Munich’s fastest full-size SUV-coupé gets mid-life powertrain and chassis tweaks

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Super-SUVs such as the BMW X6 M have always been a puzzling concept: big, heavy and tall, yet supposedly also fast, sharp in the corners and fun to drive. For the traditional car enthusiast, they have never really worked.

But it seems modern suspension technology is allowing the sports SUV to come of age. Four-wheel steering, active anti-roll bars and air suspension – or in the case of the Ferrari Purosangue, mind-bending spool-valve dampers – all work together to deal with the weight and high centre of gravity of these SUVs to create genuine driver’s cars.

The X6 M – and its mechanically identical sibling, the X5 M – have long done without many of those mechanical aids, sticking with steel coil springs and a standard rear axle that doesn’t steer. The only concession are active anti-roll bars.

The standard X5 and X6 have just been facelifted, which has brought in mild-hybrid tech, and that even extends to the M versions. However, while there have been a number of chassis optimisations, the BMWs remain quite simple – or quite pure, depending on how you look at it.

We have put the refreshed X6 M through the full road test to find out whether that recipe is able to translate M-car sensations to an SUV – and whether it can work on the road as well as the track.

The range at a glance

Models Power From
xDrive30d 294bhp £75,760
xDrive40i 376bhp £77,535
xDrive40d 347bhp £80,005
M60i xDrive 523bhp £95,155
X6 M Competition 617bhp £131,405

The standard BMW X6 is available with two 3.0-litre diesel engines and one petrol – all straight sixes. The M Performance M60i uses a less powerful version of the X6 M’s mild-hybrid V8. Most of these versions are mirrored in the range of the more upright X5 SUV, though it trades the 40i for a 50e plug-in hybrid.

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bmw x6m review 2024 02 side panning

While the new X6 M Competition is, of course, fundamentally the same as the car that came out in 2019, this facelifted model is marked out by a surprisingly long list of detail changes, many of them mechanical.

As before, the X6 uses the CLAR platform. It gets double-wishbone front suspension and a multi-link set-up at the rear. Air suspension is either standard or an option on all but the full-blown M cars, which stick with coil springs and adaptive dampers. That seems to be the M way. This generation of X6 M also uses active anti-roll bars front and rear, though their range of functionality appears to be milder than in rivals like the Audi RS Q8.

The ‘M Compound’ brakes consist of cast-iron discs attached via pins to an aluminium centre ‘hat’ that allows the disc to expand and contract, thus making it able to manage heat more efficiently. Carbon-ceramics are not available.

Rather than using a direct hydraulic connection, the brakes are operated ‘by-wire’ through one module that controls brake activation, brake booster and braking control functions. The actual brake pressure then comes from an electric actuator.

Like the regular petrol and diesel cars, the X6 M is now a mild hybrid. A 48V, 0.5kWh battery sits in the engine bay and feeds a 12bhp, 148lb ft electric motor in the casing of the automatic gearbox. One imagines that will do little to ease the V8’s thirst, but it may smooth out the start-stop system, and to heighten the throttle response a tad.

The V8 engine itself is all-new, according to BMW. It is now code-numbered ‘S68’ instead of ‘S63’, but the changes that BMW has released certainly make it sound like a development of the old unit.

It’s still a 4.4-litre with twin turbos inside the vee. The bore, stroke and power and torque figures stay the same as well, despite a slightly higher compression ratio on the new engine (10.5:1 instead of 10:1). BMW talks of a reinforced crankshaft, an electronically controlled blow-off valve, and an oil sump that’s better at preventing oil starvation under high-g cornering. There are also new catalytic converters for lower emissions – those are probably to blame for the lack of additional power.

The ZF eight-speed torque converter has been modified to take the new electric motor and gets a new set of gear ratios. One through three are considerably shorter. Second tops out at 57mph instead of 62mph, for example, which should benefit both acceleration and involvement. A firmer hydraulic transmission mount keeps the assembly more rigid and supposedly improves responses.

There have been detail chassis tweaks too. The rear suspension has gained some toe-in for better high-speed stability, there’s some new chassis reinforcement, and the traction and stability controls have been refined by integrating the controller into the engine ECU, which speeds up responses.

Visually, the X6 M gets most of the same changes as the standard X6 and X5, including the slimmer headlights and redesigned bumpers.


bmw x6m review 2024 10 dash

The facelifted X6 and X5 have had quite the interior makeover – not entirely for the better, we must say – and most of those changes have come to the M versions as well.

Nearly the whole dashboard was binned and replaced in order to accommodate BMW’s Curved Display, which is a combination of a 12.3in digital gauge cluster and a 14.9in multimedia screen. Between them, they have usurped most of the pre-facelift X5’s dash buttons.

