Car Reviews

2020 BMW X5 & X6 M Competition Review

2020 BMW X5 M and X6 M Competition review in Australia, including price, specs, interior, ride and handling, safety and score.

IN A NUTSHELL: If you can’t choose between these two, we’d suggest the X5 M Competition as the better (logical) choice. But some want the exclusive look of the compromised ‘coupe-style’ sibling, and if that’s the case then know that the X6 M Competition has all of the attributes that make the X5 such a winner.

THE GOOD: Compliant in comfort setting, tremendous fun in sport mode, beastly engine, still SUV practical.

THE BAD: The X6 makes many compromises for that sloped rear end.

Everything about this third-generation X5 and X6 M duo is bigger and bolder, not least of which starts with a pronounced nose with a gaping grille. That’s all the rage at BMW HQ this decade. The sides are blistered out and the bonnet has bulging creases, indicating that there’s a big bent eight engine lurking underneath.

BMW X6 M Competition

Also bigger is power and torque, and the price nudges north as well. Despite all this, the bigger number 6 isn’t as good as the 5, at least not objectively. The X5 M is more practical (it has a larger boot, better rear seat-space, and is cheaper) while the X6 compromises all of those areas for an appearance that doesn’t really beat the X5’s upright appearance. But as always, your mind might vary, and for that, there is the X6.

What do they cost and what do you get?

So the price difference isn’t much; the X5 M Competition costs $209,900 plus on-road costs and the X6 M Competition $213,900. Choose either and you get the most powerful BMW SUV in existence.

In Competition spec – the only model available in Australia – the engine receives a 19kW boost over normal M models. There’s also a bellowing M Sport exhaust, M Mode including track mode, 21-inch front and 22-inch rear alloy wheels, Alcantara headliner, Merino leather trim, and gloss black interior elements.

That’s on top of a packed list of standard inclusions, such as: Harman Kardon sound system, 12.3-inch infotainment screen, full digital driver’s display, electrically adjustable seats with heating function, electric steering wheel adjustment, heated and cooled cupholders, four-zone climate control, head up display, panoramic sunroof, soft-closing doors, keyless tailgate, and keyless entry and start. It even comes with a function to drive itself out of a tight spot without you in it, and there’s plenty of safety assistant systems like adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, and sensors and cameras all around.

The meat of it is the engine, a 460kW V8 mated to an eight-speed auto and all-wheel drive.

What’s the interior like?

What a lovely interior. Yes, it has a sporty flair that’s a little edgier than the normal BMW luxury pieces but it’s quite comfortable in there. The Merino leather is very soft, and the seats, despite strong bolstering on the sides and a sporty grip around you, are good on touring drives. The steering wheel is also a nice touchpoint – thick and strong in the hands but never tiresome.

The seating position has a wide range of adjustments and it’s easy to find a comfortable or sporty position, but mind that this is an SUV and not an M4 coupe, so it has a highish position still. Vision is good in the X5 M, and somewhat compromised in the X6 M due to its coupe rear with thick C-Pillars.

That compromise also drops the roof a touch sooner in the X6 M over the X5 M, and so the cabin space, particularly when sitting in the back row, feels a bit dark and crampy. It’s much airier in the X5, but both leg and headroom is good (the X5 still taller overhead).

And that boot drops a few litres in the X6, too. The X5 claims 650L capacity, which is big enough for piling up snow gear on a jaunt up the mountains for a few nights. The X6 measures 580L, so you might get the same amount of gear in but you’ll have to persuade it to fit.

Upfront the similarities are ubiquitous. The 12.3-inch infotainment screen looks superb – crisp, bright, and colourful with glossy graphics that don’t wash out in the sun – and the wireless Apple CarPlay that’s now standard equipment and not subscription-based brings BMW’s connectivity almost on par with Audi and Mercedes-Benz. We say almost because the Bavarian brand doesn’t offer Android Auto, yet.

The digital display for the driver is rather nice too. It’s not as flash as Audi’s virtual cockpit with its full satellite navigation maps, and not like Merc’s big twin-screen setup, but it feels traditional while blending all the modern conveniences you want. And when you flick into M mode, the cluster and head up display both change to suit the performance feeling.

What’s the engine like?

BMW’s rolling out its 4.4-litre V8 into plenty of artillery now and it’s a stonking motor. The N63 engine was first introduced in 2008 in the X6 when it produced 300kW and 600Nm, and it’s come a long way since then in this latest block which is designated S63 by M Division. Measuring 4.4-litres total , each cylinder has a swept capacity of 549cc which is blown by two twin-scroll turbochargers with a pulse tuned, cross-engine exhaust manifold. That last bit keeps the turbines on boost every 180-degree rotation, unlike in regular N63 engines.

Producing 460kW at 5600 to 6700rpm and 750Nm at 1800 to 5600rpm it is not short of punch for motivating this two-tonne pair. Acceleration is a claimed 3.8sec for both, which is absolutely humming, and it feels like a proper sub-4.0sec car when you launch it.

It also makes a feral racket and the noise punches far down the road as it hurtles off the line. The eight-speed torque converter automatic and all-wheel-drive system combine to pass power to the wheels without hesitation and with plenty of grip, though the rubber does measure a wide 295/35 up front and 315/30 on the rear.

As much as BMW builds a great straight-six, these two feel right with V8s upfront.

The price for enjoyment is BMW’s claimed 12.5L per 100km fuel consumption on the government combined cycle, which is higher in real life; lead foots will be somewhere over 18L/100km having fun.

What’s it like to drive?

Previous compromises to ride quality in performance SUVs is closing with the advancement of damping technology and clever suspension geometry. The more the engineers learn, the better they get. For the X5 and X6 M, both provide a balanced package that can be compliant and comfortable in comfort mode but firm with stability in sport mode.

It’s remarkable how relaxed it can be after a hard punt on twisting roads, absorbing hard edges and potholes well – and that’s on top of the thin rubber wrapped around those big alloys. It never fully disguises brittle bumps, but it does prevent the chassis from feeling ragged and poorly damped.

This gives it an easy demeanor around town, playing the family fast wagon well. The problem is selecting sport plus mode which should be the reserve for quiet long backroads, even a race track. In the city, it just feels far too eager and bombastic around traffic, overly keen to lurch off the line and holding second gear so that it sings up the rev range. There is an individual setting, however, so you can blend exhaust theatrics and comfortable drivetrain configurations together.

How safe is it?

These M SUVs don’t carry on the five-star ANCAP rating the normal X5 and X6 tout but only because they require re-testing.

One thing we’d point out is that they do have proper AEB that brings you to a complete stop, unlike most BMW’s that won’t bring the car to a standstill when an object is detected in front of the car. Other safety assistance systems include adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, steering assist, front and rear cross-traffic warning, side collision warning, 360 surround-view cameras, head up display, and a parking assistant which can reverse the car out of its spot for you.

Editor's Rating

How do we rate the interior and practicality?
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Alex Rae

Alex Rae