2021 BMW X6 M Competition Review: This Automotive Marvel Movie Is Loud, Impressive, and Forgettable
Driving BMW's extremely expensive and unnecessary high-performance SUV is a bit like seeing a superhero movie.
The 2021 BMW X6 M Competition is very big. It's also quite expensive, extremely polished, and, if you cut past the theatrics and hype, frankly a bit boring. Y'know what it reminds me of? A superhero movie. Specifically, a Marvel superhero movie, an entire subgenre I feel a little conflicted over talking smack about at the moment because of an upcoming entry that I'm very much looking forward to seeing.
You see, Asian America Pacific Islander Heritage Month might be this month but, if you ask me, my 31 days of Asian pride actually started in late April when we got our initial glimpse at Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, the first Marvel movie—nay, superhero movie—featuring an Asian lead. Usually, I don't like to get myself worked up about this sort of thing but, I gotta say, finally seeing somebody who looked like me—and from my own neck of the Canadian woods to boot—have his name up in the absolute brightest lights of Hollywood felt a little special. (I'm now being told that I look nothing like Simu Liu on account of the abs, the face, and, like, literally everything else but you know what I mean.)
(Editor's note: We think you're beautiful and perfect the way you are, Chris.)
That said, if you look past the stunts, effects, and, of course, the appreciated Asianness of it all, I will be the first to admit that Marvel's upcoming martial-arts-inspired picture looks a tad generic as a movie. This brings me back to the BMW X6 M Competition and, no, it has nothing to do with the automaker's very obvious product placement deal with Disney.
But before we get into that, let's start with a little context.
The 2021 BMW X6 M Competition, By the Numbers
- Base price (as tested): $118,595 | ($163,080 CAD)
- Powertrain: 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 | 8-speed automatic transmission | all-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 617 @ 6,000 rpm
- Torque: 553 lb-ft @ 1,800 rpm to 5,690 rpm
- EPA fuel economy: 13 mpg city | 18 highway | 15 combined
- Curb weight: 5,375 pounds
- Seating capacity: 5
- Cargo space: 27.4 to 59.6 cubic feet
- Ground clearance: 8.4 inches
- Quick take: Like a big-budget Hollywood number, the X6 M Competition is flashy and impressive but ultimately hollow.
The BMW X6 was all-new for 2020 but went unchanged for 2021. Now in its third generation, it's the company's midsize "coupe" SUV: basically a more expressive-looking X5 with a sloping roof that meets with an equally crooked beltline. Coupe-SUV haters, in fact, have this car to thank for the entire category's existence because the original X6 arguably started the trend all way back when it first debuted in 2008.
Two generations later, it's currently available in much more pedestrian sDrive40i and xDrive40i forms, or the more powerful but not-quite-a-full-M M50i spec. This X6 in question, however, is the top dog X6 M Competition, the quickest and most powerful version available and essentially what you'd get if you walked into a BMW dealership and declared to the salesperson, "Give me the biggest, fastest, loudest, most obnoxious thing you have, please."
Driving the Thing
Packing a twin-turbocharged, 4.4-liter V8, the X6 M Competition makes 617 horsepower and 553 pound-feet of torque. If that seems outrageous on paper, rest assured, it’s pretty outrageous in real life as well. The X6 M Competition was a wildly, excessively quick SUV when I pinned my right foot to the floor. Zero to 60 mph is dealt with in an estimated 3.7 seconds and, with this tester's M Driver's Package, top speed is electronically capped at 177 mph.
Fun fact: As of 2021, the Competition guise is the only way to get the X6 M up here in Canada but elsewhere, such as in the U.S., folks can still save about $9,000 and opt for a non-Competition X6 M. The "base" X6 M produces 600 HP instead of the Comp's 617 and takes 0.1 seconds longer to hit 60 mph. It also comes with smaller standard rear wheels and does without the X6 M Competition's Track drive mode, red-and-blue-striped M seat belts, dark exterior trim, full Merino leather, and M Sport exhaust system.
Speaking of exhaust, the boosted V8 with the M Sport exhaust sounded quite good on top of providing some frankly absurd straight-line speed. It kind of made me wish BMW wasn't so great at sound insulation because this was definitely one of those cars that sounded way better from the outside than it did on the inside. From the inside, its voice seemed more... scientific than animalistic but, from the outside, it was snarly at low revs and straight-up thunderous at high ones. If you ever find yourself at the helm of an X6 M Competition, do yourself a favor and head for the nearest tunnel, crack open a window, drop a couple of gears, and bask in the thunder.
