If you'd have asked me my thoughts on the BMW X3 M a few years before it arrived in my driveway, I'd have told you that an SUV couldn't be a sports car, and by trying to make it one, it became good as neither. But in a rare turn of events, I would've been wrong. By combining a 503-horsepower turbocharged inline-six engine, the best eight-speed automatic gearbox in the business, and BMW's rear-biased M xDrive all-wheel-drive system, the German automaker has created an anomaly of physics - an SUV that's also a sports car. It had to be good, too, since the engine that debuted here is going on to power the new BMW M3. More than this, it has to outgun V8-powered competitors like the Mercedes-AMG GLC63 and the Jaguar F-Pace SVR. To see just how mighty the X3 M in Competition specification is, BMW afforded us a week with a Donington Grey model to have some fun.
The Competition no longer exists as a separate trim, but is now an optional package on the 2021 BMW X3 M. Other minor changes for 2021 include standard SiriusXM satellite radio and WiFi hotspot capability, while the 12.3-inch Live Cockpit Professional driver info display is also added. A new interior trim finish is now available, while the big news for Apple haters is the inclusion of Android Auto on the model for the first time, an all-new experience for many BMW owners.
3.0L Twin-Turbo Inline-6 Gas
The exterior of the X3 M features the typical M Sport upgrades that you expect on a high-performance Bimmer, with unique front and rear fascias and large blue brake calipers behind 20-inch wheels. 21-inchers are available too, but a roof-mounted spoiler, rear diffuser, and quad-exit exhausts are standard. If you opt for the Competition package, you get Extended Shadowline trim, which adds more black accents. These are most notable in the fender vents and kidney grilles, where chrome is replaced by gloss black detailing. A panoramic sunroof is optional.
The X3 M has dimensions that you'd expect of a car in this segment and is neither too big nor too small. It measures 186.2 inches in length, while the width is 74.7 inches and the height is 65.6 inches. The wheelbase measures 112.8 inches, and curb weight starts at 4,620 pounds, making it 74 lbs heavier than the Mercedes-AMG GLC63. Ground clearance is eight inches, but with a firm bias towards the racetrack, don't expect the X3 M to head off-road.
If you're looking to save money on paint, you may be disappointed to find that only one finish is free: Alpine White. If you're willing to spend $550, you can have access to metallic colors like Black Sapphire, Dark Graphite, Phytonic Blue, Donington Grey, and Toronto Red. Sunstone is another metallic option, but this one costs $1,950. If the Competition Package is specced, there are more gloss black elements added to the exterior, but carbon fiber exterior pieces can be had, too. Our tester arrived wearing the $550 shade of Donnington Grey, which was surprisingly well-suited to the SUV and appeared different in different light conditions. As one of the more affordable options, it's one we'd highly recommend.
If you're going to buy a performance car, you may as well go for the best available. In the case of the 2021 BMW X3 M, that means specifying the addition of the Competition Package. This boosts the 3.0-liter twin-turbo straight-six from 473 hp to 503. Torque is rated at 442 lb-ft on both versions, with the standard X3 M capable of launching from 0 to 60 mph in just 4.1 seconds. No official claims are made for the Competition Pack's acceleration besides to say that it is "quicker", but you can expect last year's figure of four seconds flat to carry over. That incredible acceleration is partly a result of the impressive engine, but the eight-speed automatic transmission and the X3 M's xDrive all-wheel-drive system certainly play their part too. Top speed is limited to 155 mph, but the addition of the M Driver's Pack with its high-performance tires will allow the limiter to move up to 174 mph. However, if you're after bragging rights, both Merc's GLC63 and Alfa's Stelvio Quadrifoglio are quicker off the line in comparison, boasting sub-four-second sprint times.
The X3 M's S58 straight-six is augmented by two turbos to produce an incredible 473 hp and 442 lb-ft of torque, or 503 horses in Competition guise. Despite such phenomenal power, the system is remarkably lag-free, but in lower gears and beneath 4,000 rpm, it protects the transmission by limiting how much torque you have on tap. This means that when using launch control, the acceleration feels underwhelming, slowly tugging off the line before suddenly coming into full boost and pulling like a steam train to well-beyond-illegal speeds in the blink of an eye.
