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You’ve got to hand it to BMW. When the X6 first launched in 2008, the styling of the awkwardly proportioned wedge was polarizing, to say the least. In 2010, the X6 (and its platform mate, the X5) were the first BMW SUVs to wear the coveted M badge. It was a double blasphemy in the eyes of enthusiasts, and even we said the X6 M “defies all reason” in our First Drive. It would seem like all signs pointed to an ominous beginning and an equally swift end for this segment.
Flash forward 12 years, and clearly the opposite has happened. Since its debut, BMW has sold nearly 67,000 copies of the X6 here in the United States, of which nearly a third were X6 M models. And as the third-generation 2020 X6 M makes its debut, every premium German brand now fields a model in this oddball segment. The era of the swoopy-roof SUV coupe is in its prime.
Not one to cede its dominance in the category it created, the new X6 M comes ready to play. Nestled under the hood, a 4.4-liter twin-turbo V-8 is worthy of 600 hp and 533 lb-ft of torque. If that level of performance is unacceptable, BMW is happy to offer you the X6 M Competition, which ekes out another 17 hp from the same V-8. Both versions are mated to a highly responsive and intuitive eight-speed automatic, which renders the tiny shift paddles largely superfluous. Just give it the boot and go.
It’s astonishing how quickly the X6 M accumulates speed. Aided by minimal turbo lag and a fat torque curve, the V-8 propels this 5,400-pound beast forward with a gleeful sense of urgency. Zero to 60 shoots by in a swift 3.8 seconds (or 3.7 seconds in the X6 M Competition). Although BMW’s M xDrive all-wheel-drive system shuttles the bulk of the power to the rear axle, there’s no wheelspin to speak of, just relentless forward thrust. Depending on conditions, the system can transfer nearly 100 percent of the power to the front wheels, and a rear electronically controlled limited-slip differential can shift the power from side to side. It’s this sort of technological magic that gives the X6 M an impressive amount of hustle.
Amid all this default wizardry, BMW offers the option to configure practically every single aspect of the driving experience—which is great in theory, but in reality, it’s highly unnecessary. Given the X6 M’s bulk and monstrous power, fiddling with these inputs is like expecting an elephant to perform both a waltz and the cha-cha. Although tweaks to things like brake and steering feel provide perceptible differences in effort, they don’t have an overall noticeable effect on performance. And given how stiffly sprung the adaptive suspension is in Comfort mode, only a masochist would consider using Sport or Sport Plus for daily use. And while BMW continues to insist on digitally reproducing the exhaust note through the excellent Bowers & Wilkins sound system, the best note is still the one that sings out the back.
The styling is, as ever, a love-it-or-hate-it affair. There really is no middle ground. Any remaining trace of subtlety has been jettisoned, replaced by a seemingly random assortment of shapes and openings. In particular, the top of the front door intersects the A-pillar at such a flat angle that, when viewed from the side, the entire front clip seems to be sourced from an entirely different vehicle. A new trapezoidal fender vent initiates a swooping character line that runs the length of doors into the rear wheelwell, connecting on the other end with the cutline of the bumper and terminating in the new winglike taillights. The X6 M Competition ups the audacious factor even more, blacking out the kidney surrounds, exterior mirror caps, model badging, rear diffuser trim, and exhaust tailpipes.
Inside, the interior space is either a compromise or a choice, depending on your perspective. With a height of 66.6 inches, the X6 M is shorter than the X5 by more than 2.0 inches. The angled rear end also reduces cargo space to 27.4 cubic feet from the X5’s 33.9, and rear passengers will unfailingly smack their noggins upon entry. Grab handles have been relocated from the headliner to the door panels, obscuring easy access to the power window and mirror controls.
In other words, form dominates over function more than ever. But that’s precisely the point of something like the X6 M. From a performance standpoint, it’s murderously fast, surprisingly nimble, and unapologetically demands your attention. Yet for all of BMW’s talk of dynamism and segment busting, a sense of humor is also required to fully appreciate the existence of this 600-horsepower Quasimodo. If you laugh along with the X6 M instead of at it, the entire concept makes a lot more sense. Meanwhile, BMW is laughing all the way to the bank.
|2020 BMW X6 M/X6 M Competition Specifications|
|LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||4.4L/600-617-hp/553-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8|
|CURB WEIGHT||5,400 lb (mfr)|
|L x W x H||195.0 x 79.5 x 66.6-66.7 in|
|0-60 MPH||3.7-3.8 sec (mfr est)|
|EPA FUEL ECON||13/18/15 mpg|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||259/187 kW-hr/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||1.31 lb/mile|
|ON SALE||Spring 2020|