Gone are the physical climate controls and numbered shortcut buttons. Thankfully, the centre console retains a decent selection, as well as the rotary cursor controller. The climate controls are permanently on the screen, but you need to open a menu to get to the heated seats and steering wheel.

We are also no big fans of BMW’s digital gauge cluster, which has plenty of whizzy graphics but lacks clarity and easy configurability. While most digital gauge clusters let you display, for example, the navigation and trip computer at the same time, BMW’s doesn’t and makes it hard to scroll between different options.

BMW hasn’t just plonked an enormous screen on top of the old dash, though. It has also redesigned the air vents and the trim. Where the old car had a decorative trim strip running in front of the passenger, there is now also a transparent plastic bar with some light-up M graphics. It looks fresh and modern, but to the eyes of some testers, a little cheap and tacky too.

That was about the only thing that felt cheap inside our £147,605 test car, where there is lots of real, soft leather and real, cold metal. Most of the cabin appointments are shared with the standard X6 and X5, with a few exceptions. The X6’s door cards are a touch more ornate than the X5’s and enhance the sporty vibe. While facelifted non-M models swap their drive selector lever for a much less tactile toggle, the X6 M retains a stubby lever that can be pushed forwards and backwards for the manual mode.

M models also have a pair of ‘M Multifunction seats’ with an integrated headrest and more aggressive bolstering than the standard versions.

The space on offer is fairly typical of an SUV of this type. Rear leg room is sufficient, while rear head room and rearward visibility are slightly affected by the sloping roofline. However, you are unlikely to be deterred if you like this car’s particular style, as even adults can travel in the rear in comfort.


BMW’s iDrive used to be the benchmark for multimedia systems, with logical menus, clean graphics and a plethora of shortcut buttons. In the latest generation, iDrive 8, the climate controls have moved onto the screen, and the menus have become much more complicated due to a large number of apps clogging up the main screen.

Things do get better with familiarity, it’s possible to define some shortcuts and, thankfully, the rotary controller with a selection of buttons remains present and correct. Still, it’s a step back compared with the pre-facelift X6.

As before, the built-in navigation is excellent and reacts to traffic very well, and the Bowers & Wilkins hi-fi is powerful and clear. Mind you, it needs to be, given how much road noise it’s tasked with overpowering. Wireless phone mirroring is integrated well, and we found the BMW smartphone app useful for checking the car’s status and sending destinations to the navigation.


bmw x6m review 2024 20 engine

Does it matter that an updated performance derivative doesn’t move the game on in terms of straight-line speed?

It probably matters more to someone considering an X6 M than to someone eyeing an Toyota GR86 – and, with that in mind, the news isn’t entirely positive for BMW here.

Make no mistake: the X6 M is fearsomely rapid, exploding to 60mph in 3.5sec and 150mph in 21.1sec. In our testing, it also knocked a tenth off its quoted 0-62mph time of 3.9sec.

Comparisons are a little fraught, since we have never performance tested the Audi RS Q8 or Mercedes-AMG GLE 63, and the new Porsche Cayenne Turbo and Range Rover Sport SV have yet arrive in the UK. In our testing, the X6 M sits roughly between the outgoing Porsche Cayenne Turbo and the Turbo GT (both off sale), and between the standard and 707 versions of the Aston Martin DBX.

One metric where the X6 M trumps all other super-SUVs is in fourth-gear acceleration. Taking just 4.8sec to get from 30-70mph, it is quicker than even the DBX 707. You might assume the shorter gearing is the reason, but fourth gear is unaltered compared with the pre-facelift car and isn’t much shorter than in rivals. We can only assume this speed range is where the engine hits the sweet spot of its powerband.

While the shorter second and third gears don’t transform the performance, though, they certainly help with driver engagement on the road, because you can rifle through several ratios on your way to the national speed limit. The gearbox also responds well, if not perfectly, to commands from the paddles, or indeed the gearlever.

However, it occasionally stumbles over its many gears. During a launch control start, the first-second and second-third changes felt clumsy, as the gearbox needed to grab a fresh ratio in a hurry.

Generally, the gearbox shifts very agreeably on the road, except when you try to accelerate from a junction swiftly. In that case, the software can hold the gears too aggressively when the engine’s ample low-down torque would suffice.

Some of the X6 M’s rivals manage to emit a more pronounced, enticing and characterful V8 sound.  In the exhaust’s quiet mode, it is rather nondescript, and – from the inside at least – very quiet. In Sport mode, it becomes more distinctly V8-like, but the character still occupies a somewhat unsatisfying middle ground between sounding like a traditional V8 and a snarlier flat-plane engine.