The eight-speed automatic is tuned to perfection, firing off rapid shifts and astutely selecting the right gear when needed, and hanging onto gears when asked, particularly in manual shift mode. BMW's various configuration modes allow the driver to select various settings including engine responsiveness and gearbox ferocity, the latter allowing for almost-DCT-like shifts with a kick in the kidneys on every upshift. The M Sport exhaust system equipped as part of the Competition Package gave the S58 a wonderful burble and a healthy dose of pops and bangs on the overrun, also letting the six-cylinder sing to the max - a truly sonorous engine note that is quite simply one of the best in the business.
While we live in a remarkable technological age with magnetorheological dampers that can adjust to a million and one road imperfections in the blink of an eye to make Ferraris ride like S-Class Mercedes, a true sports car will always have a firm edge to its suspension. That's the case with the X3 M, which is firm-riding even in its slackest of suspension settings. For most, the harder pair of damper settings will only ever find use on the track, as the pockmarked roads, firm suspension, and 21-inch alloy wheels of the Competition-equipped model are more than enough for real roads.
Out there in the real world, the firm suspension has good reason for existing, though. The X3 M behaves like a sports car in almost every way imaginable. It grips when cornering, it stays flat under sudden directional changes, and the engine hauls it along at a rate of knots. Despite being a large vehicle, it feels small and nimble, with the only giveaway being the raised ride height and commanding seating position. The electronic power-assisted steering, when left in Comfort mode, is beautifully weighted and quick to respond to inputs, but it lacks the feel one might find in a hydraulically power-assisted steering setup. In its other modes (Sport and Sport +), it simply becomes too heavy, unnaturally so, with more weight than any unassisted setup and no extra feedback to show for it.
I've always felt that a high-riding, heavy SUV could not handle like a sports car, and yet the X3 M defied this notion with every mile I drove. The front end tucks in neatly, the back end rotates with predictable power-on oversteer, and the brakes bring proceedings to a halt quicker than they have any right to do. It's only when you push the X3 M beyond its limits that it stops being a sports car and suddenly becomes a circa 4,600-pound SUV, prone to all the laws of physics there are.
BMW claims that the X3 M will return 14/19/16 mpg on the EPA's city/highway/combined cycles, considerably worse than the Merc-AMG GLC63's 16/22/18 mpg. Thanks to a 17.2-gallon gas tank, you can expect reasonable gas mileage of around 275 miles of range in mixed driving conditions. While we're sure one could attain those figures, it's far too much fun reeling in the horizon at pace, and we had to settle for 13 mpg after a week of testing.
The interior of the X3 M is undoubtedly pretty. A new 12.3-inch driver info display dominates the driver's view behind the steering wheel, which is nicely shaped and feels good in the hands, and has two bright red M1 and M2 buttons for pre-programmed driver modes. A Sensatec (faux leather) dash adds a premium touch, while physical kobs and buttons for the tri-zone climate control system feel just as good. Aluminum offsets the leather upholstery on the power-adjustable seats and there are plenty of storage options here, too. Configurable ambient lighting is another nice addition, and the entire cabin feels classy, stylish, and comfortable. The available M Sport seats are gloriously bolstered items that come standard with the Competition Package and feature gimmicky light-up M badges, but prove their worth when cornering, providing unparalleled levels of support.
The X3 M, just like its regular X3 sibling, can only seat five individuals - provided that the middle passenger on the rear seat is fairly small. Headroom and legroom are great in all outboard positions, and forward occupants get power-adjustment along with adjustable bolsters and variable thigh support. In the driver's seat, the steering wheel and all buttons are in perfect reaching distance, which is ideal for an enthusiast's car. However, some larger individuals will find long journeys to be uncomfortable unless the M Sport seats' adjustable bolsters are entirely deflated. For those of an average to small frame, that body-hugging support is ideal, particularly when throwing the X3 M around corners and ensuring the rear-seat passengers get forcibly acquainted with one another.
As standard, one gets Vernasca leather in Black or Oyster coloring, each with contrast stitching, but those who want more supple leather can spec the Merino type in plain black, Sakhir Orange & Black, Adelaide Grey & Black, Ivory White, Tartufo, or Black Alcantara with Midrand Beige contrast stitching. However, these options will add a thousand bucks to your build price.
In terms of trim elements, carbon fiber is standard, but Grey Poplar wood or Aluminum Carbon Structure trims can also be fitted. Fineline Cove matte-finish wood is also available and is new for the 2021 model year. Equipping the Competition Package will also add black seatbelts with the famous M tricolor detailing.
