, the X6 gets thermoelectric cupholders which are honestly brilliant. It also gets a Panoramic Glass Roof Sky Lounge – the largest ever on an X6 – which features 15,000 illuminated patterns in the glass at night. There’s also the same glass effect options, on the shift lever, starter button and even the volume knob, as the X5, X7 and 8 Series.
The BMW X6 was often criticized for its lack of rear headroom, so I spent some extra time in the rear. My height is 6″3 or somewhere around 1.90 meters, so a bit taller than average. While on the previous model I would often bang my head against the inner roof, in the new G06 X6 I measured about 2 inches (5 cm) of additional headroom.
Same goes for the legroom. I adjusted the driving position to my height then moved to the back seat to see the legroom. I was getting about 3-4 inches of space which is likely adequate for short to medium distances.
The 2020 BMW X6 is built on the company’s flexible CLAR architecture which means that every model gets some sort of a custom platform. So instead of taking the X5 platform, the new X6 starts fresh with its own requirements and dimension. Therefore, the engineers had more freedom to adapt the X6 to the segment’s requirements which call for a dynamic sporty ride from a tall driving position.
The BMW X6 can be had with an optional adaptive two-axle air suspension setup. The height of the air suspension can be adjusted inside the car, with the flick of a toggle switch, or it will adjust based on drive settings. That air suspension is a standalone option but also can comes with the Offroad package. With said package, the air-ride gets four new suspension modes; snow, sand, gravel and rock.
It can also be equipped with the Adaptive M Suspension or the Adaptive M Suspension Professional with active roll stabilization and Integral Active Steering.
Nothing new here when compared to the X5, other than the software has been tuned to the driving characteristics of the new X6. The 2020 BMW X6 can also be fitted with an M differential lock at the rear axle, but you’ll have to select the M Sport or the off-road package.
This lengthy and technical intro brings me to the driving experience which is likely the more interesting bit. The subject of my test drive is a 2020 BMW X6 M50i, the top non-M model of the new range. The X6 M50i gets a 4.4 liter twin-turbocharged V8 that makes 530 hp and 553 lb-ft of torque. It’s the fastest of the bunch to 60 mph, doing it in 4.3 seconds, but also the thirstiest, netting 10.7 – 10.4 l/100 km.
Being the most expensive model, the 2020 BMW X6 M50i gets an M Sport Exhaust as standard kit. Also, M Performance models come with the electronically-controlled limited-slip rear differential as-standard.
While most of the “X” drives have been held in the US in the last few years, this one goes back to Bavaria and onto some of the curvy and scenic roads around Munich. The plan was to first take on the new X6 to some Autobahn speeds before jumping into some tight corners to see what’s capable of.
In a “normal” driving scenario, it’s hard to differentiate the X6 from its sibling – the X5. The driving characteristics are similar, the engine tuning and the ZF 8-speed transmission are the same as well. I varied my driving style from Comfort to Sport just to get a better feel of the car and the wide range of driving options.
Since I was riding on the Adaptive M Suspension Professional with active roll stabilization and Integral Active Steering, the ride could easily be adjusted to my liking. In Comfort, the suspension is less bouncy than in Sport – as expected – but it comes at the expense of additional body roll. It is though the perfect setup for city driving or road trips where you can also take full advantage of the car’s advanced driving assistance systems.
The V8 powerplant is so refined that’s hard to believe that it can be further improved in the future. It pulls from low rpms and is smooth with its power delivery. The sound lacks though and that’s mostly due to the particulate filter required in Europe. In the US, the 2020 BMW X6 M50i drops the OPF so the exhaust sound will be louder and more appealing.
Even though one could shift through the steering wheel paddles, you’re still better off letting the ZF gearbox do its thing since it does it so well and so precise.
The cabin is also well insulated and there is very little feedback from the outside which makes for a comfy and quiet ride.
But since some of us enjoy a bit of roughness in the driving style, switching to Sport or Sport Plus will help. Just like the X5 and other models powered by similar tech, the new BMW X6 sharpens up immediately, the exhaust flaps open up and the crossover becomes more aggressive.
Compared to the X5, the new BMW X6 is a bit more planted on the road, especially at high speeds and while cornering. That’s mostly because of the wider track and the lower center of gravity. It also tends to have less body roll than the X5, but it doesn’t manage to fully hide its size and weight. And this is a heavy car, make no mistake, with a curb weight of around 2,055 kg / 4,530 lbs.
The active roll stabilization certainly helps, especially if you enjoy a sporty driving style and you want your passengers to avoid motion sickness.
The Pirelli P Zero tires are quite sticky and offer some great grip. And that’s one thing you’d notice in corners – the new BMW X6 simply sticks to the ground while the rear-end lets out a bit to have some fun.
In normal driving, the 2020 BMW X6 M50i is neutral in its handling, but once you add a bit more lateral forces, it will understeer a bit. That’s mostly unavoidable in a car of this size and it’s easily manageable with smooth steering inputs.
With the Active Steering option, the wheel feels light in the city, but it firms up at higher speeds. It’s a function of the car though, since according to BMW, the “system has the additional effect of increasing straight-line driving comfort by actively countering the vibrations triggered by bumps on one side of the road.”
Non-enthusiasts are unlikely to find it any fault and might actually prefer the comfy, artificial feel, but there will always be that picky driver that wants a bit more from his or her car.
It has been a while since I drove the G05 BMW X5, so my memory might play a trick one me, but I feel that the front-end of the X6 is stiffer and hence the steering a bit heavier.
I did like the exhaust note a bit more in Sport Plus since it gives me a connection with the car and invites me to drive it harder.
Like the X5, the BMW X6 gets all of BMW’s driver assistance technologies. So it can help park itself, drive for short periods of time on its own on highways and it even has BMW’s new Reverse Assistant. The latter of which helps it remember the last 50 meters or so of forward driving so, when it comes time to reverse, it can just follow its own steps backward.
Should I Buy One?
Buying an X6 comes down to a personal choice. The car plays to specific tastes and that’s expected for a niche model. But I would say this. The new 2020 BMW X6 is certainly an improvement over the previous generation, it has moved up on the scale of premium cars and employs some of the best tech available from BMW.
Is it better than the Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe? That’s something I would have to determine in a back-to-back comparison test, but it’s fair to say that the new G06 X6 is a strong contender in this segment of crossover coupes.