The BMW X6 is an improvement on the previous generation, although the competition it faces is stronger than ever

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Opinion-dividing. Striking. Distinctive. Just some of the words often bandied about in the presence of the BMW X6.

Whatever you or I think of its appearance, there’s no denying that lots of people like it and buy it, so BMW is laughing regardless. 

There may be better alternatives, but if you really want that X6, this xDrive30d is the one to have

It would be hard to argue that the facelift, or second generation as some are calling it, has made it any better looking. But in other areas this entry-level X6 gets a tweaked cabin design and improved efficiency – mostly thanks to updates to the eight-speed automatic gearbox to get the best out of the single-turbo 3.0-litre straight six diesel.

There are three other engines to choose from, including two other oil burners: the 308bhp xDrive40d and the M-tuned BMW X6 376bhp 50d. There is only a single petrol option in the form of a 444bhp, twin-turbocharged 4.4-litre V8 BMW X6 xDrive50i. Those wanting a bit more poke car opt for a full M car in the shape of the BMW X6 M, equipped with the same V8 petrol engine, which puts out 567bhp.

It’s always been impressive how well the X6 handles for something of this size, and that remains the case. Opting for the M Sport trim of our test car brings adaptive dampers as standard, over the variable steering weight, throttle and gearbox responses you get on all X6 models, and the result is satisfyingly pert handling.

Some might think the steering is a bit too heavy, even in the standard setting, and it feels lifeless at any point, but you can still enjoy flinging the X6 through corners with confidence.

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The active four-wheel drive system keeps things mostly neutral, and if you do scrub past the fairly monstrous grip levels afforded by the active four-wheel drive, it’s easy to correct your line if the ESP doesn’t do it for you. 

Sure, there’s a fair bit of body roll as the X6’s substantial weight gets shuffled about through corners, but by SUV standards body movement is really progressive and doesn’t remotely spoil the general entertainment on offer. 

Having said all that, ride comfort leaves something to be desired here; even in the most forgiving driving mode, there’s plenty of patter over high-frequency bumps, and any rough-edged intrusions can feel pretty jarring even at low speeds.

On top of that, you never quite forget how heavy this car is. Sure, it’s grippy and easy to drive at high speeds, but you’re always conscious of its size and weight, and you get little sense of what speed you’re doing. 

And this isn't a slow car. It may be the least powerful X6, but it’ll hit 62mph in a hot hatch-like 6.7sec, so it’s no slouch. In fact, this powertrain is so good that with, price taken into account, it's easily the most recommendable model in the X6 range. 

This engine feels properly punchy, and it’s rare to experience any turbo lag thanks to the smooth, accurate ministrations of the eight-speed automatic gearbox, which does a near-faultless job of keeping the engine in its power band.

You don’t need to use the paddle shifters, and you certainly don’t need to rev the engine beyond the broad mid-range, although the gearbox will give up full control and let you pick the ratios if the fancy takes you.

Changes inside the X6 are subtle. Predictably, the forward cabin is indistinguishable from the BMW X5 on which the X6 is based, and that's no bad thing. The seats are supportive and the materials feel pretty plush, if not quite as top-notch as those in a Porsche Cayenne or the more expensive Range Rover Sport.

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However, the X6 is better equipped than those rivals, with BMW’s wide-screen sat-nav system a particular highlight of the standard kit. Choosing a trim level for the X6 is simple enough with only one to choose from  - M Sport.

It brings with it an aggressive M model bodykit, 20in alloys, eight speed sport automatic gearbox, adaptive suspension and door sills, while interior luxuries include a widescreen iDrive system, lane departure warning and forward collision mitigation systems, heated front seats and Dakota leather upholstery.

Opt for the M50d and expect to find a few more M Sport touches including a badged gearstick and servotronic steering rack, while the X6 M gets a fiercer looking bodykit, styling and rear spoiler, along with a head-up display and wifi preparation.

Arguably the biggest problem with the X6 remains its restricted practicality. Adults sitting in the rear seats will feel a bit cramped, because the roofline cuts into head room, and while the rear seats now fold 40/20/40 for a bit more flexibility, the boot is still smaller and shallower than you’ll get in less coupé-like rivals. Rear visibility is still pretty abysmal, too. 

You don’t need to enjoy the X6’s brash attitude to appreciate its direct handling and effortless pace. It really does live up to the sports SUV billing, and if you take equipment into account then it’s better value than either the Porsche Cayenne or Range Rover Sport.

Even so, if you can stretch to the Range Rover Sport, we'd recommend you do, as you'll enjoy a more spacious cabin, better comfort and more fluid, if not quite such pointy-feeling handling.

Alternatively, think very hard about a Porsche Macan Diesel S. It’s smaller than the X6, but in real-world terms it’s just as roomy and practical, offers an even better ride/handling balance and will save you money even after you’ve added equivalent kit.


Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

BMW X6 2015-2019 First drives