Review: The 2020 BMW X6 Is an Exercise in Addition by Subtraction
A decade ago, BMW introduced the X6. In 2020, they've finally gotten it right.
There will always be a buyer who wants the biggest, brashest anything on the menu, preferably with a lofty price tag (and the attendant bragging rights) to match. In the automotive world, there are two segments in particular that have flourished by seducing this particular type of shopper.
First up? Sports cars, which are increasingly offered with a dazzling array of power-adders and high-performance special editions, especially as the dollars pile up to exotic levels. Then, of course, there are SUVs. The latter’s leading lights can be split into commuter-baiting off-road beasts that will never see anything less genteel than a gravel road on the way to the ski lodge, and humpbacked, four-door “sports-activity coupes” that seemingly defy the very practicality they are meant to embody.
It’s in this second category that we find our quarry, the 2020 BMX X6 M50i xDrive. Once viewed as the forefather of over-the-top sport-utility excess, with its most recent redesign the X6 has somehow managed to smooth-talk its way into the good graces of a once-skeptical market by accomplishing that rarest of goals: giving its owners exactly what they want.
I’ll admit to being first on the list of those with doubts about the X6’s place in the luxury SUV pantheon. When it first emerged just over a decade ago, the hunched, stubby take on the more conservative X5’s platform and styling seemed to highlight only the negatives: a ponderously heavy curb weight, an enormous footprint despite vanishingly small cargo and passenger space, and a whopping price tag.
Viewed against its more useful sibling, it was seen as a classic “paying more for less” scenario that would quickly lead to heavy discounts on X6 inventory as dealers desperately tried to unload them. It turns out that BMW customers saw the vehicle in a very different way, embracing its in-your-face, over-muscled styling as a badge of honor, whether found in base form or the full-on, tarmac-pounding X6M guise. Sales didn’t exactly soar, but the Bavarian automaker has since turned a steady profit on a vehicle few thought would last more than a handful of lamentable years.
Smoothing Out the Bulges
As Top 40 charts remind us every time we turn on the radio, being popular doesn’t necessarily reflect the quality of the product on offer. That BMW had managed to tap into a vein of buyers seeking butched-up pseudo-trucks at money-is-no-object prices did little to improve the X6’s standing when compared on its merits against others of its ilk.
We’ve already established that this didn’t matter in terms of the SUV’s success, but apparently someone at BMW was peeved enough at the continual side-eye being thrown towards its cash cow that they decided to do something about it. The end result? The 2020 edition of the X6 is by far the most livable version of the vehicle to date, while losing none of its keenly prized extrovert personality.
The secret is an all-new platform that is much better at concealing the detrimental effects of the bulging bruiser’s bulk. Although still less than svelte, the brand’s suspension wizards and electronic stability control mages have managed to program a smoothness into the X6’s character that was entirely missing in past models.
Pair that with a startling level of turbocharged output (523 horsepower from a 4.4-liter V8) managed by standard all-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission, and the M50i edition of the X6 is remarkably quick in a straight line, warping past 60 mph from a standing start in 4.1 seconds. It’s a level of performance one used to have to pay full-M dollars for, but the X6 M50i doesn’t just surpass its track-oriented predecessor, it does so without subjecting occupants to the kind of drop-kick suspension tuning that was a feature of the capital-M’s personality.
Stop Making Sense
Yes, the 2020 BMW X6 M50i is still running at a deficit when it comes to room under its hatch, trailing the also-new X5 in terms of pure practicality. It’s also worth mentioning that if you measure over six feet, you might find the rear seat of this slope-roofed wonder to be more than a little confining (although less so than in years past).
But these flaws are finally balanced by a driving experience that largely papers them over, and a passenger cabin that’s much better appointed than what was found in older BMW SUVs. Even with fresh sheet metal that doubles down on the gaping-maw/massive-haunches motif that has long defined the vehicle, nearly a decade of copycat four-door hatch-trucks from the automaker’s competitors have normalized what was once a startling display of girth.
It’s a rare feat to soften how a vehicle feels on the street without losing the aggressive, over-the-top aspects of its personality that made it so appealing, and yet that’s exactly what the new X6 has managed to achieve. Rather than try to make any sense of the SUV’s bombastic bloodlines, BMW has instead opted to refine where it can and caricature where it can’t.
People have never stopped wanting to pay more for the automaker’s weirdest offering. With this latest redesign, there’s finally a compelling reason not to feel too bad about living with that decision.