It used to be that in every family of auto enthusiasts, you would find a minivan or station wagon, and a sports sedan on the driveway. Not anymore. Nowadays the task of handling track days, summer road trips, and the dreadful winter commute, is relegated to a new crop of high-performance SUVs developed by many automakers’ dedicated in-house racing departments.
Performance SUVs have been in market for many years, and over the past two years, we have seen mid-sized crossovers receiving the special blessing from the likes of Mercedes-AMG GmbH, Jaguar Special Vehicle Operations (SVO), and the latest, BMW M GmbH. BMW had withheld launching a dedicated M model for its uber-popular X3 (reviewed here) and X4 crossovers until this year, with the X3 M, X4 M, and their respective Competition package counterparts.
Having seen spied footages of masked prototypes around the Nürburgring circuit since 2017, we know that BMW engineers have taken their time in making sure their newly created family mover is more than just a SUV with a bigger engine, and is worthy of the iconic M badge. BMW Canada offered us an opportunity to put the 2020 BMW X3 M Competition to the test, and we gladly took the keys for a week to confirm whether the engineers’ efforts have paid off.
Painted in an understated yet sleek looking Donington Grey Metallic, the 2020 BMW X3 M Competition looks sharp and business-ready. BMW designers have dressed up the X3 M’s exclusive exterior trim pieces such as the BMW signature kidney grille, mirror caps, and side gills in a high gloss black colour to denote the special Competition package. The standard X3 has always been a pleasant car to look at, and the addition of the aforementioned M styling bits plus the wide front air inlet injected even more sportiness to the overall exterior design.
During our week with the X3 M Competition, feedback we received constantly was that there is not enough of a distinction between the regular X3 M40i (reviewed here) and the dedicated M model. While we agree that having the wider body and bulging hood design would make it more appealing to the car show crowd; the current design is subtle but is by no means conservative, and represents the functional focus of BMW’s M department.
The functional aspect of the BMW X3 M Competition comes from a very special engine, the all-new S58 that is going to be the heart of the next generation M3 and M4. This is a high-performance M TwinPower Turbo straight-six that produces 503 horsepower, 30 more than the standard X3 M model, and 442 lb-ft. of torque. It is worth noting that the S58 is the most powerful six-cylinder engine BMW has ever built, and the X3 M Competition’s acceleration force is ferocious.
BMW says the X3 M Competition will complete a zero to 100 km/h sprint in as little as 4.1 seconds, matching that of the current generation F80 M3 sedan, and we would not be surprised if BMW told us they are underquoting it. Driving in the city, in both Comfort and Sport modes, there is a tad of turbo lag felt when trying to accelerate suddenly, but any delay is quickly overcome with a surge that pins you to the back of your seat.
Power is linked to a lightning fast eight-speed M Steptronic gearbox (a ZF-sourced unit), and delivered to all four wheels through BMW’s M xDrive with Active M differential. Even though the M xDrive system is rear-biased, with dedicated 4WD Sport configuration for increased engagement of the back wheels, there is no setting for full rear-wheel drive mode like the M xDrive system in the BMW M5 (reviewed here). The X3 M Competition has massive braking power thanks to a set of M compound brakes with 15-inch brake discs, with a set of beautiful blue metallic calipers sitting behind the gorgeous 21-inch wheels.
Thanks to BMW M’s special suspension tuning and a M Carbon precision strut bar mounted right on top of the engine, the X3 M Competition can turn on a dime and handles like its smaller M siblings. Steering is firm and precise, but we find it lacking in feel. The letdown is hard to describe as the electrically assisted steering rack is good and better than many of its rivals, but it failed to deliver the sense of sheer joy and excitement that many have come to expect with a BMW M car.
Connected to the quad exhaust tips is a wonderful sounding M Sport exhaust system that makes all the pops and crackles one has come to expect from a BMW performance vehicle. The exhaust notes can be turned up by engaging in Sport and Sport+ driving modes, but the extended exhaust burbles sounded somewhat synthetic and is not much different than that from the X3 M40i (reviewed here). The acoustics from the X3 M are not dull by any measure, however, being a latecomer in a segment of high-performance SUVs that have jointly raised the bar, our tester’s sound was outmatched by the V8 firecrackers like the Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S (reviewed here) and the Jaguar F-Pace SVR.
BMW estimates that the X3 M Competition will consume 10.5L/100km travelled in a mixed commute setting, which we suppose can be only be achieved if you are a true master of self-discipline. Our test week consisted of a good amount of city traffic and some backroad indulgence, and we observed a modest 13.5L/100km. The X3 M requires a minimum of 91-octane gasoline, and BMW recommends fueling with 93-octane or Shell V-Power for optimal engine performance.
The interior layout of the BMW X3 M Competition is very similar to the standard X3, with special M performance goodies and dedicated trim bits sprinkled to differentiate it as the boss. The X3’s cockpit design has not been refreshed to follow the latest BMW design language, which is not a bad thing as we much prefer the older HVAC controls for simplicity as well as the legibility of BMW’s circular digital clusters over the newest fighter-jet styled ones. We love the thickness of the M leather steering wheel, and the beautiful blue and red stitching that reflects the heritage of M racing cars.
The M Sport seats offer excellent lateral support holding its occupants in check during spirited drives, even though the aggressive bolsters on the bottom might feel uncomfortable for some, particularly on longer road trips. The front seats are ventilated, and both front and rear are heated, thanks to the optional Premium Package that also included side sunshades, wireless charging capabilities, parking assistant plus with surround view, and WiFi hotspot.
Those that buy the X3 M over an M3 (reviewed here) for family reasons will not be disappointed. Interior space is excellent throughout the cabin, with no shortage of storage pockets and bins, and a tri-zone climate control system to ensure comfort for everyone. Given the X3 M Competition’s cornering capability, we would consider the tradeoff in ride quality to be acceptable as long as you stay on paved roads, but we would have liked to see a greater difference in damping between Comfort and Sport modes. Luggage volume is generous amongst SUVs in its class and is measured at 525 litres (550 litres in X3 M).
The X3 M Competition comes standard with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, Collision Warning with City Braking, Lane Departure Warning, Blind Spot Warning, and Rear Collision Prevention systems to keep its occupants safe. Our tester is also optioned with an Advanced Driver Assistance Package, which includes Driving Assistant Plus, Steering and Lane Control, Evasion Assist, Front Cross Traffic Alert, Active Cruise Control with Stop and Go, and Lane keep Assistant systems, offering a greater level of confidence.
Pricing of the 2020 BMW X3 M starts at $82,700, with the Competition model starting at $93,000. Our tester, with Premium Package ($3,300), Advanced Driver Assistance Package ($1,500), Carbon Fibre Trim ($850), and Ambient Air Package ($500), comes with an as-tested price of $99,150. At this $100,000 price point, it competes head to head with the Porsche Macan Turbo, Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S, Jaguar F-Pace SVR, and the Alfa-Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio.
The X3M Competition offers more performance than the standard Macan Turbo, and is significantly cheaper when they are similarly equipped. The F-Pace SVR and GLC 63 S beat out the X3 M Competition in terms of engine and exhaust notes, but they are less capable than the X3 M Competition and the Stelvio Quadrifoglio in a track setting.
The 2020 BMW X3 M Competition is as authentic as they come for a performance SUV. It is German engineering at its absolute finest, with the ability to set a lightning fast lap time on the Nürburgring, and also handle the shopping for the week. Our only concern is that other manufacturers have created vehicles with similar capabilities, and they carry with them a level of uncalculatable emotion that the X3 M Competition forgot to pack after loading itself up flawless data sheets.