When it comes to cargo space, the X3 M offers a trunk area that is larger than it looks and has been designed with practicality in mind, boasting a hands-free power tailgate and no lip on the cavity entrance. 28.7 cubic feet of volume is available behind the rear seats - enough for two to three medium-sized suitcases. If you need more space, the rear seats fold in a 40/20/40 split to open up 62.7 cubic feet.
In the cabin, all four doors feature large pockets, and four cupholders are provided. The glovebox is large too, while a cubby ahead of the gear-lever is large enough for your phone and wallet with space to spare. Center armrest storage is also included.
The X3 M ships with a long list of standard features, including heated power-adjustable front seats and wing mirrors, hill descent control, adaptive suspension, and dynamic cruise control. Convenience is augmented further with keyless entry with push-button start, a hands-free tailgate, tri-zone climate control, a rearview camera, rain-sensing wipers, and automatic Icon adaptive LED headlights with auto high beams. Parking sensors are included at the front and the rear, while forward collision detection with autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, crash preparation with post-collision braking, and a driver condition monitor aid the driver. A head-up display, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, extended collision mitigation, automatic parking, heated rear seats, ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, a panoramic sunroof, and wireless charging can also be specified. Manual sunshades for the rear side windows are also available.
The X3 M is blessed with BMW's latest iDrive 7.0 system, which finally boasts Android Auto as of the new model year. Apple CarPlay is still there, along with standard SiriusXM satellite radio and a WiFi hotspot. Other notable features include a pair of USB ports, Bluetooth connectivity, HD Radio, and voice control. You can use either the iDrive controller, the steering controls, or the 10.25-inch touchscreen display to make most commands, but if you spend a little extra, gesture control is available too, as it was in our test car. Although the gesture control aspect can be a little tricky to get used to initially, the system works very well. However you choose to select your music - even if that means inserting a CD - the 16-speaker Harman Kardon sound system plays clearly and cleanly.
The reliability of modern cars is rarely an issue, but it's worth checking if there have been any recalls to make certain that you're buying a suitable vehicle. Thus far, 2021's X3 M hasn't had any issues, despite the standard X3 being party to three. Unfortunately, the almost identical 2020 variant has suffered seven recalls. The first was in October of 2019 and was for a potentially faulty steering rack. Fortunately, this was the worst of the recalls, with other recalls over the first half of 2020 pertaining to issues like rearview camera software that wasn't installed.
Should anything go wrong with your new 2021 X3 M, a limited warranty covers the car for the first four years or 50,000 miles, whichever comes first. Four years of roadside assistance are also included with no mileage limit. A 12-year/unlimited-mileage rust perforation warranty is in place.
Safety is of paramount importance in a vehicle that you will likely use to transport your family. Unfortunately, neither of the big crash testing agencies in the US have tested the X3 M. However, the IIHS did award the regular 2020 X3 with a Top Safety Pick+ award - the highest honor that the agency offers - after its review of the BMW X3 M. The NHTSA's review reflected similarly good impressions, with the X3 achieving a full five-star rating in its tests.
Ample safety features and equipment come standard-fitted to the X3 M, including dynamic cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, automatic headlights with auto high beams, a rearview camera with front and rear parking sensors, lane departure warning, forward collision alert with automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, and a drowsy driver monitor. The standard consignment can be further augmented with options such as a head-up display, an automatic parking system, extended collision mitigation, and adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go. If none of these are capable of preventing an accident, six airbags, including side curtain airbags, will cushion the blow.
Reviews of performance SUVs are generally painted with the same brush - these types of cars are great, but are neither practical, comfortable SUVs, nor genuine sports cars. The X3 M disproves this theory and somehow manages to bend the laws of physics to its will. The problem with the X3 M is that many will judge it on its ability to be a plush SUV, and that's something it simply isn't. What it is, is a sports car with a practical trunk and seating for five. Judge it as a sports car, and suddenly it all makes sense. You can forgive the harsher ride over pockmarked pavement in lieu of the way it holds itself around corners, and, with up to 503 hp on tap from one of the best six-cylinder engines ever made, you'd never know the X3 M weighs as much as it does. Sure, it's got a high price, despite not getting any real increase for 2021, but how much you're willing to pay is never really a question when buying a sports car. We'd recommend a test drive before pulling the trigger, but if you're in the market for a performance SUV, this is one of the best.
