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Third generation SUV-cum-coupe won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s better in every respect

Few cars manage to divide opinions quite like the BMW X6.

Introduced to the BMW line-up back in 2008, the high riding model is largely credited with kick starting a whole new segment for luxuriously-equipped premium brand SUV-cum-coupes, the likes of which now include such sought after rivals as the Audi Q8, Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe, Porsche Cayenne Coupe and Range Rover Sport.

There’s an imbibing willingness and deep-seated smoothness to the delivery of its engine that makes the most powerful of all new third-generation X6 models to date a crushingly effective proposition over longer distances

But whatever you think about the X6, there’s no denying its success. Up to now, over 446,000 have been produced at BMW’s Spartanburg plant in the US. And despite the increased competition as well as increasingly tight emission regulations in key markets, global demand for the big BMW continues to grow.

What changes have been made for the third-generation X6?

The 2020 model year X6 features an evolutionary design with a bold front end featuring a new interpretation of BMW’s signature grille that can now be had with optional illumination, a broad-shouldered body and heavily curved roofline – cues that have characterised the big four-wheel drive for over 11 years now. At the rear, its arguably sleeker than ever before, sharing its look with the second-generation BMW X4, most notably in the elongated shape of its tail lamps and exaggerated angle of its large tailgate. 

In a new development, BMW now offers both a standard on-road and optional off-road package on selected models – the latter of which gives the X6 a more rugged appearance with added underbody protection, added ground clearance, specific mapping and driving modes for the four-wheel drive system and off-road tyres.

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With a length of 4935mm, the new X6 is 26mm longer than the second-generation 2015-2019 BMW X6 at 4935mm, with the wheelbase stretched by 42mm at 2975mm. It’s also 15mm wider at 2004mm and 6mm lower at 1696mm.

The interior, largely shared with that used by the latest BMW X5, has been heavily redesigned with higher-grade materials and the latest generation of BMW’s iDrive system, complete with digital instruments and a 12.3-inch touch screen display for the infotainment functions. Seating remains restricted to five, though those in the second row now benefit from added leg and shoulder room. Yet despite the added length, boot capacity remains at 580 litres (65 litres fewer than the X5), increasing to 1530 litres with the 40/20/20 seats folded. 

Heading the petrol line-up is the X6 M50i driven here with a turbocharged 4.4-litre V8 engine developing 523bhp and a generous 553lb ft of torque. It’s joined by the X6 xDrive40i running a turbocharged 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder unit delivering 335bhp and 332lb ft. 

The diesels, traditionally the big sellers in the UK, include the X6 M50d with a quad-turbocharged 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder engine developing 394bhp and 560lb ft and the X6 xDrive30d, whose turbocharged 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder diesel serves up 261bhp and 457lb ft.

All engines come mated to a standard eight-speed torque converter automatic gearbox and BMW’s electronically controlled xDrive four-wheel drive system, which includes a rear differential lock on the X6 M50i for added traction benefits in less than ideal driving conditions.

BMW’s efforts to give the X6 a more luxurious air are obvious the moment you step up into it. The quality of the interior and level of standard equipment (not least its long list of electronic driving aids) is well beyond that of earlier models. The driving position is also a little less upright and more genuinely coupe-like than before, in keeping with moves the German car maker says are aimed at providing the new model with its own individual character separate to that of the mechanical identical X5. 

The X6 M50i makes light work of its 2235kg kerb weight with terrific flexibility and urgency on part throttle loads around town and the ability to serve up the sort of performance to fully justify its M branding in sport mode out on the open road.

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How does the X6 perform on the road?

There’s an imbibing willingness and deep-seated smoothness to the delivery of its engine that makes the most powerful of all new third-generation X6 models to date a crushingly effective proposition over longer distances despite the constant flow of wind noise and tyre roar that enters the cabin at motorway speeds. It’s not only the engine that distinguishes itself, though. The speed and intuitive nature in which the gearbox performs gear changes also plays a central role in the driving appeal.

We’ve always been quite impressed at how well the X6 handles for something of it size, and this latest model only serves to reinforce this feeling. The standard specification mates adaptive dampers to a steel sprung suspension, though our test car was underpinned by an optional air suspension, which brings variable ride height qualities. Along with the standard steering, it also featured the optional integral rear steer system, for added manoeuvrability at lower speeds and greater agility out on the open road.

The result is satisfyingly direct handling with a meaty feel to the steering at anything above urban speeds. Although there is a substantial amount of weight at play, body movement even on challenging roads is very progressive. Overall, the handling is consistent and, at anything below breakneck speeds, quite predictable.

The quick reactions of the xDrive four-wheel drive system and electronically controlled rear differential, which provides a torque vectoring effect between the two individual rear wheels, keeps everything on a neutral footing, and if you do manage to breach the huge grip offered by the X6 M50i’s standard 21-inch tyres a rapid reapportioning of drive by the dynamic stability control system immediately allows you to correct your line.

The weak link is the ride; even in comfort mode, the X6 M50i never feels totally settled. It suffers from plenty of high-frequency patter over uneven surfaces and transverse intrusions can unleash nasty jarring at low speeds. It improves with speed, though never to the point of being cossetting.

It mightn’t be as practical, as roomy nor ultimately as comfortable as the X5, but the X6 does have its own special appeal. In M50i guise, it certainly feels brash and powerful, though if previous generations of the big SUV-cum-coupe are any indication it will be the more than £16,000 cheaper xDrive30d that makes for the best buying in the range. Time will tell.

For now, however, the new model appears to represent a major advance on its predecessor in every major area, except perhaps its ride.