Tuesday 10th December 2019
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First drive: BMW X6. Image by BMW AG.

First drive: BMW X6
Our first go in the third-generation BMW X6 coupe-SUV is in the bonkers-quick M50i. Any good?

 



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BMW X6 M50i

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5

BMW once again spins a coupe version off its pioneering X5 SUV, giving us the third take on the X6 formula. And while this range-topping (for now) M50i model has a stonking 530hp V8 drivetrain and all the usual chassis-engineering brilliance which BMW is renowned for, it's still a machine which is less practical than an X5, more money to boot and also pretty hard on the eyes...

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: BMW X6 M50i
Pricing: X6 range from 60,790, M50i from 76,870
Engine: 4.4-litre twin-turbocharged V8 petrol
Transmission: xDrive all-wheel drive, eight-speed Steptronic Sport automatic
Body style: five-door coupe-SUV
CO2 emissions: 237g/km (VED Band 226-255: 1,815 first 12 months, then 465 years two-six of ownership, then 145 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 27.2mpg
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
0-62mph: 4.3 seconds
Power: 530hp at 5,500-6,000rpm
Torque: 750Nm at 1,800-4,600rpm
Boot space: 580-1,525 litres

What's this?

A vehicle to which the adjective 'contentious' is almost permanently attached like a conjoined twin. It's the BMW X6, the originator of the oft-derided coupe-SUV breed (one which BMW likes to refer to as a Sports Activity Coupe, although 'SAC' is a most unfortunate resulting initialism...) and a model which is now into its third generation. As ever, it shares much with the X5 (now rendered as a Mk4), although do not be fooled by the exterior, where it shares next to no panels with the X5 - in fact, once you're aft of the base of the A-pillars, the X6 is an all-new creation.

But it's not attractive. Come on, even with nearly half-a-million units of the Mk1 and Mk2 variants sold over the course of a decade, time has not been kind to the X6's design. Now, we fully accept this is a weird one, because it's about the only coupe-SUV we abhor on visuals alone - hypocritically enough, we've no such problems with the X6's smaller stablemate, the X4, while machines of varying sizes like the Toyota C-HR, the Audi Q3 Sportback, the Mercedes GLC Coupe, the Porsche Cayenne Coupe, the Lamborghini Urus and the Audi Q8 all don't bother us. Heck, our hypocrisy even stretches as far as liking the X6's most direct rival, the similarly hulking Mercedes GLE coupe.

The big Beemer, though... it remains something of a design mess. We spent ages in the company of the M50i, which is comfortably the best-looking version thanks to its big alloys and beefier body kit and signature Riverside Blue metallic paint, squinting at it and shifting position and sucking air over our teeth and trying to find a nice angle from which to view it, and... we just couldn't. In fact, we're not even sure if it's the best-looking X6 yet built, which is a pretty low bar to have to clear, and so if you're of our frame of mind then you're not going to read any further into this review. You'll probably just look at the far more handsome X5 instead, if you're in the market for this sort of thing.

Still, as we said earlier, BMW has shifted enough X6s since 2008 to simply not care about aesthetic naysayers like us. And inside, the X6 is much more pleasant. It has foibles: despite a 42mm longer wheelbase and much scalloping of the headlining, the rear-seat space is still not as accommodating as you'd get in a 'proper' SUV; it loses 70 litres of cargo capacity to the X5 with five chairs occupied and a whopping 345 litres if you fold the second row down; BMW's angular digital instrument cluster, with a back-to-front rev counter, is not the greatest nor most intuitive information display in the automotive world; and an X6 is 2,700 more than its equivalent X5, which is money we'd much rather have in our back pocket. Nevertheless, the quality of the materials used in the X6's cabin is largely exemplary, the ergonomics are brilliant (vis--vis the driving position, the layout of the switchgear, and that magnificent human-machine interface in the form of iDrive and the BMW 7.0 Operating System infotainment) and the visibility out is superb in most directions, save for looking directly through the sloping rear screen via the interior mirror. And if you'll permit us to trot out that hoary old chestnut of 'when you're sat in the X6, you don't have to look at it', then, well... when you're sat in the X6... Oh, and lest we forget, this SUV now has illuminated kidney grilles. Yes. Really. Tsk.

How does it drive?

