It’s X3-meley good.
Words by: Adam Allen
That title is two air quotes away from being utterly, egregiously terrible.
You saw what we did there? Comedic flair (or lack thereof) notwithstanding, we recently drove BMW’s 3rd generation X3 and came away very impressed. BMW freaks will reference it as the G01 when explaining the model’s lineage, no doubt flocked by a fascinated audience at dinner parties as they are known to be. Two models which we have spent some time in the driver’s seat very briefly as of late are the Audi Q5 and the Mercedes Benz CLC300, two of the X3’s greatest foes on the sales charts. We found them to be perfectly competent steeds, although the Audi has zero personality and the Benz feels cheap. They are powered by four-cylinder turbocharged engines, a configuration that you will find on 30i versions of the X3. They offer six-cylinder turbo upgrades in the SQ5 and GLC43, and the X3 retorts back with the B58 version of it’s 3.0 litre inline six under the hood of our tester which is pumped up to 355 horsepower and 369-foot pounds of torque. Again, numbers that are within spiting distance of its rivals, but neither the Benz nor the Audi even come close to matching BMW’s unit in smoothness, linearity and overall thrust.
That honey of an engine is in the version called the M40i.
If the nomenclature sounds familiar, that’s because it is- BMW’s similar but controversially styled X4 M40i has worn that designation on its hatch for a few years exclusively. Now BMW brass have decided that the X3 would benefit from similar treatment, and it starts with visual cues inside and out- stuff like greyed-out exhaust tips and wing mirrors, more aggressive facias front and rear with some interior bits. All that is well and good, but what really gets our attention is the heavily rear biased tuning of the xDrive AWD system, upgraded M Sport brakes and above all, the mighty B58 straight six.
It’s irrefutable: the B58 inline-six turbo is one of the best engines in the world.
Anyone who doesn’t agree with that has either never had the chance to drive anything with this lump under the hood or is a towering idiot. BMW inline-six engines have been near perfect since they first installed them in the 1933 303. And they continue to be well into the age of the turbo. Nearly every turbocharged engine there is these days suffers from some degree of turbo lag, but not the 3.0 litre six in the X3 M40. It pulls indifferently without any vibration or protest no matter the engine speed or gear you happen to be in and does so with pleasing urgency. BMW quotes the 0-100 km/h sprint at 4.8 seconds, but if history shows us anything it’s that they tend to be very conservative with their performance testing data. It’s likely that is closer to the low four second range, an estimate that decimates its competitors and is concurred by our but dynos. Seriously, this thing really moves. The engine’s velvety output is perfectly matched to an 8-speed transmission that shifts unobtrusively when you’re making your way around town. When you decide to pick up the pace using the paddle shifters or just leaving the tranny to its own devices, ratios are swapped crisply and with commendable speed in the same manner a seasoned Las Vegas card dealer sets up players with a new hand. The gearbox routes power to BMW’s familiar xDrive system so all four contact patches help launch the X3 from rest with gratifying hustle.
This X3 earns its pseudo-M badging in convincing fashion.
Well, it certainly has the ability to pile on the speed down pat. Going fast in a straight line is fun, but even more so is the ability to slice and dice a twisty ribbon of tarmac. You might not think that a high-riding SAV is an effective tool for the job, but our M40i tester will make short work of any preconceived notions of nautical body roll and lazy dynamics. The suspension has variable dampers and will soften or clench up in accordance to the drive mode you’ve selected and endow the X3 with the chops necessary to negotiate corners at ridiculous speeds. Helping to pivot the car in the bends is a tweaked DSC calibration as well as a heavy bias to rear where the xDrive’s power delivery is concerned, making the X3 feel like it has an extremely effective torque vectoring system (it doesn’t.) When it’s time to summon the anchors, standard M Sport brakes with their trademark blue calipers scrub of speed quickly and reassuringly. Compared to its competitors, the X3 is the most capable choice for hooliganism in the segment.
What’s it like inside?
Our M40i came very well equipped, boasting standard kit like LED lighting fore and aft, an automatic trunk and the newest version of BMW’s iDrive infotainment system that keeps getting better with every generation. It also featured Sport seats, which are basically BMW’s excellent thrones with more aggressive bolstering to help keep you in place during spirited driving. Our tester also featured the Ultimate Package ($12,500) which includes a mountain of stuff that would take quite a bit of time to rattle off. What you need to know is that if you select this option package on your X3, it will have all the latest technology and enjoy enhanced connectivity to get the most out of being safely productive while going about your day. It is a comfortable, nicely furnished place to be no matter the length of your journey. If we take a moment to delve into the minutiae, we can tell you that this is the first M Sport product we’ve sampled that doesn’t have an unnecessarily thick steering wheel rim, and that this X3 returns to the ‘normal’ turn signal stalks that move up and down and then fall back into position once you’ve completed your turn. So there’s that.
What might go wrong?
Not much. Although this is a completely new generation, some folks might not notice the styling changes which are more evolutionary than revolutionary. Actually, the X3 looks like an X5 that shrunk a bit in the dryer- not a bad thing at all. Other than that, it can get pricey- not surprising considered our tester had everything- at nearly $75 grand, that price eclipses that of the bigger, similarly powered X5 by a healthy margin.
Should I buy an X3?
Do you favor vehicles of this type that emphasize the Sport in Sports Activity Vehicle? If that sounds like you, please make it a point to take one for a drive. As performance oriented premium compact SUV’s gain popularity, your other options for now are the slightly cold and anodyne Audi SQ5 and the eye-wateringly expensive Mercedes Benz GLC43 and they aren’t as much fun as the X3. We came away considerably impressed, and you will too.
2018 BMW X3 M40i – Specifications
- Price as tested: $74,895
- Body Type: 4-door, 5 passenger SAV
- Powertrain Layout: Front engine/all-wheel drive
- Engine: 3.0-litre inline-6 turbo, DOHC, 24 valves
- Horsepower: 355 @ 5,500 rpm
- Torque (lb-ft.): 369 @ 1,520 rpm
- Transmission: 8-speed automatic
- Curb weight: 1,940 kg (4,277 lbs)
- Observed Fuel Economy: 11.3/100km (21 mpg)