Unlike last year's version, there is no base model with a Competition model above that. Instead, you get one trim in the BMW X3 M series with the option of adding on more performance via packages. The base price for this is $69,900 before a $995 destination and handling fee in the USA. Plenty of different configurations are possible, but the most expensive fully loaded model will set you back considerably more, with an MSRP of $86,950.
For 2021, the BMW X3 M has one price and one trim, although you can add on a variety of options. The major talking point of the performance SUV is its S58 twin-turbo straight-six that develops 473 hp and 442 lb-ft of torque. Spend extra on the Competition package, and that first figure rises to 503. M xDrive AWD is the only configuration available and comes attached to an eight-speed automatic gearbox.
Inside, leather upholstery is standard along with adaptive LED headlights and brake lights, tri-zone automatic climate control, adaptive suspension, dynamic cruise control, an Active M Differential, heated front seats, a hands-free power tailgate, keyless entry, push-button start, rain-sensing wipers, parking sensors, configurable ambient lighting, and a Harman Kardon sound system connected to a 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Options include heated seats for all passengers, a head-up display, ventilated front seats, and automatic parking. A panoramic sunroof is also available.
By now, you may be wondering what the oh-so-talked-about Competition Package costs. If you're not already testing the cushioning ability of your glutes, we suggest sitting down. It costs a whopping $7,000, but it's worth noting that despite the updates to this year's variant, this is no more expensive than an X3 M Comp would have cost last year when it was its own model derivative. The package adds M Sport seats, M seatbelts, extended Shadowline gloss black trim, an M Sport exhaust system, and an extra 30 horses under the hood. If you're looking at maximizing your car's potential with performance tires, you can spec the M Driver's Package and move the limiter from 155 mph to 174; this will cost $2,500. If safety is more your concern, the Driving Assistance Plus package costs $1,700 and adds adaptive cruise control with traffic jam assist and extended collision mitigation. The Executive Package is also attractive with an automatic parking system, gesture control for the infotainment system, a panoramic sunroof, a head-up display, wireless charging, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, and manual rear side window shades - all for $3,900. Notably, the Executive Package and M Driver's Package cannot be equipped simultaneously.
If you're looking to use the car as a fast and fun runabout, we'd suggest avoiding the available 21-inch wheels and the Competition Package's more snug seats. We'd also avoid the M Driver's Pack, but bear with us: fitting the higher speed limiter takes away the opportunity to have the Executive Package and its comfort-enhancing delights. Instead, we'd spend on that Exec Package and the Driving Assistance Plus package, giving you a fast, safe, comfortable, and user-friendly experience for under 80 grand.
The Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio is rather pricey. It starts at a base price of $80,750 before you tick any options boxes. However, its 2.9-liter Ferrari-derived twin-turbo V6 produces a stunning sound, as well as 505 hp and 443 lb-ft of torque. This means that it can launch from 0-60 mph in just 3.6 seconds. It also has a top speed of 176 mph. Like the Bimmer, it has an eight-speed automatic and all-wheel-drive, but although it's quicker and faster than Munich's sports activity vehicle, it rides sublimely, thanks to a bumpy road suspension setting on the active dampers. It's also just as good in the corners as the X3 M, if not better. Sure, the cargo area is small, and you have to deal with sub-par Italian quality, but the latter issue is only noticeable as poor when you've just hopped out of a German vehicle. Unless you value trunk space and features, the Alfa is a lot more enjoyable in most scenarios.
Another of the Bimmer's rivals is the Mercedes-AMG attempt - the GLC63. Just as there's an X4 M, there's a coupe version of Merc's most fun luxury compact SUV. Regardless of body style, it's powered by a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 with a nine-speed automatic and sends 469 hp and 479 lb-ft of torque to the AWD system. Despite its power deficit, it's quicker than the X3 M to 60 mph, thanks, in part, to a lower curb weight. However, the BMW is still better in the corners, as Merc's performance compact is more focused on ride comfort. It's arguably the best for long road trips and has a stunning cabin, just as many features and options as the Bimmer, and a menacing exhaust note. However, the trunk is tiny in comparison, at only 17.6 cubic feet, it costs more, and the warranty coverage is less impressive. For comfort and noise, it's better. For most other metrics, the Bimmer wins.