An SUV that thinks it’s a sports car
THE GOOD
  • Track-focused performance
  • Charismatic-sounding V8
  • Welcoming interior
THE BAD
  • Limited cargo capacity
  • Rear visibility
  • Track-oriented suspension

The average SUV purchase is predicated upon highly rational and practical criteria, while others are born of pure desire.

The X6 from BMW has always represented the latter, with its raked rear glass neither rational nor practical. Adding all kinds of desire is the 2021 BMW X6 M Competition, which emphasizes the sport in “sport utility vehicle” at the cost of utility.

Styling: 9.5/10

The X6 can take credit for starting the “SUV coupe” craze more than a decade ago. The polarizing style seems to have resonated with enthusiasts, opening the door for copycat versions from the likes of Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and Porsche. Heck, even Volkswagen has joined the party.

While there may be much debate as to why a vehicle like this even exists, there’s no argument that the X6 M stands out. It’s sleek, sculpted, and sexy, with aggressive haunches and carbon-fibre exterior bits that hint at its considerable performance prowess. The optional matte paint named Frozen Black also garnered a great deal of attention everywhere I travelled with the vehicle. The Sakhir Orange interior is equally eye-catching, while the space itself is nicely laid out and makes use of high-end materials like quilted leather, brushed aluminum, and carbon fibre.

Safety: 8/10

The X6 M Competition offers a selection of standard safety features, such as a back-up camera (mandated by the government), blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, forward collision warning with automated emergency braking, and lane-departure warning with lane-keeping assist. Thankfully, the lane-keep assist function has multiple levels of intervention to choose from, as it was quick to jerk the X6 back into its lane of travel in the most severe setting, and it didn’t react well to poorly marked roads.

If you spend more, you get more. Adaptive cruise control that works in stop-and-go traffic can be added, as can night vision with pedestrian detection. A driver attention camera monitors the driver for fatigue and will suggest a break if it perceives a loss of alertness.

Features: 8/10

Features you’d expect in this price range are offered here, such as a head-up display, power seats with memory functions, tire pressure monitoring, and remote start. There are other amenities that you may not have experienced before – or even heard of, for that matter – such as soft-close doors, or the ambient air package which circulates fragrance cartridges through the ventilation system. The options are seemingly endless if you’re willing to spend the money. The dash can be adorned in Nappa leather and the seatbelts upgraded with the classic M tri-colour stripes. The stereo can be upgraded to a premium surround sound setup, and a rear entertainment system can be added to keep passengers occupied and entertained.

My tester featured the optional $17,800 Ultimate package, which included items such as carbon-fibre engine cover, mirror caps, and rear spoiler; a panoramic sunroof; rear-window sunshades; heated and cooled cupholders; ventilated seats with massage function; a self-parking system with a surround-view monitor; a drive recorder; wireless charging; a subscription-based Wi-Fi hotspot; and the M Driver’s package.

Road, sport, and track driving modes are selected with a console-mounted button. Programming the steering-wheel-mounted M1 and M2 buttons and accessing additional functions (including comfort suspension setting) requires you to scroll through multiple screens in the infotainment system. M1 and M2 buttons allow you to choose from a selection of presets to program acceleration, braking, stability and traction control, steering, and suspension preferences. Even in its most aggressive, the exhaust note is pleasing but understated and subdued rather than obnoxious.

User Friendliness: 6.5/10

The height of the X6 unquestionably makes it easier for the driver and front passenger to get in and out of than most cars; however, the slant of the rear roofline reduces headroom for back-seat passengers during ingress and egress. Steering feels light at low speeds and the 360-degree camera views assist with parking in tight spaces, however, the turning radius could certainly be improved – a by-product of this SUV’s wide tires.

Despite the traditional gear lever working perfectly fine for a century, some manufacturers seem dead-set on solving a problem that doesn’t exist. Rather than simply moving fore and aft to move between forward and reverse, you need to now move up and to the left for reverse and down and to the right for drive, then again to engage manual mode. Thankfully, BMW has more recently added a park button on the switchgear to avoid the confusion of previous models not offering the function. Shifting gears manually can be done with the small steering-wheel-mounted paddles.

The X6 also features gesture control, which didn’t seem to work when I wanted it to but activated when I didn’t. Thankfully, it can be turned off so that people who move their hands when they talk aren’t constantly having to readjust the stereo volume.

Buttons, knobs, and switches offer tactile control over audio and HVAC functions, while the 12.1-inch infotainment screen can be operated via the functional rotary dial or touchscreen for easy navigation and selection. It also features Xview, which displays pitch and roll angles, as well as a compass for off-road excursions.

Practicality: 6/10

SUV coupes are not built to be as sprightly as a sport sedan nor as functional as a sport utility, and yet more manufacturers are offering them. The X6’s sloping rear end reduces cargo space by nearly 200 L and rear headroom by 50 mm (two inches) compared to the X5, while also impeding rearward visibility. The sport-tuned suspension and low-profile tires make for a firm ride that is jarring on poor roads. It’s a vehicle for people who may have previously been in the market for a sports car or sport sedan but want an SUV, yet don’t need the utility and practicality they traditionally provide.

Comfort: 6/10

What you gain in track-oriented performance, you lose in compliance and comfort. The X6 M Competition’s firm suspension, large wheels, and low-profile tires contribute to an engaging and spirited experience on the racetrack but a noisy and jarring ride on poor roads. Interior fit and finish is exemplary. Power heated and ventilated seats with a massage function are sporty and supportive, but also not too constrictive. The massive panoramic moonroof creates a welcoming, open air feeling during the day, with impressive multi-coloured accent lighting options in the evening.

