Beefy, angry, loud and powerful. No, it’s not the Olympic weightlifting finals, it’s the new 2020 BMW X6 M Competition, and I’m behind the wheel for a first spin on Australian soil.
Now in its third generation, the Bavarian-bred performance SUV is an unapologetically masculine car with pumped-up aesthetics the peanut gallery will either love or loathe (either way, they’ll be sure to share their opinion enthusiastically). This writer falls into the ‘loathe’ camp, but points must be awarded to BMW for taking the 'go big or go home' mantra to heart. It’s only grown more visually confronting since its 2009 debut.
Huge kidney grilles, quad black chrome tailpipes and giant air intakes give the X6 M a menacing look, especially when all lit up at night, and there are approximately 11 M badges throughout, lest you confuse it with the regular X6 (you know, the one for mere peasants). The interior is similarly statement-making, with hexagonal quilted leather seats that have a vaguely reptilian feel, luxe Alcantara headliner, and a lifetime’s supply of carbon-fibre finishes.
As the latest offering from BMW’s motorsport-inspired performance arm, the X6 M Competition goes up against other loud and angry luxury SUVs like the Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S, Audi RS Q8, and Range Rover Sport SVR.
At $213,900 plus on-road costs, it’s slightly more affordable than its rivals (although, if you care about that kind of thing when you’re shopping in this class, you should possibly not be shopping in this class) and boasts marginally bigger outputs, too, thanks to its whopping 4.4-litre TwinPower Turbo V8 producing 460kW and 750Nm. That’s a power increase of 37kW on the previous generation (with matching torque).
It hits maximum power pretty quickly, too – completing the 0–100km/h sprint in only 3.8 seconds, which is approximately 0.4 seconds faster than the previous generation, not that anyone’s counting (just kidding, they really are). My colleague took my review car for a quick spin, and I was able to watch as he took off from a red light on a highway – hitting 80km/h in what looked like a split second from a standing start. In this car, getaways are quick, fuss-free, and immensely satisfying.
The eight-speed M steptronic automatic transmission works seamlessly with the engine, and there’s no lag or issues shifting gears at both low and high speeds. Transmission can be fully automatic or you can opt for sequential manual mode and shift via the gearstick or the paddles on the steering wheel.
Despite its pace, I was somewhat aware of the X6 M’s hefty 2295kg kerb weight – it still feels like a big car, albeit a quick one, and those familiar with the regular X6 will find steering on the X6 M feels, unsurprisingly, heavier and firmer, as opposed to light and breezy. The car’s lower stance eliminates any potential for body roll or other unwieldy, top-heavy sensations, and the stiffer chassis means it drives more like a sporty sedan than a large SUV.
Suspension is supple, but can be firmed up for a racier feel if you’re craving a slightly edgier drive. And hauling all that metal into line are substantial 'racetrack-ready' brakes that can be adjusted for sporty or comfort driving. They’re good at their job (employee of the year, in fact) and can get this thing to a complete stop from 100km/h in 32m.
That’s a damn good thing, too, because you may find yourself using the brakes more than usual. Without keeping a constant eye on the speedometer, I found my speed crept up quick-smart with what I thought was light-to-moderate throttle input. My tip is to show restraint where possible – and to use the speed limiter or risk looking positively maniacal.
Of course, the X6 M is appropriately loud, with the option to amp up the exhaust note or choose a more discreet setting. With the latter engaged, the car is actually rather quiet, soaking up road noise and keeping a lid on its own excited pops and crackles to provide a more typical luxury-SUV experience. There’s even a ‘track mode’ that ditches all the driver-assistance settings and sternly warns you that it’s not for use on public roads.
With all this in mind, perhaps the X6 M’s biggest rival, bizarrely, is its own stablemate – the X5 M Competition, which is only slightly more affordable at $209,900 plus on-road costs. Bar the X6 M’s obvious hatchback rear, there’s not much between them, although BMW claims feedback from customers prompted them to add more differentiating elements to each of the cars’ respective noses (you’ll need a design degree and a magnifying glass to really appreciate them, though).
Indeed, the key differences come down to the millimetre, with the X6 M only slightly lighter, shorter, wider and longer than the X5 M, which boasts a bigger boot – and the two cars share the same wheelbase and powertrain. The question remains, then, why would one buy an X6 M when the X5 M exists?
It seems to me that BMW has done very little to definitively answer this question, other than to continually highlight the X6 M’s distinctive looks. When it comes to outlining the unique value proposition of the X6 M, the Germans appear to be simply saying: “If you know, you know”.
But while agility, power, design and exclusivity are the marks of an excellent luxury performance car, things like comfort, space, everyday practicality, safety and tech are the marks of a good SUV. So how does the X6 M go marrying the two?