A variety of muscular six- and eight-cylinder drivetrains power the X6 Mk3 line-up, and none of them are more muscular than this wonderful 4.4-litre biturbo V8 petrol, hooked up to xDrive AWD and the near-faultless eight-speed Steptronic 'box. It is, of course, the guts of the M850i and, installed in a machine which weighs 2,310kg and which has a bluff aero figure of 0.32Cd, it still has the wherewithal to hurl the X6 M50i from 0-62mph in 4.3 seconds. That's a tenth quicker than the 565kg-lighter M340i and, having driven both in short order, we can confirm the X6 most emphatically feels the more brutally rapid of the pair.

It's a stunning form of motive power, you see. It hits mighty hard anywhere on the rev counter and it sounds tremendous, without any of the overt fakery that is starting to afflict so many exhaust notes in the performance-car world. Rich in torque, buttery smooth in delivery and as keen to rev right out as it is to step-off in a startling fashion from tickover, you'll not find this 4.4-litre unit wanting. Nor the gearbox, for that matter, which is as unobtrusive as a George Lucas wipe transition. The brakes are suitably robust too, without any unnecessary grabbiness or feeling of early-onset fade as they try to haul the X6 M50i's charging mass in. And the steering is bereft of that weirdly disconcerting heaviness that BMW often puts into its Sport mode set-ups, so that you can actually feel some of what the X6's front wheels are doing.

Cobble all this together and you have a strong basis for an excellent performance SUV. And there's more. The benefits of xDrive traction allow for preposterous corner-exit speeds in the dry, and no doubt the preservation of plenty of the M50i's outright dynamic abilities in soggier conditions. Road-roller 315-section rear tyres with slightly narrower 275 fronts provide the sort of grip that wouldn't disgrace a littoral-zone mollusc (you know the one we mean). And then there's the suspension and chassis technology, which is impressive enough as standard. The M50i comes with Dynamic Damper Control and twin-axle self-levelling air suspension from the off, but you can further add four-wheel steering (known as Integral Active Steering) for greater agility, an electronically controlled locking differential and active anti-roll bars. Doesn't matter how you spec the X6 M50i, though; it will feel astonishingly gifted in the corners. The relentless control of its oscillating body mass and the precision way you can place its gigantic frame on the road to within the millimetre are nothing short of extraordinary. Link it all up and the X6 is a very fine thing to drive quickly.

It's also rather pleasant at saner, smoother speeds. Both the ride quality and the noise suppression are first-rate, despite those huge alloys and brakes hanging unsprung at the corners, and so it's an SUV which works as beautifully well in day-to-day situations as it does charging down a back road as fast as its driver's nerves will let it run. A glowing appraisal of its dynamics, then, so why not more marks overall? Well, surely the point of sacrificing the practicality of an SUV for a coupe-ified version is because a) it looks nicer and b) it drives in a sportier fashion. Well, we're unequivocal on our response to a), as the X5 trounces the X6 aesthetically, so it's all down to b) to try and allow the X6 to make any sense whatsoever. Yet, as sweetly as it drives, it doesn't feel any sportier than the X5; perhaps that's why we like the X4 more, as it definitely comes across as sharper and a bit more involving than the related X3. However, any edge the X6's hunchbacked shape might give its dynamics over and above the X5 seems to be entirely blunted by its sheer size, sadly.

Verdict

As blisteringly fast and as admirably capable as the BMW X6 M50i is, whether you like it or not will still all hinge upon its oh-so-distinctive looks. Factor in that there's a faster, more focused X6 M on the way for those who need the ultimate model, and the undeniable truth that the cheaper X5 is superior to the X6 in nearly every discipline where it matters, and the X6 M50i just feels a touch lost and superfluous to requirements. Sure BMW will sell a bucketload of them, though. Despite the way it looks.

2 2 2 2 2 Exterior Design

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Interior Ambience

4 4 4 4 4 Passenger Space

4 4 4 4 4 Luggage Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

4 4 4 4 4 Driving Dynamics

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 29 Oct 2019









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2019 BMW X6 M50i. Image by BMW AG.2019 BMW X6 M50i. Image by BMW AG.2019 BMW X6 M50i. Image by BMW AG.2019 BMW X6 M50i. Image by BMW AG.2019 BMW X6 M50i. Image by BMW AG.

2019 BMW X6 M50i. Image by BMW AG.2019 BMW X6 M50i. Image by BMW AG.2019 BMW X6 M50i. Image by BMW AG.2019 BMW X6 M50i. Image by BMW AG.2019 BMW X6 M50i. Image by BMW AG.








 

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