I struggled to wrap my head around the things that my Marina Bay Blue-coloured 2020 BMW X6 M Competition press car was able to do.
There comes a point where you realise that the engineering has caught up and surpassed your expectations, superseded your knowledge, and firmly dated your views somewhere in the past. This car resulted in one of those moments for me. I used to find the idea of a 'sporty SUV' absolutely fanciful at the best of times. Those views are now old fashioned and no longer relevant anymore.
How BMW M engineers have blessed the X6 M Competition with the ability it has is quite extraordinary. To then go on and apply the age-old rhetoric of 'it needs more performance' or 'the centre of gravity is too high so it's compromised' is absolute madness. You just can't.
This thing gets off the mark beyond expectations, moves and boogies beyond expectations, and stops beyond expectations. It'll show up 'genuine' performance cars in both a straight line and through the bends, if it needs to.
It starts with the 4.4-litre 'TwinPower Turbo' engine, or as us BMW nerds like to refer to it, the S63.
It's a mammoth engine. It retains a hot-vee design, which means its intake and exhaust ports are conducive to housing forced-induction apparatus in the cavity between its crankcase shape and cylinder heads. A somewhat Germanic tradition that's been going on for some time now, but BMW was the originator of such a design in production cars.
Its turbochargers are twin-scroll in format. This means exhaust gasses from one bank of cylinders, four in this case, are split into two and sent through a turbine with the same divide.
Nothing new again, but the smarty-pants engineers at BMW have taken it one step further, as usual. They have created this necessary divide for the twin-scroll stuff in line with the cylinders' firing order. This means pulses of air do not clash, therefore optimum 'harmony' is achieved.
BMW only offers the non-diet X6 M here, which also wears a Competition badge. Power comes in at a massive 460kW at 6000rpm, and torque is an equally huge 750Nm available in full from 1800 to 5800rpm.
Only a few others come close. The Mercedes-Benz GLE63 S makes 10kW less with 450kW as its disposal, but 100Nm more with 850Nm also offered. It's worth noting that the Benz's peak torque figure is only available for 2000rpm worth of tacho (from 2500–4500rpm), whereas the BMW makes its smaller peak torque figure across a span that's double in size.
That's 4000rpm worth of rev counter in the BMW where you can undergo the physical and mental stress, or motoring nirvana, that 750Nm provides the body and mind. It's this alone that makes the engine feel so monumental in breadth. You really get a sense of its might, too, when you realise the speeds you're putting on in what are small sections of road.
It'll reach 100km/h in just 3.8 seconds. Standing start to 200km/h? 13.2 seconds.
Ironically, the X6 M Competition's interesting shape actually helps it slip through the air better than its more orthodox X5 M Competition cousin, meaning it's faster to 200km/h by two-tenths of a second.
It pains me to say this, but if you're after outright performance, get the uglier one. Numbers and figures aside, it feels almighty. Stabs of the throttle are met by a rev-happy response, and the engine never really feels lethargic or laggy.
All of this brutality is managed by an M Steptronic eight-speed automatic transmission that's equipped with a torque converter. From here, it transposes all of that sweetness through an interesting all-wheel-drive system.
It can be set up to operate rear-wheel-drive first, then become all-wheel drive second. As you dial up the sportier driving modes, it'll begin to ask for more from its pair of 315-section party shoes at the rear. Expect it to feel quite rear-wheel drive in the utmost setting, only really requesting for assistance from front of house when things get a bit sloppy.
This backup from the front is something you'll never truly experience on the road, however. With its near 2.3-tonne mass, huge rear tyres and clever chassis rigidity, you need to be doing jail-time sort of stuff in order to get it to misbehave that badly.
However, at the speed limits often found on good country roads, you'll still feel its rear-wheel-drive tendencies bubbling up to the surface, which is enough to be satisfying.
Despite keeping a lid on my behaviour, it still managed to use significant amounts of fuel. It returned 16.3L/100km against an official claim of 12.5L/100km. Stop-start traffic really punishes the efficiency figures. Given the calibre of performance on offer, this wasn't a huge surprise. It's still significantly over the claim, however, and loses a few marks there.
Despite that point alone causing your wallet to get warm in your pocket while driving, it does ride surprisingly well. With the dampers set to mild, it's somewhat composed. Most rough and sloppy bits of bitumen do not cause much alarm for its structure. You also feel quite insulated, too, even though the most supple setting is stiff.
Potholes and more severe stuff, like imperfections you manage to spot and then clench before going over, are where its firmness becomes most apparent, or annoying, depending on your mood. You can't expect such ability without a fair serving of tautness, however. Give and take.
I felt somewhat understanding and accepting of its ride quality after a bash down a good road. The way this car manages its heft, changes direction, and pulls up is the sort of stuff David Copperfield was known for – magic.
After you become accustomed to the fact it doesn't feel like 2.3 tonnes of SUV, and that it has so much grip you'll likely not exceed it, things can get fast really quickly. It changes direction incredibly well, darting between the left and right switchbacks of my favourite road like it weighed half a tonne less. Not much would get away from you in this sort of scenario, regardless of their choice of metal.
Like any magic trick, there's a genuine art form to the illusion. In the case of the X6 M Competition, active swaybars are a large part of the show here. An electronic motor applies opposite twist to its swaybars, with the level of force applied determined from myriad calculations and data points provided by its sensors.
This in turn gives you the benefits of swaybars with increased torsional rigidity, and only when you need them, too, which is during cornering.
