by Jared Rosenholtz
It was only a matter of time before the BMW M Division got its hands on the X3. M-branded SUVs have been around for about a decade now but this is the first time we've seen an X3 M from BMW. With no M3 wagon in the works and strong sales from competitors like the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio, Jaguar F-Pace SVR, and Mercedes-AMG GLC63, slapping an M badge on the back of the X3 should be an easy recipe for success.
The standard X3 is already a strong competitor in the compact luxury SUV segment and the M division knows how to take a standard BMW and transform it into a ballistic missile. BMW will offer both a standard X3 M and a faster Competition model. We are a bit dumbfounded by BMW's use of the Competition nomenclature but perhaps there is some ultra-competitive SUV racing class we've never heard of.
To create the X3 M, the M Division has thrown in tons of performance goodies such as stiffer suspension, more aggressive bodywork, and a new twin-turbocharged inline-six that will also power the next-generation M3 and M4. So if you can't wait for those cars to arrive or simply need more practicality out of your performance car, maybe consider the X3 M.
The 2020 BMW X3 M is the first-ever X3 to get the full M treatment. That means a 3.0-liter six-cylinder turbocharged engine with outputs of 473 horsepower and 442 lb-ft of torque, or 503 hp in the Competition variant. In the Competition, 60 mph comes up in four seconds dead and it'll do a ludicrous 177 mph when equipped with the M Driver's Package. The X3 M also gets BMW's rear-biased xDrive all-wheel-drive system, an eight-speed M Steptronic automatic transmission, and an active M differential. Everything from the brakes to the steering system has been tuned to deliver the sharpest responses, just as if this were an M3 wagon. M sports seats, a special gear lever, and M-specific graphics immediately mark this out as one of BMW's most intense performance SUVs.
Like any other true BMW M car, this X3 M has been beefed up to remind fellow road users of just how serious a machine it is. The X3 M has 20-inch double-spoke wheels, while the X3 M Competition gets 21-inch V-spoke bi-color jet black wheels that do a great job of filling out the arches and an equally great job of dislodging your fillings over bumps. Both variants get Shadowline exterior trim, an M rear spoiler, an aerodynamic kit, M quad tailpipes, and adaptive LED headlights. Considering that the basic X3 is one of BMW's more conservative SUVs, the spicy M additions are welcome.
Both X3 Ms have the same length and width at 186.2 and 74.7 inches (excluding the side mirrors), respectively. The M is 65.6 inches in height and the M Competition is just 0.1 inches taller. The wheelbase measures 112.8 inches. Both versions have a curb weight of 4,620 pounds which is 74 lbs heavier than the Mercedes-AMG GLC 63. A ground clearance of eight inches applies to both X3 Ms in the unlikely case that prospective owners would dare take this performance SUV off-road.
Buyers of BMW's fastest X3 have a choice between seven colors. Alpine White is the default shade, followed by six metallics. Black Sapphire (so far, a popular choice), Dark Graphite, Phytonic Blue, Donington Grey, and Toronto Red are $550 each. The priciest color option is Sunstone Metallic at $1,950. We wouldn't spend that much though, Toronto Red or Phytonic Blue look exceptional, although we do wish BMW offered a brighter hue for the X3 M.
The X3 M is a wickedly quick SUV. The turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six cranks out 473 hp and 442 lb-ft of torque to catapult the X3 M to 60 mph in only 4.1 seconds, aided by a quick-shifting eight-speed automatic and all-wheel-drive. The X3 M Competition completes the same sprint in four seconds dead thanks to an even loftier 503 hp - this model has the same torque figure. With the M Driver's Package equipped, the X3 M Competition will top out at 177 mph. As fast as the X3 M is, Mercedes claims an even more potent 3.8-second sprint to 60 mph for the AMG GLC 63. The Stelvio Quadrifoglio is quicker too with a 0-60 time of 3.6 seconds. The X3 M still exists within a new realm of performance for SUVs and you'll probably never tire of leaving much lighter, far more aerodynamic sports cars behind at the traffic lights.
The new S58 inline-six has made its debut in the X3 M and X4 M and will also power the all-new M3/M4 when those models are launched. Two mono-scroll turbochargers help the 3.0-liter inline-six develop 473 hp (503 hp in the Competition) and 442 lb-ft. Although the torque figure is the same in both cases, the Competition's peak torque is available over a wider engine speed range. Whichever model you go for, you'll only meet the red line at 7,200 rpm, making this one of the higher-revving turbocharged engines out there. The M-tuned eight-speed automatic transmission features Drivelogic, allowing you to choose between more relaxed shifts and ultra-aggressive shifts in the racier driving modes. Using the gear lever or steering-wheel-mounted paddles, you can shift through the gears manually.
