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BMW X3 M 2020 review: road test

EXPERT RATING
7.8
BMW's X3 has never had a really quick version and now, in its third-generation, has two - the M Performance M40i the freshly-bonkers X3 M Competition

You might also be interested in the Alfa Romeo Stelvio

image of Alfa Romeo Stelvio Compare to the BMW X3 Book A Test Drive Request A Brochure

Big fast SUVs have long been a guilty pleasure of mine. My brain has been telling me for years, since the first time I drove one - the first-gen Audi SQ5 - that they're silly and wasteful and 'not my kind of car'.

The Europeans - and latterly, the Americans - seem to be playing to an audience of me, convincing my prejudiced head that my try-anything heart is right: over-engined, jacked-up, stiffly-sprung family wagons are as much fun as anything else.

The X3 M is BMW's first full-fat M version of the X3, a car that has never really fired the imagination until this third generation. First we got the very good X3 M40i, now we have a 375kW, twin-turbo straight-six screamer, the M Competition.

BMW X3 2020: M
Safety rating
Engine Type3.0L
Fuel Type98 Ron
Fuel Efficiency10.6L/100km
Seating5 seats
Price from$157,900

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   7/10

For $157,900, before on-road costs, you may think this car should be absolutely loaded with stuff. And it is. Whether that's enough is up to you, but the price is about right for its segment.

It's worth remembering we only get the up-spec Competition version, BMW saw no point in offering the 'normal' version nobody was going to buy.

For your cash you get 21-inch alloys. (image: Peter Anderson) For your cash you get 21-inch alloys. (image: Peter Anderson)

For your cash you get 21-inch alloys, multi-zone climate control, ambient interior lighting, keyless entry and start, active cruise control, electronic damper control, digital instrument cluster (not the new 'Live Cockpit'), sat nav, auto high beam, auto LED headlights, launch control, leather seats and steering wheel, electric front seats, head-up display, auto parking, power everything, auto wipers, huge panorama sunroof and a tyre repair kit.

The big central screen features BMW's iDrive, controlled by either the rotary dial or via touchscreen. It's a belter of a system and I reckon it's still the best, although you have to pay for Apple CarPlay - this remains controversial and I wonder how long the company will persist.

Is there anything interesting about its design?   7/10

The third-generation X3 is by far the best-looking and isn't as badly blighted by BMW's current oversized, hatchback-straining grilles. It's not small, no, but in the flesh, it looks fine.

The usual M accoutrements are present, with new front and rear bumpers, skirts and a whopping set of 21-inch alloys. It looks different and marginally more aggro than the M40i and just enough so a vaguely interested observer will notice.

The third-generation X3 is by far the best-looking and isn't as badly blighted by BMW's current oversized, hatchback-straining grilles. (image: Peter Anderson) The third-generation X3 is by far the best-looking and isn't as badly blighted by BMW's current oversized, hatchback-straining grilles. (image: Peter Anderson)

A quick look at the rest of the similarly-sized hard-and-fast SUVs reveals a similar approach.

The cabin is largely unspectacular, as is the BMW way. The X3's interior pre-dates the current X5, X7 and 3 Series which are rather more attractive and packed with newer tech.

The seats add some serious excitement, they're a proper set of M seats, complete with the slightly naff light-up X3 M logos in the backrest. But it's predictably well-made, is very comfortable and is full of nice materials.

It's not small, no, but in the flesh, it looks fine. (image: Peter Anderson) It's not small, no, but in the flesh, it looks fine. (image: Peter Anderson)

How practical is the space inside?   8/10

This X3, if you need reminding, is bigger than BMW's first SAV (ugh), the X5. That means plenty of room up front, heaps of legroom for most in the back and enough room for five aboard.

  • The boot starts at an impressive 550 litres. (image: Peter Anderson) The boot starts at an impressive 550 litres. (image: Peter Anderson)
  • The boot size almost triples to 1600 litres when you drop the 40/20/40 split fold seat. (image: Peter Anderson) The boot size almost triples to 1600 litres when you drop the 40/20/40 split fold seat. (image: Peter Anderson)

Front seat passengers score a pair of cupholders with a cover and the centre rear armrest has two more for a total of four. Add to that bottle holders in each door and your beverage holding capabilities are pretty standard.

The boot starts at an impressive 550 litres, almost tripling to 1600 litres when you drop the 40/20/40 split fold seat. You get a good flat load space when you do that, too.

There is heaps of legroom for most in the back and enough room for five aboard. (image: Peter Anderson) There is heaps of legroom for most in the back and enough room for five aboard. (image: Peter Anderson)

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   9/10

The X3 M arrives from the US with a shiny new version of BMW's modular six-cylinder performance engine. While the M Performance M40i has a single turbo (B58) straight six, one tiny change to the name - from B58 to S58 - means a heck of a lot.

The S58 takes the same fundamental formula, bolts in two new single-scroll turbos, throws in forged conrods and a few other changes to boost the power to 375kW (500 horsepower) and 600Nm.

The X3 M arrives from the US with a shiny new version of BMW's modular six-cylinder performance engine. (image: Peter Anderson) The X3 M arrives from the US with a shiny new version of BMW's modular six-cylinder performance engine. (image: Peter Anderson)

That torque figure is available across a nice wide 3350 revs, between 2600rpm and 5950rpm.

Getting all that to the wheels is the M version of BMW's all-wheel drive system xDrive and an active rear differential. The near-ubiquitous eight-speed ZF brokers the connection between that system and the flywheel and it's all impossibly smooth and feels bulletproof.