Despite having technology to mask the poor behaviours that plague performance cars during regular driving, I believe you still may find it hard to live with the always-on nature of the X6 M Competition if you don't somewhat dabble in a bit of spirited driving.
It's there, on a good road, where you gain an understanding of why it feels the way it does. One quick spirited drive is all you need to recalibrate your frame of reference.
You begin to think how remarkably smooth it remains, given how it defied physics on that awesome stretch of road you just completed, instead of believing that it's way too firm for a road-going SUV. Or that you should have bought the pseudo M variant as that's better on the road, which it is.
The glass remains half full with a car like this, never half empty, so long as you bother to experience a slice of its ability, even as a seldom pleasure.
Comfort, ride quality and hard parts aside, the tyres are probably the weakest part of the overall package. They are quite noisy and thin, too, given the minuscule profiles required to suit this car's staggered 295/35R21 front and 315/30R22 rear fitment.
The result is this irritating thrum, or form of resonance, from the tyres when they strike anything remotely different in surface to what they're currently travelling on. You know those parts of motorways that have had repairs down the joins of each section, sort of like strips of glue, at consistent intervals?
They're torture to travel over in an X6 M Competition. It sounds like you're in a train, with a solid sounding and clearly audible 'clunk, clunk' noise reverberating throughout the whole cabin as you pass each join.
Even with the 16-speaker Harman Kardon audio system set loud, it couldn't drown out this odd ring from the tyres as they struck each and every repair found on this particular section of motorway.
With that said, when this intrusion ceased, I was left with a much nicer ambiance.
Inside the X6 M Competition, you'll find lashings of carbon fibre pretty much everywhere. On the doors, grab handles, dash, centre console, it's hard to escape it. Its technical look suits the vibe of the car, and it's real-deal stuff, not a surface treatment applied to plastic.
The seats are fantastic, with electronically adjustable side bolstering that has enough movement to secure someone who's quite narrow. The inflatable lumbar support is great, so too the shape and feel of these pews. The kitsch light-up M badges beneath the headrests have to go, though.
On the technology front, there's a pair of 12.3-inch screens, one acting as the instrument cluster, the other as a central infotainment screen. Both are clear with solid graphics. There's wireless Apple CarPlay on board that you can use once you've done some initial digging through the menus to set it up. There is a head-up display, but it's almost invisible to the eye from behind polarised sunglasses. This is a bit of a jest, as brands like Mazda have solved this issue.
As also expected from a flagship European car, all of the advanced safety known in the world has made it on board. Active cruise control, cross-traffic warning for the front and rear, steering and lane control, lane-change assistance, evasion aids, 3D parking cameras, the whole kit and caboodle.
Out of the box, you get the previously mentioned Harman Kardon stereo. It's good, but not great. It sounds a bit hollow in the middle, so paying for the $7400 optional Bowers & Wilkins premium sound system may be worthwhile if you really enjoy your music.
Another thing that struck me as unexpected was the complicated nature of the vehicle dynamics system on board. BMW's iDrive system used to be the shining beacon of automotive human-machine interfaces. I don't believe that's the case anymore. Despite being confusing, the way in which vehicle set-up has been distributed via many different options and switches is just not logical.
If you press the set-up button, you get an on-screen selection of things to adjust for the regular drive mode. Note, these flick back to their defaults when the car is turned off. The gearbox shift calibration, or DriveLogic as BMW calls it, is controlled via a button on the gearknob and not via the set-up function I just mentioned.
Then the exhaust, too, has its own dedicated switch on the lower centre console, separate again from the other two technologies. Why on earth all of these interrelated vehicle systems are split up from each other is anyone's guess, but it's just not ergonomically sound.
Then there's the user interface for the overall BMW iDrive OS 7.0 system, which has a lot of sub-menus and other forms of unnecessary complexity. Trying to find trip and driving data is a bit of a mission, as an example of a basic feature that should be easily accessible.
In the rear, second-row space is decent. Child seats across the back bench are no issue, and its width means that if you're one of those lucky souls with three kids all under the age of six-ish, you'll likely fit each of their seats side-by-side in the back.
Four-zone climate control can be adjusted via rear dedicated controls, and a one-touch max A/C function for the rear is also a nice touch. However, there's only one 12-volt power outlet and zero USB ports (compared to USB-A and USB-C connectivity up front), which seems contrary to the advanced nature of the rear HVAC system.
If you're after outright cargo capacity, buy the arguably better-looking X5.
The X6 makes do with 580L of space in its regular form, and can handle at best, with the second-row seats folded, 1530L. The X5 starts from a better base of 650L, but its subjectively more correct roof line enables up to 1870L at maximum.
Consider the disparity of over 300L the price you pay for odd swoopy styling. I refuse to call it a coupe. It's a swoopy SUV. Okay?
It's also where the conundrum lies for this car. It starts at $213,900 before on-roads, whereas an X5 M Competition starts from $209,900 before on-roads.
It's basically five grand more for less boot space, a critical area of a SUV no doubt, and also what I believe to be uglier styling. The BMW X5 has always looked fantastic, and the new one continues to do so. Put the savings you receive opting for an X5 toward premium audio.
Or call me an idiot and say that the extra performance from the X6's body shape is what fast SUVs are all about, and that its styling is actually majestic, and that I've got it all wrong.
Either way, despite what path you take, you're getting some real-deal performance magic here. An exercise in defying physics with clever engineering, and it has room for your kids and your dog, too.