2020 BMW X6 first drive review: Few(er) compromises

A whole lot has happened since BMW first unveiled the X6, the rakish relative of the long-roof X5. Namely, nearly every one of the automaker's competitors has released their own "coupe-overs," saturating a market that still lags well behind sales figures of more conventionally shaped utility vehicles.

With an ever-thickening crowd around it, the 2020 BMW X6 borrows many of the same updates that apply to the latest generation of X5, but with a stylish twist that sacrifices some of its daily utility for the sake of stuntin'.

Like-or-loathe looks

For what it's worth, I think the 2020 BMW X6 is easily its most attractive iteration yet -- although that's a low bar; the first two generations were awkward and bulbous. Now, its sharp body lines give it a far more futuristic look, especially out back, where at a distance it can bear more than a passing resemblance to a Lamborghini Urus.

There's a new light-up grille on offer, which you will either fall in love with or want to throw through a plate glass window -- it's a surprisingly polarizing element, at least according to my hasty unscientific poll of friends and colleagues. Illuminating the edges of the grille when the lights are on or when the car is unlocked, it offers a little more character -- and keeps up with the Joneses, as Mercedes-Benz has seen decent success with its own light-up star. Unlike the Merc, though, the X6 can still be equipped with the automaker's full suite of active driver-assistance systems when the extra lights are optioned.

Removing some of the roofline for the sake of fashion does eat into cargo space a bit, but not by much. The X6's real-world usability is still high, with plenty of depth for handling golf bags, suitcases or a whole bunch of groceries. Most of its lost space is in height, and unless you're transporting baby trees around, that lost volume won't always make itself known.

The coupe-over rear end has a surprisingly small effect inside the car, too. At six feet tall, I found both ample headroom and legroom in the X6's second row, with about an inch and a half of open air between my head and the roof. The door sill is a little high in the back, though, so it's a little more claustrophobic back there than I'd prefer.

The only real issue stemming from the X6's aesthetics is rearward visibility from the driver's seat, which remains as bad as ever. Other quibbles include the side mirrors, which seem awfully small, and the front sun visors, each of which are about the size of two packs of cigarettes, so they don't do much.

Otherwise, the X5 and X6 are pretty similar in terms of interior appointment. The attractive, uncluttered dashboard is accounted for, but there are some slight differences in the center console and door panels, which rise a bit higher on the fashion-forward X6. Storage is ample, but there's a strange grab handle on the door that, for the driver, makes it kind of clunky to use the window and mirror-adjustment switches.

Bat out of hell

For this test, I'm driving the new X6 M50i, the most powerful iteration of this SUV aside from the truly bonkers X6 M. The M50i utilizes a 4.4-liter, twin-turbocharged V8 that produces 523 horsepower and 553 pound-feet of torque. That all mates to an eight-speed automatic transmission and standard all-wheel drive.

If you don't need or want a V8, there are two lower trims on offer, too. The rear-wheel-drive X6 sDrive40i and the all-wheel-drive xDrive40i utilize a 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6 that produces 335 hp and 330 lb-ft, which is sent to the wheels through an eight-speed automatic. Soon enough, we'll meet something even beefier, when the monstrously powerful X6 M makes its debut.

There's a whole lot of character in the X6 M50i. The V8 burbles to life, providing a pleasant note to both occupants and people standing nearby, and that orchestra only gets better (and louder) as the engine works its way up the tachometer, accompanied by a slight whistle from the snails tucked under the hood.

The X6 M50i is a hoot to drive, and thankfully, it's not an annoying performance-forward mess when you want to take it easy on the throttle.

BMW

It's not just noise, either. The X6 M50i gets moving in a hurry, with more than enough torque making itself available at a moment's notice, free of any turbo lag or other forced-induction annoyances. The transmission is smooth without feeling sloppy; in its more aggressive modes, the gearbox will rattle off fast shifts that are only slightly jarring, and at low speeds, everything coalesces nicely and comfortably. In any mode, though, the M50i powertrain is prepared to hustle.

On the only-sort-of-okay roads around BMW's manufacturing home in Spartanburg, South Carolina, the X6 impresses with its smoothness. It still has a stiff ride, don't get me wrong, but the vehicle feels composed no matter what mode the adaptive suspension is in. Some of that comes down to my tester's honkin' 22-inch wheels, an optional upgrade over the staggered standard setup of 20-inch fronts and 21-inch rears that would likely confer some extra comfort. The wide, upgraded rubber (275 millimeters up front, 315 mm out back) also introduces a little more road noise than I'd like, but the cabin is relatively well insulated against unwanted clamor.

Solid standard tech, and then some

It shouldn't come as a surprise that the X6 is pretty well stocked with tech from the get-go. This includes a dual-screen setup that comprises a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and a 12.3-inch center touchscreen display. The digital cluster is nearly the same as the rest of BMW's new lineup, save for a new font, and it's capable of displaying turn-by-turn directions in addition to the usual swath of vehicle information.

The latest version of BMW's iDrive system is loaded on the center screen, and it's pretty fabulous. It's still very dense, with menus and options tucked away in various corners, but it's easy to get used to, and the onboard digital assistant has no problem understanding natural-language commands if you want to skip the touchscreen altogether. Gesture control is included, as well, but as with other BMW vehicles, it feels like more of a gimmick than anything -- using the switches on the wheel or dashboard is far less distracting. When it comes time to charge, I hope you bring a USB-C cable, because there are no USB-A ports in the X6. Thankfully, a wireless device charger is available to help you ditch the cable altogether, especially if you're using Apple CarPlay wirelessly.

The only quasi-frustration with the telematics is that iDrive's digital assistant will awake from its slumber with just about any iteration of the phrase "BMW."

BMW

Safety equipment abounds, with standard kit including blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assist, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control and parking sensors. My tester one-ups that package with the $1,700 Drivers Assistance Pro option, which combines the aforementioned systems to keep the vehicle centered in its lane while cruising down the highway. It's a hands-on system for the most part, but with the Pro package, it uses an eye-tracking camera to permit actual hands-off use under 37 mph -- it's really only meant for freeway traffic jams, though, and once the speed rises enough, it'll ask you to put your hands back on the wheel.

Down to brass tacks

All three trims of 2020 X6 are, as expected, on the higher end of the SUV-price spectrum. The I6 variants aren't too expensive, starting at $64,300 and $66,600 (respectively, before destination), but the M50i is a bitter pill to swallow at $85,650. With a few aesthetic and creature-comfort upgrades, my tester rings in at a yikes-worthy $99,645.

Nevertheless, there's a corner of the market that will continue to eat the X6 up, and those buyers will be rewarded with an engaging ride, unique aesthetics and very few compromises along the way.


Editors' note: Travel costs related to this story were covered by the manufacturer, which is common in the auto industry. The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's staff are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.

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