Power: 9.5/10

Running laps around the Driver Development Track (DDT) at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (CTMP) northeast of Toronto, the X6 M Competition’s performance is suitably impressive. Acceleration is deceptively brisk for something of its size and weight, sprinting from zero to 100 km/h in just 3.8 seconds, with a quarter-mile run taking all of only 11.6 seconds.

Driving Feel: 8.5/10

The X6 M Competition’s 553 lb-ft of torque is available at as low as 1,800 rpm, so power is pretty much always on tap. There’s barely a hint of turbo lag and then you’re off to the races in this rear-bias all-wheel-drive SUV. The staggered 21- and 22-inch wheels are wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport 4S rubber for a sensational amount of grip. Braking is equally effortless, with a progressive, if somewhat vague bite between the M compound pads and the massive vented and drilled discs (15.6-inch front, 15-inch rear) that felt free of fade during our hot lap session.

The 2,438-kg (5,375-lb) SUV has no right to accelerate, brake, or handle as well as it does. It’s a testament to how well it’s been purposely engineered to compensate for the shortcomings of its stature. It’s obviously in its element as it’s thrown effortlessly into turns with minimal body roll from the rigid, stable chassis that features additional bracing and anti-roll stabilization. Steering is quick to react to inputs but could provide more feedback as it feels a touch artificially weighted.

The V8 engine sounds rather reserved and docile at start-up but amplifies slightly once you introduce your foot to the throttle in a spirited manner. The M sport exhaust emits a nice, deep tone, with a spattering of crackles and growls during deceleration and downshifts. It’s certainly not as attention catching as the Maserati Levante Trofeo’s Ferrari-sourced V8, but it’s nice in its own right.

Fuel Economy: 6.5/10

If you’re even contemplating a twin-turbocharged 617-hp SUV, fuel economy is probably not at the top of your list of priorities. Or maybe even a consideration at all. Nevertheless, the X6 M Competition is rated at 17.9 L/100 km on the highway and 13.0 in the city for a combined rating of 15.7. Over the course of a week of mostly highway driving, I managed 13.3 L/100 km.

By comparison, the Audi RS Q8 has a combined rating of 15.4 L/100 km, while the Maserati Levante Trofeo is rated at 15.0 L/100 km. The Porsche Cayenne Turbo Coupe gets 14.2 and the Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S nets 14.7 L/100 km.

Value: 7/10

There aren’t too many SUVs you can take to the racetrack after dropping the kids off at school and be so suitably impressed. The X6 M Competition doesn’t come cheap, but you do get a lot of performance for the money. Its track-focused aggressive nature does however limit its versatility. Its ground clearance may accommodate driving on rough roads and cottage trails, but your back may not. The Cayenne Turbo Coupe will certainly give the X6M Competition a run for its money, but costs more than $200,000 when similarly equipped.

Alternatively, the MSRP for the Jaguar F-Pace SVR is only $96,250, with a similarly equipped model ringing in the register at $114,987 compared to the $155,700 of our tester. While the Jag may have no shortage of style and panache, it doesn’t have quite the same aggressive track-focused demeanour as the X6M. So, the question becomes: how often are you going to take your SUV to the racetrack, and how much is that worth to you?

The Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S Coupe is about as close a competitor to the X6 M Competition as you can get. Pricing is within spitting distance, its styling features the same sleek silhouette, and it even shares the exact same zero-to-100 km/h time thanks to its 4.0L twin-turbo V8 making 603 hp and 627 lb-ft of torque. The 591-hp Audi RS Q8 matches the ’Benz and BMW zero-to-100 km/h time. Audi is well known for making some of the best interiors in the business, and the RS Q8 has a lower starting MSRP of $126,000.

The Porsche Cayenne Turbo Coupe, on the other hand, comes in a touch slower at 3.9 seconds (with Sport Chrono package) and a fair bit more expensive. Its 4.0L twin-turbocharged V8 makes 541 hp and 568 lb-ft of torque, with a starting MSRP of $153,800. The Maserati Levante Trofeo’s 580 hp 3.8L V8 helps it hustle its 2,170-kg (4,784-lb) curb weight from zero to 100 km/h in 4.1 seconds and has a starting MSRP of $172,440.

The Verdict

Not everyone can drive a sports car. Sometimes there’s a need for an element of practicality, however small – namely, the ability to carry passengers and some cargo. If you’re looking for a performance vehicle that comfortably seats five, you can’t do much better than the BMW M5 Competition. There’s a reason it’s the benchmark for luxury performance vehicles Europeans refer to as super saloons. It’s faster than the X6M, less expensive, lighter, more agile, and better on fuel. It does offer a lower ride height and somewhat less cargo capacity, though.

If you’re looking for an SUV with lofty performance credentials and sufficient cargo room, the X5 M Competition offers the same engine as the X6 M Competition but is roomier and is also less expensive. Nevertheless, if the X6 M Competition appeals to you and you’ve got the means, then absolute pragmatism likely won’t play into the equation. Make an appointment to test drive the Audi RS Q8, Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S Coupe, and X6 M Competition on the same day and see which one strikes your fancy most. Sometimes purchasing decisions are less about need and more about want.

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 4.4L   Model Tested 2021 BMW X6 M Competition
Engine Cylinders Twin-turbo V8   Base Price $133,000
Peak Horsepower 617 hp @ 6,000 rpm   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 553 lb-ft @1,800–5,860 rpm   Destination Fee $2,480
Fuel Economy 17.9 / 13.0 / 15.7 L/100 km city/hwy/cmb   Price as Tested $158,280
Cargo Space 776 L / 1,688 L seats down  
Optional Equipment
$22,700 – Ultimate Package, $17,800; BMW Individual Paintwork – Frozen Black, $4,900