You better buckle in because it's going to be a bumpy ride. On the same that day we drove the X3 M, we also had a chance to sample a variety of other BMW models including sports cars like the M8 and Z4. Of all the cars we drove, the X3 M was by far the stiffest. It has to be. In order to counteract the physics of having such a tall vehicle on a race track, the M Division was forced to include incredibly stiff springs, which cause your head to bounce around over rough pavement. And that's in the most comfortable setting. This being an M car, there are nearly endless amounts of settings for the drivetrain, transmission, and suspension, which can make the ride even stiffer should you be in the mood for a tweaked vertebra. We should note, BMW only had the X3 M Competition available, so we didn't have a chance to find out if the standard model is any softer.
All of this stiffness is supposed to aid the X3 M when you get it out on a race track, which is something we doubt many X3 M owners will actually do. Even so, we had a chance to drive the mechanically identical X4 M around BMW's test track, where it did show off some track prowess… for an SUV. There is some noticeable tire squeal, which is to be expected of a tall SUV on a race track, but the vehicle rotates well around the corners and fires out with a burst of all-wheel-drive grip.
The vehicle feels a bit twitchy around corners, which can be disconcerting until you become comfortable with it. Once you get a feel for the limits, executing a slide is fairly easy and you can navigate a faster route around the track by cutting corners using the ride height to your advantage. We found that the throttle is too touchy in its most aggressive setting but the new S58 inline-six engine pulls hard and sounds much better than the outgoing S55. As always, BMW's eight-speed automatic transmission works flawlessly on the road and the racetrack though we wish it hard larger paddle shifters like the Alfa Stelvio.
To put it bluntly, the X3 M is a thirsty beast. Both the standard model and the Competition return EPA-rated figures of 14/19/16 mpg city/highway/combined. That's a lot heavier than the X3 M40i's combined figure of 23 mpg. The Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 uses a larger-capacity 4.0-liter V8 but even that is lighter on gas, returning 16/22/18 mpg.
On a 17.2-gallon tankful of premium gasoline, the X3 M should manage a combined cruising range of only around 275 miles. With a heavy foot, expect an even shorter range.
The latest BMW X3's interior is a big improvement on the generation before it. There's lots of space, the controls are logically arranged, and the quality took a welcome step up. It's not the most adventurous of designs, but M-specific enhancements like a Sensatec dashboard, carbon fiber trim, M-specific digital instrumentation, and attractive leather seats do lift the ambiance. As standard, you get power-adjustable front seats, BMW ambient lighting, and a color central touchscreen to control various infotainment functions. The driving position is great and, without the X4's sloping roofline, it's easier to see out of the X3. Unlike some other German competitors, BMW has retained physical buttons for many functions, making the X3's controls easier and less distracting to use on the move.
The X3 M is strictly a five-seat vehicle, meaning the closest thing to a seven-seat M car you can buy is the X7 with the M50i drivetrain. The two front seats in the X3 M are more aggressive than what you'll find in a standard X3, so don't hop in expecting to lounge in the lap of luxury. Yes, the front seats are heated and ventilated but tight side bolsters of the optional M Sport Seats can make longer journeys uncomfortable for larger drivers.
In the back, the 112.8-inch wheelbase allows for an acceptable 36.4 inches of legroom with 39.1 inches of headroom. If you opt for the X3 M's coupe twin, the X4 M, rear legroom is reduced to 35.5 inches and the headroom shrinks to 37.2 inches. The X3 M should be spacious enough for four adults but fitting a fifth person in the middle seat will feel a bit tight.
The X3 M is the most expensive X3 model on sale, which is why BMW hasn't skimped on the interior. Customers can opt for Vernasca leather in either Black or Oyster for no additional cost. For $1,000 more, Merino leather color options include Sakhir Orange, Adelaide Grey, Black, Ivory White, and Tartufo.
Most of the dashboard feels premium and BMW offers a choice of four no-cost trim material choices. These include Fineline Cove Matte Finish Wood, Grey Poplar Wood, Aluminum Carbon Structure, and Carbon Fiber.
There's more good news on the practicality front thanks to the X3 M's large cargo area. Behind the back seats, you'll find 28.7 cubic feet of space which is plenty for a couple of medium-sized suitcases. There's also no load lip, a power tailgate is fitted, and the rear parcel shelf can easily be stowed under the trunk floor. Folding down the rear seats will free up a healthy 62.7 cubes of space and large boxes can easily slide towards the front thanks to a flat floor.
Spacious door bins, a well-sized center console, cupholders, and a locking glove box ensure that there's sufficient space to stash small items.