How much fuel does it consume?   7/10

The official fuel sticker quotes a mightily impressive 10.6L/100km. No, not great for a mid-sized SUV but pretty good for one with five hundred horses under your right foot.

The reality, of course, is different but not unexpectedly so - a week in my hands in the suburbs and a cobweb-clearing early morning run delivered a 14.1L/100km average. Again, not bad given the kind grunt that's on tap.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   8/10

The X3 M rolls out the door of BMW's North Carolina factory with six airbags, stability and traction controls, front and rear parking sensors, around view camera (including reversing camera), forward and reverse AEB, blind spot sensor, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, reverse cross traffic alert, speed limit recognition and tyre pressure monitoring.

There are also two ISOFIX points and three top-tether restraints.

The X3 scored a maximum five ANCAP stars in 2017.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

3 years / 100,000 km warranty

ANCAP Safety Rating

ANCAP logo

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   7/10

BMW offers a segment standard, but increasingly mean-looking, three years/unlimited kilometre warranty. It's not just BMW, though, it's all of the premium Germans. You do get three years roadside assist into the bargain and you can pay to extend the warranty, too.

You can pre-pay your servicing, with a five-year/80,000km Basic package for $3685. If you think you're going to give your X3 M a proper walloping you can opt for the the 'Plus Package'. For a not-inconsiderable $8173.

BMW will cover your brake pads and rotors for the same period as the Basic package.

Service intervals are variable because, as ever, BMWs tell you when they need a trip to the dealer.

What's it like to drive?   9/10

One of the things I love about BMW is the company's ability to produce a car that on one hand is so normal and competent for the every day but also produce a version that is completely doolally.

The fine folk at M obviously involve themselves from day one so that when they get a finished car they can get cracking on making it properly fast. Obviously, quite a bit has to change for that to happen.

The X3 M is very stiff. Pop the bonnet and you'll see a piece of whatever the metal equivalent of four-by-two keeping the two sides of the car apart.

This is something M does whenever it gets a vanilla BMW, as it has with the M2 and outgoing M3 and M4 pair. To name three. The difference from the driver's seat, when compared to, say, the M40i, is immediate.

Front seat passengers score a pair of cupholders with a cover and the centre rear armrest has two more for a total of four. (image: Peter Anderson) Front seat passengers score a pair of cupholders with a cover and the centre rear armrest has two more for a total of four. (image: Peter Anderson)

The steering is super-responsive, the front of the car reacting incredibly quickly given the X3 M's two-tonne weight.

Even in Comfort mode, the X3 M's ride is pretty firm. That doesn't bother me especially, nor my wife, who has a keen sense of ride quality. It never really falls over the line of being uncomfortable but it's worth knowing if you're considering this and you have to carry passengers.

If you drive around town in either M1 or M2 (in the factory settings at least), you're mad - the suspension becomes very hard and the steering too heavy. In fact, the steering in its Super Sport setting is just too heavy and uncooperative.

Once you've set it up to your liking though, the X3 M is brilliant. The S58 - soon to be installed in the new 3 and 4 Series M cars - is fantastic.

Cheerfully belting the 7200rpm redline at every upshift, barking between gears and delivering torque the way a hungry Labrador delivers a headbutt if you get in between it and food, the straight-six is glorious.

The X3's interior pre-dates the current X5, X7 and 3 Series which are rather more attractive and packed with newer tech. (image: Peter Anderson) The X3's interior pre-dates the current X5, X7 and 3 Series which are rather more attractive and packed with newer tech. (image: Peter Anderson)

The 4.1-second sprint from 0-100km/h is only part of the story. Not many cars can cover ground so quickly and fewer still SUVs of this size and weight can do it with such precision.

When you turn the wheel on the X3 M, the front goes where you want it, instantly. All that under-bonnet bracing prevents the front flexing and shimmying, which is the enemy of going fast. So that sorts out getting into the corner. The best thing is you can push through corners and slingshot out the other side, riding that huge torque slab, the rear wheels doing most of the work with the occasional wriggle to keep you smiling.

A good chunk of the applause goes to the way the xDrive all-wheel drive system and its 'M Active' diff at the rear work together in Sport+ mode.

As colleague Steve Corby discovered at this car's clay-pan launch, the front wheels aren't doing much of the driving when you've turned it all up to 11 in '4WD Sport'.

When the road goes from straight to twisty, the excellent brakes come in to play, hauling the car down from big speeds without complaint. Even better is that in normal driving, they're not grabby and the pedal always lets you know what shape you're in.

As much as I love the mental GLC63 - complete with V8 bellow - the X3 M is the one for drivers. (image: Peter Anderson) As much as I love the mental GLC63 - complete with V8 bellow - the X3 M is the one for drivers. (image: Peter Anderson)

Verdict

As much as I love the mental GLC63 - complete with V8 bellow - the X3 M is the one for drivers. While that's a silly thing to say on the surface - what 'driver' is going to buy an SUV? - this is the new reality. We love these things and they're not going away.

While it may not be quite as comfortable as any of its competition or have the V8 cachet of the Jag and the Merc, it still takes the fight to them in what is easily the roomiest and most practical in this niche part of the segment. And it's an enormous amount of fun.

You have plenty of choices in the mid-size fast SUV market - X3 M, GLC63, Alfa Stelvio Quadrifoglio - what's your choice?

Pricing Guides

$157,900
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)
Lowest Price
$157,900
Highest Price
$157,900
EXPERT RATING
7.8
Price and features7
Design7
Practicality8
Engine & trans9
Fuel consumption7
Safety8
Ownership7
Driving9
Peter Anderson
Contributing journalist

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