Thankfully, this car has brains to match its brawn, in the form of BMW’s Intelligent Smart Assistant and a smorgasbord of driver assistance and safety technology, which means the car can essentially drive itself while keeping your morning coffee warm (because there are heated and cooled cupholders, naturally).
BMW’s infotainment system is, in this reviewer’s opinion, consistently impressive. It ranges from the extremely helpful, like wireless Apple CarPlay and wireless phone charging, to enjoyably gimmicky, like gesture control so you can wave your hand to change the song, or a digital assistant who can change the cabin lighting to ‘energise’ you.
It’s not flawless, though – I dabbled with BMW concierge services and was met with some static noise on the other end, while the ‘Hey BMW’ function worked for the most part, but was occasionally quick to jump the gun and cut to navigation instructions before I’d even finished giving the address.
I found the safety and driver-assistance features on this car positively astounding. I particularly loved the assisted driving mode, which should probably be called ‘the car drives itself, but please make sure you keep your hands on the steering wheel for the sake of appearances’ mode. It steers, maintains distance from the car in front, keeps an eye on speed limits, and slows to a stop if required.
There are cameras on almost every inch of the exterior, and a self-parking system that gets you so close to the kerb, your neighbours will think you’re a precision driver. BMW’s reversing assistant is the cherry on top – it memorises the tricky manoeuvres you did to get into a tricky parking spot, so it can auto-replicate them to get you back out again. Genius.
So infotainment and safety are plusses, but where this car falls down for me is good old-fashioned practicality. Sure, it’s unlikely the X6 M’s target demographic are going to be loading the family dog in the back, but since it bears the SUV label, should it not offer a little more versatility than your standard sports car?
Instead, the back seat has the tendency to feel smaller than it actually is, thanks to the sloping roof and chunky C-pillars. While head and leg room are by no means unsatisfactory (even taller adults will have a solid amount of clearance), it’s more that it lacks the airy, roomy feel typical of an SUV, although that’s partially offered by the sunroof.
This sloping roof also impacts visibility – one area in which the X5 M wins hands down. The X6 M’s rear windshield made me feel like I may as well be in a regular sedan, while the muscular C-pillar meant my blind spot felt more like a blind crater. The brawny bonnet also compromises forward visibility when tackling hillier terrains.
The boot, although undisputedly massive at 580L, failed my very particular practicality test when I couldn’t fit a small chair in there even with the rear seats down, because the slanted windshield curtailed its full cargo potential. Speaking of the rear seats – they’re really heavy, so you wouldn’t want to be hauling them up and down too regularly. Fortunately, I don’t think prospective buyers will be doing much hauling.
Of course, I wasn’t all that surprised to see fuel consumption figures for my 48 hours of suburban and freeway driving, with a few dirt roads thrown into the mix, reach up to 16L/100km against BMW's claim of 12.5L/100km. Not exactly an economical number, but probably one that’s to be expected given the car’s size and performance.
While convenience is clearly front of mind in the X6 M – like the fact it auto unlocks upon approach, removing the need to touch a key entirely – there were some niggling oversights for me. For starters, I would have loved a step up to improve ease of access, while the streamlined design completely removes the presence of panic handles, leaving passengers nowhere to dangle their arm in a nonchalant, offbeat manner. And the giant, bright 12.3-inch touchscreen? I’ll say it – kind of distracting.
Finally, my colleagues and I were all baffled and slightly mortified by the outrageously loud and high-pitched notification the car makes upon locking and unlocking. Sort of ruins the cool factor – good thing it's switchable.
All this is possibly nitpicking on a car that’s an impressive exercise in performance given its sheer heft. And let’s be frank, potential buyers aren’t exactly purchasing it for practicality. But by removing some of the major benefits of an SUV – benefits the X5 M retains – it makes the BMW X6 M’s raison d'être a little less clear. Is it simply a unique car that turns heads and appeals to a particular kind of buyer? Perhaps.
My mum mentioned that a friend in his late 60s owned the previous generation and said he loved it mainly because “it’s like a sedan that’s easy to get into”. Go figure.
One downside is that on Australian roads, you’ll be hard-pressed to see the X6 M’s full potential realised. But maybe just knowing it’s there, and capable of winning a drag race with that wanker who cut you off on the freeway, is enough to give you a warm feeling of satisfaction.
You won’t be able to fit taller items in the boot, your back seat passengers might whinge that they’re not having as much fun as you are, and you’ll be making more regular trips to the petrol station, but you’ll certainly be having fun and attracting some attention while you do it.
And if this truly is a ‘competition’ as its name suggests, the X5 M may have it beat in the practicality stakes, but the X6 M is a sure bet to claim the 'most talked about' title.