Like other M cars from BMW, the X3 M is well-specified. Both front seats feature heating and 14-way power-adjustment, along with a memory system for the driver's seat, the steering wheel, and the outside mirrors. The powerful SUV also ships with dual-zone automatic climate control, push-button start, cruise control, park distance control both front and rear, a rearview camera, keyless entry, a power tailgate, and BMW ambient lighting.
BMW has also upped its game in the safety department, and the X3 M gets standard driver aids like lane departure warning, blind-spot detection, and rear cross-traffic alert. If that's not quite opulent enough for your tastes, the brand's extensive options list features niceties like ventilated seats, wireless charging, and parking assistant plus, which automatically parks the car for you.
We didn't have much time to play with the X3 M's iDrive 6.0 infotainment system on this drive but we have been impressed with this system in the past. It now features a 10.25-inch touchscreen in addition to the iDrive control knob and wireless Apple CarPlay is a standout feature. There's also good news for Android Auto users because BMW has recently announced wireless integration for certain Android phones coming soon. Also included under infotainment is the X3 M's best-in-class head-up display, which provides clear, color readouts for road speed, engine speed, and other important information.
No matter how you option it, all X3 Ms are equipped with a Harman Kardon Surround Sound Audio System with 16 speakers and a powerful 600-watt amplifier. There is no upgraded audio system available. Just listen to the excellent exhaust note.
The X3 M is an all-new model so there hasn't been much time to assess its reliability. The NHTSA has, however, recalled the 2020 X3 M three times so far, once for an issue where the rearview camera fails to display an image, and two further times for more serious problems like the potential failure of the steering rack and the front axle swivel bearings potentially breaking. In 2019, J.D. Power rated the X3 range at 80/100, enough to earn it a top-five spot among similar luxury SUVs.
The X3 M is covered by BMW's four-year/50,000-mile limited warranty, a 12-year/unlimited-miles rust perforation limited warranty, and roadside assistance for four years
The X3 M hasn't been individually tested by the NHTSA, but the regular BMW X3 holds a five-star overall safety rating, so we expect the M model to be just as safe in the event of an accident. The 2019 X3 was also named a Top Safety Pick + by the IIHS, the agency's top award for crash safety.
With a full suite of six airbags and standard dynamic stability control, traction control, and dynamic brake control, the X3 M is fitted with all of the safety items you can reasonably expect in a vehicle at this price point. BMW's active driving assistant is standard as well, with features like lane departure warning, blind-spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert, and rear collision preparation. You also get pedestrian warning and braking, frontal collision warning, city collision mitigation with braking, and speed limit information. An active protection system is designed to predict an imminent crash and prepare the X3 for it by taking a number of actions automatically, such as closing the windows. A fatigue and focus alert feature can also detect and warn of driver drowsiness. Active cruise control, allowing you to maintain a safe distance from the vehicle in front of you, is an optional extra.
We can't imagine any scenarios where someone would "need" an SUV with over 500 horsepower and 0-60 mph time of around four seconds, but that hasn't stopped automakers from pumping them out. Since these vehicles are somewhat pointless and quite expensive, choosing between them ends up as a matter of preference based on their engines, styling, and overall performance.
The X3 M sits in a shockingly crowded field that includes the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio, Jaguar F-Pace SVR, and Mercedes-AMG GLC63. Of this bunch, we prefer the V8 engines found in the SVR and AMG and the Quadrifoglio offers better steering feel. Mercedes also offers a more premium interior but BMW does have Alfa Romeo and Jaguar beat on quality. The X3 M offers competitive performance among this segment but it isn't quite the quickest or most powerful.
The X3 M offers a great preview for the next-generation M3 and M4 with that fabulous S58 engine. We just think the drivetrain feels a bit unnecessary in a tall SUV, especially one that needs to be stiff beyond reason in order to lap a racetrack quickly. The X3 M's competitors are also incredibly stiff too though, so this trend of back-breaking SUVs isn't exclusive to BMW. If you like the feel of a modern BMW M car, you'll probably enjoy the X3 M. With impressive handling, a stellar drivetrain, and a premium interior, we would have no trouble recommending the X3 M amongst its competition.
The BMW X3 M starts at an MSRP of $69,900, increasing to $76,900 for the X3 M Competition. The price excludes tax, licensing, registration, optional extras, and a destination/handling charge of $995. It's a hefty sum that suddenly makes the X3 M40i (also with turbocharged six-cylinder power) seem especially appealing at $55,900. Still, that's without the extreme M modifications that diehard enthusiasts will consider essential. Positioned right in-between the X3 M and the X3 M Competition is the Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 at $73,750.
