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BMW X3M 2020 review

EXPERT RATING
7.6
How many things can you slap an expensive, storied, respected badge on before said badge starts to feel cheap, common and redundant?

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How many things can you slap an expensive, storied, respected badge on before said badge starts to feel cheap, common and redundant?

Well, you can get Ferrari socks, and shoes, and ear plugs, but you can’t buy a Fendi fart cushion or Calvin Klein cordial. 

The people at BMW’s much-loved M division, however, seem to be increasingly slapping their badge, an M that supposedly stands for “Motorsport”, on all kinds of things.

And why wouldn’t they, when Australians snap them up. One in five BMWs we buy has an M badge, the third-highest performance ratio for the Munich-based company in the world.

Well, they might think that it cheapens the brand to make M versions of what aren’t particularly sport-focused models, like the X3 and X4 SAVs (Sport Activity Models).

But then they’d no doubt argue that if what they can turn these inner-city faux-wheel drives into is something amazing, and true to the badge’s heritage, they’re only spreading the love, and answering consumer demand.

So, does the X3 M Competition stack up? Is it, in short, worthy of a badge that denotes track ability, and competitive spirit, even though they’re about as likely to go racing as they are to tackle the Birdsville Track? And is it worth the investment of almost $160,000?

We went to spectacular Wilpena Pound in outback South Australia to find out.

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

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   6/10

It’s a tricky thing to evaluate such a weird beard of a car as this in terms of value, because normally when you’re being asked to spend $157,900 for a BMW you’re getting something that’s all sports car, wrapped in sexiness.

In the case of the X3 M Competition, you’re getting a mid-size SUV that’s not exactly capacious but goes like the clappers, and looks… like a mid-size SUV. And that's a lot of money for one of those.

The X3 M only comes with the Standard Competition Package in Australia. The X3 M only comes with the Standard Competition Package in Australia.

What you are getting for the money is an engine that blows away even such hot Beemers as the current M2, so that’s worth a bit. 

The car only comes with the Standard Competition Package in Australia (it’s the top option elsewhere), due to the popularity of that kind of thing in our market, apparently.

That gets you the amazing engine plus a standard M Sport Exhaust, connected to four, black-tipped tailpipes, an eight-speed sports automatic, xDrive with 4WD and 4WD Sport modes, and an Active M Differential.

You’ll also score “Professional” satellite navigation, Comfort Access, a Panorama sunroof, M Head Up Display, Driving Assistant Plus with semi-autonomous functionality including Active Cruise Control and Parking Assistant Plus, plus Hill Descent Control.

Behind the steering wheel is an M-specific digital instrument cluster. Behind the steering wheel is an M-specific digital instrument cluster.

And don’t forget 21-inch light alloy wheels, Adaptive LED headlights, ambient interior lighting with six colour options, and alarm system, very sexy M Sport seats (the M logo on the headrests even glows at night when you open the door) with Extended Leather Merino trim, a 16-speaker harman/kardon stereo system, tyre-pressure monitoring, lane-keeping assistant, wireless charging, individual roof rails, rear roller sunblinds and BMW Connected Drive. 

Are there any options you could even want on top of all that? Have you ever seen a BMW offered without them? 

Strangely and uniquely, BMW asks you to pay for Apple CarPlay, which everyone will, at $623, and you can have your seats ($700), or steering wheel ($500) heated for winter mornings. Active seat ventilation is $1600 more, and metallic paint will sock you $2000, or $2350 for Individual Metallic (you can have Alpine White, non-metallic, for free).

Is there anything interesting about its design?   6/10

When it comes to car design, is there any less-sexy descriptor than “functional”? If that’s the best you can come up with to describe the look of your sexy new, M-badged beast, perhaps you should have tried harder?

To tell it a part from a standard X3, the M gets “black high-gloss bits”, which includes the mirrors and side gills. To tell it a part from a standard X3, the M gets “black high-gloss bits”, which includes the mirrors and side gills.

To be fair, BMW describes the X3 M Competition as “bold and functional”, but it kind of tells you all you need to know.

The basic X3 is not exciting to look at it, it’s more… functional, and this version is delineated as being M special by covering as many things as possible with “black high-gloss bits”, so black mirrors, black side gills, black chrome tail pipes, you get the picture.

