BMW X6 xDrive40i M Sport review: hugely capable but hard to justify
BMW’s X6 coupe-SUV continues to defy logic, but that doesn’t stop it being a very impressive all-round package
The BMW X6 is a fundamentally well-engineered premium SUV. It handles better than you’d imagine considering its size and heft, but due largely to an imperfect ride and an engine that has to work just a touch too hard at cruising speeds, it isn't quite the high-riding GT car you might think it is. Unless you’re attracted by its divisive design, we struggle to see the point of choosing this over the cheaper, more spacious and better resolved X5.
The BMW X6 was one of the earliest iterations of the controversial coupe-SUV genre, being first introduced in 2008. Yet a side-effect of its success is that this updated third generation model now has a multitude of rivals, from Porsche, Audi and Mercedes-Benz and others, to compete against.
The recipe might seem simple: take a large premium SUV and chop a few inches off the roofline at the rear for a less boxy profile. But in the world of coupe-SUVs all things are not equal, and in the case of BMW’s X6 there are more changes than meet the eye. These start with the driving position which is lower and more ensconced than in the X5 with which the X6 shares its fundamental underpinnings. It’s a feeling reinforced by the cabin design, which has a taller centre console and different door cards.
There are other changes too, including a windscreen that has a flatter angle and a lower leading edge. Look behind you and the usually open space in the second row is more snug, with the rapidly rising windowline and lowered roof creating a much more intimate feeling, although outright space is still fairly generous.
A worthwhile carry-over between the X5 and X6, though, is the excellent overall build quality and use of materials inside the cabin. BMW’s infotainment system remains one of the more impressive systems to use among its rivals, and sits within an intelligently laid-out cabin with a good balance of physical controls and touch interfaces. Our particular test car was specified with optional premium leather finishes and massaging seats, but the fundamental quality is there, no matter how many option boxes have been ticked.
BMW only offers mild-hybrid petrol and diesel powertrains in the X6, rather than also including the X5’s full plug-in hybrid system. In this case, we’re driving the entry-level 40i petrol made up from a 3.0-litre straight-six petrol engine attached to an eight-speed automatic transmission and 48V mild-hybrid (MHEV) system. Rather than providing any engine-off running, the mild-hybrid element only streamlines the petrol engine’s operations, providing a little extra torque under full-throttle in Sport mode. Rated at 375bhp, with 540Nm of torque, the inline six engine is very smooth and refined, with brilliant calibration between it, the MHEV system and gearbox.
It also gives the X6 a good initial turn of speed despite having to haul the 2,240kg kerbweight. On-paper BMW claims the X6 will hit 62mph in 5.4 seconds, a figure that feels about right in the real world. The chassis setup is largely well resolved, coming with a firm but controlled ride quality that, combined with excellent compliance at low speed, makes it a joy to drive about town. The steering is light, but very accurate and has natural weighting when speeds do rise, so too does the all-wheel drive system, giving total sure-footedness regardless of the weather outside.
However, not all is perfect for the X6 on the move as it’s at high speeds when things start to lose their lustre. The ride, surprisingly, gets worse at speed amplifying small bumps to create a fairly unsettled feel on the motorway. Sitting on standard-fit air springs, this can sometimes be a side-effect of damping that’s out of sync with the springs themselves and, somewhat counterintuitively, improves slightly when you’re in Sport mode. The dampers can be set up individually through the multitude of driver modes to mix the Sport damper setting with less aggressive tuning for other elements, but the ride is only improved, not fixed.
The powertrain also starts to lose its shine at these higher speeds, as the engine needs to work quite hard to build speed at a constant pace. While never gruff, the six needs to rev harder than you’d expect, and comes paired with an odd speaker-induced noise enhancement that won’t be to everyone’s taste. The X6 is also a thirsty beast, settling at around 26mpg over the course of our test – some 6mpg short of the official figure.
Aside from a few high-speed knocks, though, the BMW X6 feels like a generally well resolved and enjoyable package, despite the obvious compromises associated with its coupe-like styling. While we still think there are better options out there if you’re after a large and luxurious daily driver, it is a very good SUV in isolation that can compete strongly with most rivals.
Porsche’s Cayenne Coupe is perhaps the most obvious direct rival, and starts at a comparable base price of £73,300. The V6 petrol engine is a little short on power with 348bhp, and is sparsely kitted out, being the very entry-level Cayenne model, but it fights back with an even more dynamic driving experience. The Audi Q8 and Mercedes GLE Coupe drive more in the manner of their truck-like SUV counterparts and don’t offer as fine a balance between comfort and control as the BMW does.
|BMW X6 xDrive40i M Sport
|Price as tested:
|Eight-speed auto, four-wheel drive