The king of the X3 range is available in two flavors: the X3 M and the even more potent X3 M Competiton. Both use the same 3.0-liter turbocharged six-cylinder engine with 442 lb-ft of torque, but the power outputs differ: the X3 M generates 473 horsepower and the X3 M Competition eclipses the magic 500-hp mark to top out at 503 hp. An eight-speed automatic transmission and rear-biased M xDrive all-wheel-drive are common to both. The Competition also gains an M sport exhaust system.
Outside, the pumped-up X3 M twins get bigger wheels (20-inches on the M and 21s on the M Competition), quad exhaust outlets, an aerodynamic kit, Shadowline trim, and quad exhaust outlets. Both have power-adjustable, heated front seats along with dual-zone climate control, a rearview camera, M-specific instrumentation, carbon fiber trim, front/rear park distance control, and a 16-speaker Harman Kardon surround-sound audio system. Apple CarPlay is included, but BMW still doesn't offer Android Auto. A dynamic digital instrument cluster measures 12.3 inches and displays key driver information. On the safety front, lane departure warning, a full suite of airbags, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot detection, and an accident-detection system are all part of the standard package.
Even with the X3 M's high features count, you can still get even more via one of BMW's optional packages. The Executive Package goes for $3,900 and includes front/rear heated seats, parking assistant plus, a heated steering wheel, wireless charging, a Wi-Fi hotspot, BMW's whimsical gesture control, a head-up display, rear side window shades, and a power panoramic moonroof - it's expensive, but those are some genuinely appealing additions. A bit cheaper is the Driving Assistance Plus Package at $1,700 - its features are active cruise control with stop & go, along with extended collision mitigation. This system will take various steps to avoid a collision depending on specific conditions. To drive home the message that this is a bona fide M product, you can also specify the $2,500 M Driver's Package - this high-speed driving course will also allow you to raise the standard top speed of your X3 M to 173 mph on the standard model and 177 mph on the Competition.
Of course, there are also a number of individual options. M sports seats cost $950 (standard on the X3 M Competition), a panoramic moonroof is $1,350, ventilated front seats are $350, and a heated steering wheel is $190.
Although we didn't have a chance to sample it, the non-Competition X3 M is likely a bit more comfortable and offers almost no noticeable drop in performance at a lower price. We'd option an exciting color like Toronto Red Metallic for $550 and a few options such as the Executive Package for $3,900 and the Driving Assistance Plus Package for $1,700. Ventilated seats would be nice but BMW forces you to combine this purchase with the $950 M Sport seats, which we found to be too heavily bolstered. All in, our perfect X3 M would cost $76,050.
Probably the X3 M's most direct competitor, the GLC63 is a formidable performance SUV with a brawny 4.0-liter bi-turbo V8 under the hood. It produces 469 horsepower, which is just short of the X3 M's 473 horses and behind the X3 M Competition's 503 hp. That said, the GLC63 is lighter, allowing it to just beat the X3 twins to 60 mph in a scant 3.8 seconds. While the difference in performance is negligible, there's a bigger discrepancy in the character of the AMG's V8 relative to the BMW's inline-six: the Mercedes engine always makes a wonderful growl and makes for a more smile-inducing experience. Unless you're on a race track where the X3's M-trickery comes into play, the GLC is also more comfortable on the road. It's not as sharp as the X3 M, but its suspension also isn't as punishingly uncomfortable. There's little to separate the two Germans in the cabins: both feature a plethora of high-quality materials and loads of features, but the AMG perhaps has the more interesting design from behind the wheel. The X3 M perhaps takes itself too seriously - while we admire BMW's commitment to instilling its SUV with that hyper-focused M DNA, the GLC feels like the better-rounded SUV.
The Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio already established itself as a better driver's car than the outgoing BMW M3, but can the Stelvio SUV do the same against the X3 M? Based on price alone, it should, because the Stelvio Quadrifoglio costs over $80,000 - that's a significant premium for an Alfa over an equivalent German. Its magnificent 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6 produces 505 hp (more than the X3 M Competition) and enables an even more ridiculous claimed 0-60 mph time of 3.6 seconds. Not only that, but the Alfa's V6 sings a sweeter tune than the X3 M's inline-six and throttle response is sensational. Around corners, the Stelvio does a wondrous job of pretending like it's not an SUV, such is its agility and precision. Like many Alfas, it's the harmonious way that all major controls operate together that makes them irresistible to drive. Also like most Alfas, the X3 has it soundly beaten for interior quality, and there's more space for passengers and their cargo in the BMW, too. But you aren't buying these high-performance SUVs for more trunk space, so we'll take the Alfa, please.