BMW describes the X3 M Competition as “bold and functional”. BMW describes the X3 M Competition as “bold and functional”.

BMW might have also used the word “tough” to describe this X3, but frankly they can get functional, because it’s really not.

The interior feels like a proper M car, though, with the big red, programmable M buttons on the chunky steering wheel particularly eye catching. The M Sport seats also both look and feel fantastic, and the Merino Leather is lovely. 

Inside the X3 M Competition feels like a proper M car. Inside the X3 M Competition feels like a proper M car.

How practical is the space inside?   8/10

For a vehicle of its mid-size, the X3 isn’t too badly sorted for interior space. The rear seats, in particular, are surprisingly impressive as adults genuinely can sit in comfort back there, making it a genuine four seater. 

I’m 176cm tall, and I could comfortably sit behind my own seating position without my knees even touching the seat in front, and headroom is also excellent, front and rear.

Those sporty front seats do make things feel slightly squeezed in the front, and the width of the headrests effects forward visibility for those in the rear, but they’re so great to sit in that you’d put up with that.

The rear seat splits 40:20:40, giving you access to the boot, which is 550 litres in the X3 M with the seats up, because you’ve chosen the more practical option (the X4 gets 25 litres less).

Drop the rear seats and you’ve got a very useful 1600 litres of loadspace when you’re driving two-up.

There’s plenty of space for your phone, on its wireless charging pad, and you also get two cupholders for the front chairs, with another two in the rear armrest.

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

No matter what you think of the X3 M Competition - its looks, its very existence - there’s no denying that its engine is something to be very excited about.

The 3.0-litre in-line six with M TwinPower Turbo technology is 90 per cent new, according to BMW, and will soon see action in the new BMW M3 and M4, and it is a rip snorter. The folks at M have thrown everything at it, using 3D printing to make the cylinder head, a forged crankshaft, and two new mono-scroll turbochargers, which are obviously different from the twin-scroll versions in the M5, and lift direct fuel-injection pressure from 200 bar to 350 bar. Apparently they’re even better. It also gets an electrically controlled wastegate for maximum efficiency.

The goal was an impressive 500 horsepower, or 375kW in our lingo, and they’ve achieved it. They’ve also made magic by combining both traditional BMW free-revvingness and savage turbo torque. With all of its maximum 600Nm available from 2600rpm to 5950rpm, it has the highest torque bandwidth of any BMW engine.

The screaming six can rev all the way to 7200rpm, at which point it sounds truly Wagnerian in its magnificence, and that 375kW peak point arrives at a dizzying 6250rpm.

This really is an engine that wants you to belt the hell out of it, and when you choose its most aggressive modes, and turn the adjustable M exhaust to its noisiest setting, it’s a joyful experience.

It’s also a weird one, because there’s just something so out of place about an engine like this in a car like this - it’s like finding out that your mum has secretly been cage fighting - but still, in pure engine terms, it’s a cracker.

The ZF eight-speed torque-converter automatic transmission is also silky smooth and seamless, as you’d expect.

How much fuel does it consume?   8/10

There’s no official Australian figure as yet, and we certainly didn’t do any testing that would be helpful, so all we can tell you is that the claimed figure is 10.6 litres per 100km. Which would be good, if you could actually achieve it. Good luck with all this temptation on board.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   9/10

The X3 M Competition has not been crash tested yet but the standard X3 previously received a five-star ANCAP rating. It comes with six airbags - driver, front passenger, head airbags for both rows, side airbags with seat occupancy detection for driver and passenger and side-impact protection for the front seats.

You also get DSC, ABS and DTC and driver-assistance systems including Driving Assistant Plus, Parking Assistant Plus, tyre-pressure monitoring and a speed limiter.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

3 years / unlimited km warranty

ANCAP Safety Rating

ANCAP logo

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

As is typical for BMW, the maintenance requirements for the X3 M Competition are controlled by a Condition Based Servicing system, which constantly monitors the car, and the way it’s being driven, to determine when annual inspections or oil changes are required.

BMW is offering two service-inclusive packages, a five-year/80,000km Basic level for $3685, or the Plus, for $8173, which you should choose “if you drive spiritedly and you go through brakes a fair bit”, because it includes brake pads and discs over five years.