Pointed towards a curving backroad, the X6 M Competition's steering was satisfyingly responsive, quick-ratioed, and precise. No, there wasn't a lot of feel coming through the steering wheel, although that's kind of to be expected, as other BMWs I've tested haven't had the best steering feel. Another unsurprising negative was the fairly stiff ride. Adaptive M suspension—double-wishbones leading the way, five-link in the rear—definitely assumes owners went into M Car Ownership with their eyes wide open and a masseuse on speed dial because even in Comfort mode, the ride here is far from cossetting. For a young-ish person like myself, it was manageable, but older folks looking for a cruiser that'll glide through the miles should shop elsewhere.
Once I made peace with the jiggly ride, though, the X6 M Competition earned its M badge with aplomb. Athletic suspension paired with an equally rigid chassis lends to a cornering experience that's flat even by non-SUV standards. The way the entire car responded to inputs was first-rate and with the help of those enormous Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires, BMW has effectively engineered out most of the detriments of a high center of gravity that comes with a body style like this.
Sure, on track and in the hands of a seasoned driver, one should be able to eke out more performance from, say, an M5. But on public roads, this X6 M Competition keeps up with any super sedan out there. The limits are extremely high and, for better or worse, any fun that's had in it almost always means you're breaking the law.
At speed, the massive M compound brakes (the M still stands for motorsport here, not massive)—15.6 inches up front, 15 inches in the rear, and drilled and vented—were definitely strong enough to keep up with the monstrous power. But, like this other BMW I recently drove, the pedal was less than great to use in stop-and-go situations. Like that electrified 3 Series, the X6 was annoyingly difficult to bring to a complete stop smoothly.
Low-speed braking qualms aside, though, the X6 M Competition was extremely composed and brutally effective at covering a lot of distance in not a lot of time. I would've preferred if it funneled more feedback through my hands and less through the suspension but, all in all, this is an impeccably engineered and furiously fast SUV.
Pros and Cons
When it comes to styling, I actually quite like what BMW has done with the front end of the new X6. The grille is big but properly proportioned, its stance is aggressive, and I'm a sucker for the little blue accents inside of the Laser headlights even though I'm not sure they actually serve a purpose.
The $4,900 CAD Frozen Black paint on this tester looks fairly badass and fits this whole car's vibe well. (For what it's worth, my mom hated the color. Not sure if it was because, to her, it made the car look perpetually dirty or the fact that it says to passersby whoever's behind the wheel is probably an unashamed villain.)
In any case, one can't really talk about the BMW X6 without mentioning that rear half. It would probably be more interesting for me to declare that it's grown on me but, sadly, I can't. After a week of being in its presence, this whole slope-roofed "coupe" SUV deal is still irredeemably silly. The slanted roof and rising beltline mean compromised cargo room, worse visibility, and a darker cave of a cabin for passengers compared to a more regularly proportioned SUV like an X5 M Competition. And that's before we get to the subject of aesthetics.
The nicest thing I can say about the X6's rear end at this point is to let you, the reader, make your own judgments because there really isn't any rational reason to take this over an X5 M other than some vainglorious need to roll around in the most obnoxiously impractical SUV BMW sells. Y'know what driving a "coupe-UV" says about you? It says you want to sit higher than others but will never visit Home Depot because such trips are usually followed by manual labor. And who wants to do manual labor? You have people for that.
The X6 M's insides, at least, are much less controversial. It'll feel familiar to anyone's who's been in pretty much any new BMW lately—meaning that it's utilitarian and driver-oriented, albeit uncompromisingly equipped and sumptuously appointed here. Nearly every surface is either leather, metal, or glossy carbon fiber. Heated and cooled cupholders get real hot and real cold. The $4,900 CAD Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Surround Sound system sounds appropriately great and there's ambient lighting in the speaker grilles, the door pockets, and even lining the sides of the panoramic sunroof.
iDrive is remarkably responsive and easy-to-use and projected out of a 12.3-inch display, the biggest BMW currently offers. For perspective, the biggest iPad Pro sold today measures 12.9 inches.
As for things I'd change: The seats are ergonomically fine but, like the ride, a little firm for my coddled backside. The headrests feel more like something you'd find at the gym rather than something you'd put at the top of your bed.
The massage function on the front seats and gesture controls that let you control the radio by waving your hand in the air like a wizard are both cool exhibitions of how far technology—and, indeed, human laziness—have come but are limited in actual, practical value. "Gimmick" is, I think, the word I'm looking for.
This car's biggest sin, however, is similar to the one I found in the 330e. Despite the massive horsepower, Balemobile-inspired paintwork, and style-for-style's-sake rear end, the X6 M Competition doesn't really seem to have a soul. It's numb. Terribly and almost terrifyingly fast, but antiseptically so. It doesn't surprise or connect with its driver on any sort of emotional level and I'm disappointed BMW made it this way.
There's a quote from an ex-BMW exec that quite eloquently exposed the kind of thinking that exists within the company today. Back in 2018, when the G20 3 Series first debuted, BMW's then-development chief and board member Klaus Fröhlich told Australian publication Motoring:
"It has to beat everybody in the segment in driving dynamics because all the Australian, UK, and American journalists say, 'Oh the E46 CSL was the last real 3 Series.' I do not want to hear that shit anymore. First thing and this is for me the most important thing; you can drive fast and completely relaxed. You don't feel how fast you are. Second thing and this thing is a big achievement; this car is much more valuable, it has much better materials and it is solid like a rock."
You don't feel how fast you are.
Fröhlich's philosophy gives a glimpse into why so many of BMW's recent cars are so emotionally distant and why the X6 M is the way it is. I knew I was going fast because of how quickly the ground beneath me was moving. The speedometer told me as much. But I did not feel it. And if I did not feel it, what exactly was the point of going fast at all? If I'm going to get a ticket, I might as well have fun doing it, right? Does BMW think people buy fast cars for the sole sake of actually getting to their destinations sooner? Get the fuck outta here.
"High-performance, coupe-shaped, midsize luxury SUV" might be an unnecessary niche within another unnecessary niche, but there are quite a few of these on the market. Mercedes-AMG, for example, will sell you a GLE 63 S Coupe starting at $117,050. There's also the $115,595 Audi RS Q8 and the somewhat more expensive $133,250 Porsche Cayenne Turbo Coupe. All of them, not so coincidentally perhaps, feature 4.0-liter, twin-turbo V8s, and all of them get from zero to 60 mph in exactly 3.7 seconds, just like the X6 M Competition. Who says luxury cars are homogenized goods?
Those with even bigger budgets and an appetite for more flash may consider the Lamborghini Urus, a car that cynics might call a badge-and-body-kit-engineered version of the aforementioned RS Q8. Same with the gorgeous Aston Martin DBX, a vehicle that happens to use the same engine as the GLE 63 S and is empirical proof that eccentrically-styled SUVs need not be awkward-looking. These are some of the nichest of niche cars, but clearly people are buying them if so many automakers all offer their own version.
The Marvel Verdict
In spite of what your 16-year-old cousin or nephew thinks, Captain America: Civil War and Black Panther were not cinematic masterpieces. Neither was Crazy Rich Asians, for that matter, no matter what Rotten Tomatoes or guilt-ridden white people have to say. And I, in no way, expect that upcoming Shang-Chi flick to be one, either. But that's okay because those movies are grand, bombastic, and beautifully produced showcases of how far we've come in terms of both diversity and how convincingly CGI can de-age Robert Downey Jr.
BMW's X6 M Competition, meanwhile, is also quite the show. It's a show of just how G-force-producingly far the internal combustion engine and automotive science as a whole have advanced. The pace at which this 5,375-pound SUV can snake and blast down a road sans electrification is nothing short of astounding. It's also very much a statement purchase. A show of how little its owner can afford to care about stuff like cargo capacity, fuel efficiency (hello, 15 mpg combined), and, of course, the price. Coupled with the prodigious speed, this is likely all the X6 M Competition's target buyer is looking for. And there's nothing necessarily wrong with that.
Purely as a driving experience, however, there isn't much to praise other than the fact that it's ridiculously capable. It's very impressive and I respect the work and technology that's led to its existence. But respect is not the same as admiration. It's about as soulless as it is accomplished and, if you ask me, not really worthy of a proverbial automotive Oscar.
The 2021 BMW X6 M Competition is, in summation, excessively effective as a high-riding instrument of speed but not all that comfortable, practical, or overwhelmingly enjoyable to operate. In other words, it's deeply, deeply unnecessary and after I gave it back to BMW, I didn't find myself yearning to drive it again. But like every other ostentatious and unnecessary luxury good out there, BMW will sell every single one it makes. Its quality is certainly undeniable.
In that same spirit, then, Shang-Chi opens Sept. 3 and I look forward to joining everybody else in line at the box office on opening weekend. Will it be an entertaining afternoon out, filled with mesmerizing action sequences, slick CGI, and complete with a bucket of buttery popcorn? Undoubtedly. Will it be enjoyable enough for me to ever want to watch it again afterward? Probably not, but given its cultural significance, I'd love to be proven wrong.
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