The 3rd-generation of BMW original sport-activity vehicle debuts for 2020 and continues with a similar formula. The X6 is a 5-passenger midsize crossover that shares underpinnings and engines from the more conventional X5, but adds a sloping roofline to create a fastback profile. Compared to the outgoing X6, the 2020 model is 1 inch longer, rides a 1.6-inch longer wheelbase, is half an inch wider and about 1 inch shorter. Direct X6 competitors include the Audi SQ5, Porsche Cayenne Coupe and Mercedes-Benz GLE.
Three models are offered. The base is the rear-wheel-drive sDrive40i, which gets a 335-horsepower turbocharged inline 6-cylinder engine. Next up is the xDrive40i, which as you might have guessed adds BMW's all-wheel-drive system. Topping the line is the M50i. It comes standard with all-wheel drive and gets a 523-horsepower turbocharged 4.4-liter V8. Both engines mate to an 8-speed automatic. Maximum towing capacity is 7,200 pounds.
Standard features on the sDrive and Xdrive include LED headlights, 12.3-inch instrument panel and infotainment displays, USB and USB-C ports, keyless entry with push-button start, automatic climate control, and a full suite of advanced driver safety aids (BMW's Active Driving Assistant). Apple CarPlay is standard, and Android Auto is coming in mid-2020. The M50i adds Harman Kardon sound system, four-zone climate control, wireless charging pad, sport front seats and sport differential, brakes, suspension and exhaust system.
Prices start at $64,300 for the sDrive, $66,600 for the xDrive and $85,650 for the M50i. The X6 is built in Spartanburg, S.C.
Thankfully BMW fitted the X6 with powerful engines because at 4,800 pounds it is a heavy vehicle. The base turbo six does a good job of motivating the 2-plus-ton X6. At full throttle, the six pushes the X6 from 0 to 60 MPH in an estimated 5.2 seconds. That's quick enough to match the acceleration in most competitors sport models. Opt for the turbo V8 in the M50i, which gains 78 horsepower over last year, and things pick up impressively. That engine is estimated to motivate the X6 from 0 to 60 MPH in a scant 4.1 seconds.
More impressive is the overall demeanor of both engines. Both are buttery smooth, willingly rev to redline and trundle around town with aplomb. They also mesh nicely with the smooth-shifting 8-speed automatic transmission. While this is a traditional torque-converter automatic, it does knock off crisp and quick shifts when operated in manual mode. The all-wheel-drive system does not have a low range and is not intended for severe off-road use.
Given its performance and high curb weight, the X6 isn't going to win any fuel economy awards. The rear-drive 40i is EPA rated at 21 MPG city and 26 MPG highway. The all-wheel drive 40i gets 20/26 MPG ratings and the M50i sees 16/22 MPG EPA ratings. All engines require premium-grade gasoline. With a light throttle foot, most should be able to match the EPA numbers. However, driven around town in stop-and-go traffic, don't expect to average better than 18 MPG.
Dubbed a "sports activity coupe" the original X6 was supposed to blend the handling of a sport sedan with the utility of a crossover. For the most part it failed at both as the ride came across as harsh and the coupe-like styling limited cargo and rear-seat capacity. BMW has high hopes of changing that with this edition and, for the most part, has succeeded. With the X6's 2020 redesign BMW has both softened the overall ride and heightened its athleticism.
In 40i trim, the X6 has a near-perfect blend of impact absorption and body control. The delicate balance provides a comfortable ride that neither punishes or wallows on rough roads. Step up to the M50i and its 22-inch wheels and the ride definitely pitches toward sport with a good deal more impact harshness and very taught body control. The available adaptive suspension allows the driver to somewhat tailor the ride quality to individual tastes.
Unfortunately, the steering has a vague feeling on center that makes for a busy driving experience on the highway. It's not as noticeable around town, where the quick ratio makes it easy to maneuver the X6 in both parking lots and on side streets. The brakes have ample stopping power and a very easy-to-modulate pedal.
With little wind or engine noise, Interior noise levels are impressively low. The M50i model has more exhaust note and sport-minded tires that add some noticeable road noise, especially on concrete surfaces.
Despite its slightly larger stature, the interior of the new X6 is surprisingly similar to the outgoing model with one exception. Rear-seat head room grows by .5 inch. That's important because it was lacking before. The cabin décor is everything you'd expect from a BMW, dark leathers and fabrics highlighted by lots of chrome and aluminum. Materials are appropriate for the price and assembly quality was impeccable.
The large digital instrument cluster, which carries over from other BMW models, provides lots of information, but can be tuned to a driver's taste to limit distraction. In addition, there's an available head-up display that is among the best in the industry. The center stack features a top-mounted infotainment display, two central horizontally stacked rows of buttons for climate and radio controls, and a panel of buttons surrounding the gear shift and the rotary iDrive controller. All-in-all it comes off a bit busy, but at least it is functional and provides quick access to the things you do the most. The gesture control is a novelty that quickly becomes useful. BMW's iDrive infotainment system continues to see refinement aimed at making it more usable, but lags behind others when it comes to overall ease of operation. Thankfully, Apple Car Play and Android Auto support are finally coming.
Despite firm cushions and thick bolsters, the front seats provide all-day comfort. Head room is adequate and leg room good. Rear seats are nicely appointed and now offer adult size head and leg room. Entry and exit are a bit tight thanks to the low roofline. For some reason, BMW left out the handles in the headliner, which are standard in lots of other vehicles. Outward visibility is severely restricted to the rear but fine forward.
Cargo space behind the rear seats grows to 27.4 cubic feet -- an increase of 1 from the previous model -- and 59.6 cubes overall. Those numbers trail more conventionally styled midsize crossovers, but are similar to direct competitors at Audi and Mercedes-Benz. Interior storage is limited to a single central bin and smallish glovebox.
Bottom Line -- With a starting price tag north of $65K, the X6 isn't your mainstream midsize crossover. It's a vehicle that plays on emotion and plies you with its assets, namely dynamic handling and powerful engines. Improvements for 2020 like additional rear-seat head room and more cargo space make it more useful as a full-time vehicle, but retaining its coupe-like styling continues to force compromises. For buyers with those concerns, BMW offers the extremely capable X5.