BMW seriously seems to think people are going to track this thing. Go figure. 

What's it like to drive? (on a rally course)   8/10

Imagine going to the launch of a new hiking shoe and arriving to be told that you’ll only be allowed to test it on a running track, by sprinting flat out.

Okay, I’ll admit, I’ve not been to a lot of hiking-shoe launches, but I’ve rarely been to a car launch stranger than this one. We were flown into rugged outback South Australia, near Wilpena Pound, with the promise of “surprises” and a visit to something called M Town. 

This led us to expect we would be doing a bit of wide-open road driving, some mild off-roading, at least, and perhaps some exciting dusty stuff on an outback station somewhere.

Reports from overseas have hinted at overly firm ride quality on paved surfaces. Reports from overseas have hinted at overly firm ride quality on paved surfaces.

And we did do all that driving… in X7s and X5s, which we used to get to a giant clay pan, which had been turned into M Town (apparently BMW is creating various M Towns around the world, and there’ll be more locally), basically a giant rally track on which we’d be encouraged to drive like lunatics. 

What we would not do was drive the X3 on any public roads, or dirt ones - crazy fun stuff only. 

Which was… entertaining, and certainly gave an impression of the car’s dynamic abilities, but was perhaps not as enlightening as other car launches.

On a clay pan, you can drive almost entirely sideways in the X3 M. On a clay pan, you can drive almost entirely sideways in the X3 M.

Reports from overseas have hinted at overly firm ride quality, even in Comfort mode, and other foibles for the new X3 M Competition - like the fact that it doesn't actually feel all that fast, thanks to the 1970kg it's carrying, but we’ll have to wait for a proper road drive to find out.

What we do know is that the engine is a crackerjack, the (adjustable) steering gives fabulous feedback, and, if you happen to be on a clay pan, it’s just the vehicle you need to plaster a huge smile across your face.

I recommend the video footage highly.

The X3 M Competition's chassis feels super stiff. The X3 M Competition's chassis feels super stiff.

One touch of genius that was beautifully highlighted, though, was the combination of the properly sports-car spec M Differential with an M version of xDrive, which allows you to choose between two 4WD modes, normal and 4WD Sport, which “pretty much does become rear-wheel drive”, as BMW admitted to us. 

This is such an M move it’s hilarious. Force us to make an all-wheel-drive car will you? Ha, we’ll put a button on it that turns it back into a proper BMW M car.

On a clay pan, where you can drive almost entirely sideways, sawing at the wheel and using that gorgeous engine to carve beautiful arcs in the Earth via the throttle,4WD Sport is a work of genius. 

The M Differential with an M version of xDrive, allows you to choose between two 4WD modes, normal and 4WD Sport. The M Differential with an M version of xDrive, allows you to choose between two 4WD modes, normal and 4WD Sport.

In the real world, in this car, it’s… still a bit weird. 

The chassis feels super stiff as well, and the big strut braces under the bonnet show you how seriously they’ve taken that.

There’s no denying the how, or the know-how on display here, it’s just the why that’s hard to get your head around.

Verdict

Clearly it is hard to give a verdict on what car generally bought to be driven on public roads 99.9 per cent of the time is like to drive when you've only smashed it around a clay pan like a (very) amateur rally drive.

What we can tell you is that the X3 M Competition is a far more serious, exciting version of the (small) family friendly/cool and trendy young couple mid-size SUV, the basic X3. It also has a very exciting engine, and lots of polished gloss black bits on it. 

It is not a car that will attract, or makes sense to, everyone, and its high price will scare a lot of sensible people away. But clearly BMW believes there is a niche market of people who will want one, and will pay top dollar for one. There's no doubt Aussie buyers do love an M badge, and they may well warm to this one.

Note: CarsGuide attended this event as a guest of the manufacturer, with travel and meals provided.

Pricing Guides

$157,900
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)
Lowest Price
$157,900
Highest Price
$157,900
EXPERT RATING
7.6
Price and features6
Design6
Practicality8
Engine & trans9
Fuel consumption8
Safety9
Ownership7
Driving8
Stephen Corby
Contributing Journalist

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