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.
See trim levels and configurations:
3.0L Twin-Turbo Inline-6 Gas
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.
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.
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.
The most popular competitors of 2021 BMW X3 M: