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2020 BMW X5 M / X6 M First Drive Review: These Brutes Ball Hard

Version 3.0 of BMW’s high-performance SUVs are here to take your lunch money.

Erik JohnsonWriterManufacturerPhotographer

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona—BMW has suffered its fair share of slings and arrows in the last decade or so, a great many of which could be considered friendly fire. There was the vast proliferation of variants and niche models. The watering down of a once-pure driving experience in a chase for mainstream profits. And the rampant application of the hot-rod M brand to, well, practically everything BMW makes. While such decisions have delivered a number of wins—sales of full M models are at record highs, and items like the M Sport package are similarly red hot—the company also stretched itself perhaps a little too thin. Now, BMW is in the thick of a course correction, canceling a number of current and future vehicles and renewing its focus on driver satisfaction. That doesn't mean there's not still room for variations on themes, of course; witness the 2020 BMW X5 M and X6 M, the gen-three high-performance versions of BMW's midsize SUVs.

The all-new 2020 models—the X5, remember, is the traditional SUV, while the X6 is the fastback-UV thing that kicked off that whole trend—now make 600 horsepower and 553 lb-ft from a silky smooth 4.4-liter, twin-turbo V-8. (That's 33 more ponies than before.) The Competition models crank the wick up to 617 horsepower, and include myriad other changes that make them suitable for competing, uh, someplace, we guess? Zero-to-60-mph times are 3.8 seconds in the weak-sauce model and 3.7 seconds in the Competition. Whoa.

The M SUVs are more than simple power brokers, though. They also add more cooling for the turbos, engine oil, and transmission, as well as electronically adjustable brake feel, larger brakes, rear-biased all-wheel drive, fancier interior trimmings, more aggressive seats, and fat and sticky tires measuring 295/35-21 in front and 315/35-21 in the rear. To that formula, the Competitions add even bigger rear tires (315/30-22, also available for more money on the so-called "core" models), blacked-out exterior trim, a number of options as standard, a Track mode, and full leather Merino interiors, among other bits. We just drove the X5 M and X6 M Competitions in and around Scottsdale, Arizona, and, well, they are mighty formidable.

On a long, winding, and largely traffic-free loop around Prescott, to the Canyon Creek Ranch, and back to Scottsdale, these new M SUVs certainly proved their potency—and then some. Acceleration from the forced-induction V-8 is freight-train strong and nearly as indefatigable. Launches are jaw-dropping events that cause your sternum to touch your spine, and the ability to add miles per hour in great gobs is only an ankle flex away, even at near-triple-digit speeds. The eight-speed automatic transmission is practically transparent in operation and responds to paddle tugs in manual mode promptly and without fail. The Sport exhaust exclusive to the Competition takes on a menacing rumble in the sportier drive modes or if you press a center-console button. You should always press the button.

The brakes are strong enough to turn your cheeks to jowls, and they're adjustable across two modes that are actually discernible. The pedal is linear and progressive in Comfort, perfect for daily driving, while it becomes more eager—but by no means touchy—in Sport. Still, adjustable brake-pedal feel seems awfully gimmicky, and we wouldn't have minded if either mode were the default.

While being mindful not to visit the local coyote on their desert turf, we nevertheless pushed these 5,500-pound bruisers hard enough to confirm they grip tarmac with the strength of industrial-grade Velcro. Even with the suspension in Comfort mode, body roll is only suggested as the X5 and X6 M tidily devour corner after corner, and they defy physics in a way that suggests Newton's Principia was never translated to German.

If the 2020 X5 M and X6 M have a weakness—besides the X6's hunchy looks and less practical cargo area—it's that the steering doesn't offer much in the way of road feel; adjusting it through its Comfort, Sport, and Sport Plus settings merely adds weight. On the other hand, it's highly accurate and holds these SUVs in a tight line on the freeway. In addition, the ride from the adjustable suspension can be described as "firm" even in Comfort. If you live somewhere with horrible roads, take a test drive first.

The X5 M starts at $106,095 and the X6 M at $109,595, and you'll need to throw another $9,000 on the table for the Competition versions. These are not insignificant amounts of money no matter your net worth, but if a big, brash, and ludicrously capable SUV is your thing—maybe you like being able to set parkway lap records while carrying a month's worth of Costco purchases, or in the case of the X6 M, a week's worth—either of these monstrous M machines would make a fine choice.

2020 BMW X5 M / X6 M Competition Specifications
ON SALE April 2020
PRICE X5 M Competition, $115,095; X6 M Competition, $118,595
ENGINE 4.0L twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8; 617 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 553 lb-ft @ 1,800-5,800 rpm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV
EPA MILEAGE 13/18 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 195.0 x 79.3-79.5 x 66.7-68.9 in
WHEELBASE 117.0 in
WEIGHT 5,375-5,425 lb
0-60 MPH 3.7 sec
TOP SPEED 155-177 mph