From the outside, though, even quiet mode is quite loud, and loud mode positively thunderous – even if being noisier outside than inside will seem the wrong way round for some drivers.


bmw x6m review 2024 21 front cornering

The X6 M’s chassis and four-wheel drive system are tuned to project an immediate sense of agility. Throw it into a corner with some gusto and the car’s strong grip and near-complete absence of body roll allow it to dart towards the apex. Get on the power and the rear axle wastes no opportunity to push the chassis into positive attitude.

It’s a good start, but you look for nuance in vain. At 2.6 turns lock to lock, the steering is at least appropriately geared for a large SUV. However, it is very heavy, in a treacly way rather than one that provides true feedback. As a result, understeer can sneak up on you – and on roads that aren’t perfectly dry, it can do so at lower speeds than you might expect.

That said, with the help of the M Dynamic mode of the stability control and the 4WD Sport setting, damp roads do introduce the possibility of some power-on rotation on corner exit.

Extremely firm springs and dampers sound like they could be a liability on UK roads, but the quality of the damping is such that the X6 M manages not to be deflected by bumps, even in the firmer modes. However, they do conspire with the active anti-roll bars and leaden steering to create a car that seems to bully the road into submission, rather than one that flows and interacts with the driver.

Comfort & Isolation

When driving the X6 M, you get the sense that it was developed by M engineers who would rather be tuning the latest M3, and when tasked with the X6 M, responded: “Be careful what you wish for.”

The result is a car that does have a distinct M character in its damping and handling (though obviously one compromised by the car’s height and weight), but it also abandons any sense of comfort in order to achieve as much.

On anything other than a perfectly smooth road, the X6 M thumps and jiggles like a Cup car, with any head toss amplified by how high you are sitting.

On relatively smooth concrete like that of the Millbrook Proving Ground bowl, the road noise and vibrations are just about bearable: 70dBA at 70mph is what we would expect from a supermini. Still, the Porsche Cayenne Turbo GT and Maserati Grecale Trofeo recorded 68dBA and 65dBA, respectively – making this quite plainly a relatively noisy-riding car.

Navigating coarse road surfaces can be quite the ordeal. The concrete sections of the M25 – maddening at the best of times in more comfort-oriented cars – can be downright jarring in the X6 M. Loud resonances fill the cabin, and vibrations through the steering wheel make you thankful for the assisted driving features that let you release your grasp occasionally.


bmw x6m review 2024 01 front tracking

X6 M prices start at £131,405, which is in the same ballpark as the Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S, but a good deal cheaper than the Range Rover Sport SV (which uses the same engine as the X6 M), Aston Martin DBX and Lamborghini Urus.

Possibly the most dangerous ‘rival’ is the X6 M60i. It has a slightly less powerful version of the same engine but isn’t much slower. However, it benefits from air suspension and less of a focus on ultimate performance. We have not driven it yet, but if the closely related X7 M60i is anything to go by, it may well strike a much more liveable balance between driving dynamics and everyday comfort.

While the X6 M is quite fairly priced relative to its rivals, the forecast residual values make for grim reading. CAP predicts it will only retain 33% of its value over four years and 48,000 miles, whereas it puts the Porsche Cayenne Turbo E-Hybrid at 56%. That’s reflected in high monthly finance rates.

Don’t expect an easy time at the fuel pump either. Even on a steady motorway run, the X6 M fails to crack 30mpg, and in normal usage we saw just 23.3mpg. Throw the performance testing into the mix, and we were stranded at 20.5mpg. A huge 83-litre fuel tank still allows a touring range of 535 miles.


bmw x6m review 2024 23 static

It is interesting how BMW swims against the tide with its X6 M Competition, retaining a relatively old-school mechanical recipe for its super-SUV, presumably with the aim of creating something that still feels like a classic M car.

The problem is that this appears impossible without ending up with a massively compromised car. Indeed, while BMW has managed to imbue the X6 M with a distinctly M-car feel, that does not mean it is a successful all-round exercise – because that character is only really skin-deep. And it does not seem worth the resulting swingeing sacrifice of comfort, with a good deal of handling finesse lost into the bargain.

Meanwhile, closely related cars like BMW’s own X6 M60i and the Range Rover Sport SV give up only a sliver of dry-track ability while being much more rounded in every other area.

We are quite confident that most potential buyers considering an X6 M would be better served by its milder sibling. Making a rounded super-SUV has always been an uphill battle, but while such a singular focus on dry handling may have been acceptable 10 years ago, today’s chassis technology means that is no longer the case.

Illya Verpraet

Illya Verpraet Road Tester Autocar
Title: Road Tester

As part of Autocar’s road test team, Illya drives everything from superminis to supercars, and writes reviews, comparison tests, as well as the odd feature and news story. 

Much of his time is spent wrangling the data logger and wielding the tape measure to gather the data for Autocar’s eight-page road tests, which are the most rigorous in the business thanks to independent performance, fuel consumption and noise figures.