Few cars manage to divide opinions quite like the BMW X6.
Introduced to the BMW line-up back in 2008, the high-riding model is largely credited with kick-starting a whole new segment for luxuriously equipped premium brand SUV-cum-coupes, the likes of which now include such sought-after rivals like the Audi Q8, Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe, Porsche Cayenne Coupe and Range Rover Sport.
But whatever you think about the X6, there’s no denying its success. Up to now, over 446,000 have been produced at BMW’s Spartanburg plant in the US. And despite the increased competition, as well as increasingly tight emissions regulations in key markets, global demand for big BMWs continues to grow.
The 2020 model-year X6, known internally under the code name G06, flaunts a predictably evolutionary design with a bold front end featuring a new interpretation of BMW’s signature grille that can now be had with optional illumination, a broad-shouldered body and heavily curved roof line – cues that have characterised the big four-wheel drive for over 11 years now.
At the rear, the new BMW model is arguably sleeker than ever before, sharing its look with the second-generation X4, most notably in the shape of its tail lamps and exaggerated angle of its large tailgate.
In a new development, BMW now offers both a standard on-road and optional off-road package on selected models – the latter of which gives the X6 a noticeably more rugged appearance than any time in the past, with added underbody protection, added ground clearance, specific mapping and driving modes for the four-wheel-drive system and off-road tyres.
It sits on the same modular Cluster Architecture (CLAR) platform as its siblings, uses the same electronic hardware, and features the same choice of suspension systems, albeit tuned specifically to suit the X6’s more sporting brief.
With a length of 4935mm, the new model is 26mm longer than the second-generation X6 launched back in 2015, with the wheelbase stretched by 42mm at 2975mm. It’s also 15mm wider than before at 2004mm and also 6mm lower at 1696mm.
The interior, largely shared with that used by the latest X5 and new X7, has been heavily redesigned with higher-grade materials and the latest generation of BMW’s iDrive system, complete with digital instruments and a 12.3-inch touchscreen display for the infotainment functions.
It is impeccably finished, runs just about every conceivable electronic driving aid BMW can muster, and thanks to broad front seats with every-which-way adjustment, it's wonderfully comfortable.
Seating remains restricted to five owing to the heavy curvature of the roof. However, occupying the second row of seats now benefits from added leg and shoulder room.
Yet despite the added length, boot capacity remains at 580L (65L fewer than the X5), increasing to 1530L with the 40/20/20 seats folded.
Heading the petrol line-up is the 2020 BMW X6 M50i ($155,900 plus on-road costs) driven here with a twin-turbocharged 4.4-litre V8 engine developing 390kW and a generous 750Nm of torque.
It will be joined from the outset of sale in Australia early next year by the $124,900 X6 xDrive40i running a turbocharged 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder petrol unit delivering 250kW and 450Nm.
The diesels include the yet-to-be-confirmed for Australia X6 M50d, which runs a quad-turbocharged 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder engine developing 294kW and 760Nm, and the $121,900 X6 xDrive30d, whose altogether milder turbocharged 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder diesel still manages to serve up 195kW and 620Nm.
As with the X5 and X7, all engines come mated to a standard eight-speed torque converter automatic gearbox and BMW’s electronically controlled xDrive four-wheel-drive system. That includes a rear differential lock on the X6 M50i for added traction benefits in less than ideal driving conditions.
BMW’s efforts to give the X6 a more luxurious air are obvious the moment you step up into it. The quality of the interior and level of standard equipment (not least its long list of electronic driving aids) are well beyond that of earlier models. The driving position is also a little less upright and more genuinely coupe-like than before.
It's all in keeping with moves the German carmaker says are aimed at providing the new model with its own individual character separate to that of the mechanically identical X5.
The X6 M50i makes light work of its 2235kg kerb weight with terrific flexibility and urgency on part-throttle loads around town, and the ability to serve up the sort of performance to fully justify its M branding in Sport mode out on the open road.
BMW claims a 0–100km/h time of just 4.3 seconds, which is just 0.3sec slower than that of the second-generation X6 M6, whose more heavily tuned twin-turbocharged 4.4-litre V8 petrol engine kicked out 423kW and 750Nm. Top speed, meanwhile, is limited to 250km/h.
There’s an imbibing willingness and deep-seated smoothness to the delivery of its engine that makes the most powerful of all new third-generation X6 models to date a crushingly effective proposition over longer distances – despite the constant flow of wind noise and tyre roar that enters the cabin at motorway speeds.
It’s not only the engine that distinguishes itself, though. The speed and intuitive nature in which the gearbox performs gear changes also play a central role in the driving appeal.
The penalty for such effortless performance is consumption. With a combined average of 10.4L/100km and CO2 emissions of 237g/km on the WLTP test cycle, the X6 M50i is among the thirstiest and less cleaner BMW models on offer today.
We’ve always been quite impressed at how well the X6 handles for something of it size, and this latest model only serves to reinforce that feeling. The standard specification mates adaptive dampers to a steel-sprung suspension, though our test car was underpinned by an optional air suspension, which brings variable ride height qualities.
Along with the standard steering, it also featured the optional integral rear-steer system for added manoeuvrability at lower speeds and greater agility out on the open road.
The result is satisfyingly direct handling with a meaty feel to the steering at anything above urban speeds. Although there is a substantial amount of weight at play, body movement on more challenging sections of bitumen is very progressive. Overall, the handling is consistent and, at anything below breakneck speeds, quite predictable.
The quick reactions of the xDrive four-wheel-drive system and electronically controlled rear differential, which provides a torque-vectoring effect between the two individual rear wheels, keep everything on a neutral footing. And if you do manage to breach the huge grip offered by the X6 M50i’s standard 21-inch tyres, a rapid reapportioning of drive by the dynamic stability-control system immediately allows you to correct your line.
The weak link is the ride – even in Comfort mode, the X6 M50i never feels totally settled. Despite a good deal of wheel travel, it suffers from plenty of high-frequency patter over uneven surfaces, and transverse intrusions can unleash nasty jarring at low speeds. It improves with speed, though never to the point where you could describe it as being truly comfortable.
It mightn’t be as practical, as roomy or ultimately as comfortable as the mechanically identical X5 or the X7, but the X6 does have its own special appeal.
In M50i guise, it certainly feels brash and powerful, though if previous generations of the big SUV-cum-coupe are any indication, it will be the cheaper six-cylinder models that make for the best buying in the range. Time will tell.
For now, however, the new model appears to represent a major advance on its predecessor in every major area, except perhaps its ride.
EDITOR'S NOTE: We will score the new BMW X6 when it makes its Australian debut later this year.