Buying one of these won't be an easy decision.
We recently had the chance to drive the 2020 BMW X3 M and X4 M at BMW's home in Spartanburg, South Carolina on the road and on the race track. These are BMW's first compact performance SUVs, which compete against the likes of the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio, Jaguar F-Pace SVR, Mercedes-AMG GLC 63, and Porsche Macan Turbo. BMW offers both SUVs in standard and Competition guises, with the former producing 473 horsepower and the latter producing 503 hp, both coming from a new twin-turbocharged inline-six.
Pricing for the X3 M starts at $69,900 or $76,900 for the Competiton while the X4 M is pricier for its coupe-like looks at $73,400 or $80,400 for the Competition. We drove these SUVs back-to-back with a handful of other vehicles from the BMW lineup. Here's what we loved about them and what we would change.
It's no secret that the S58 engine found under the hood of these SUVs will also pull duty in the upcoming M3 sedan and M4 Coupe/Convertible. The engine should produce similar power figures but the M3 will offer the option of a manual transmission. While we are happy to see BMW keep the manual alive for a bit longer, we have no qualms with the ZF eight-speed automatic used in the X3 M and X4 M. This transmission continues to be one of the best on the market, with smooth shifts in automatic mode and savagely quick changes when you take manual control.
Then there's the engine. We weren't fans of the S55 engine found in the last generation M3 and M4 because it didn't sound great to our ears. But this new S58 finally brings back the aural sensation of BMW's straight-six and it's properly potent as well. We could feel almost no turbo lag and the engine pulls hard right up to the redline. BMW is truly living up to the 'Motoren' part of its name lately.
We drove a ton of BMW, Rolls-Royce, and Mini vehicles all in the span of three days and amongst all the cars we tested, the X3 M and X4 M were easily the stiffest. Just stop to think about that. The compact luxury SUVs were stiffer than the sports cars such as the Z4, M8, and Clubman John Cooper Works. In order to make these tall vehicles handle well on the track, the stiffer suspension is needed to ensure they don't lean uncontrollably. The results speak for themselves out on a track but on the road, your head will be bounced around violently. We hope the M3 and M4 won't be as stiff because the X3 M and X4 M could grow tiresome if you live in an area with poor road quality.
Starting off with the X3 and X4 as a base means the M versions are blessed with a lovely interior. This is one of BMW's better cabins among its smaller models and the M versions look even better. Buyers can choose from a variety of leather colors and trim materials but we dig the look of the carbon fiber trim. BMW iDrive is intuitive and we are happy that heated and ventilated seats are available. Just note, adding ventilation requires the selection of M Sports seats, which are a bit stiff for long-distance trips.
These two SUVs are likely the closest we'll ever get to an M3 wagon. BMW has dabbled with an M5 wagon in the past but there has never been an M3 wagon. With SUVs taking the market by storm, the X3 is now BMW's best-selling model and we see no chance there will ever be another M-badged wagon. This is a shame because although the X3 M and X4 M handle well, we can't help but think they could be better with reduced ride height.
As much as we'd prefer these cars to be wagons, it's hard to argue with the practicality of an SUV. The X3 M offers 28.7 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats and opens up to 62.7 cubic feet with the seats folded. By contrast, the coupe-like roofline of the X4 M cuts the storage space down to 18.5 cubic feet or 50.5 cubic feet with the seats folded. Not only is the X3 M more practical, but we still aren't sold on the X4 M's looks. We'd happily save the roughly $4,000 premium and get the X3 M.
We only had the chance to test both SUVs in their hardcore Competition guises. The Competition upgrade bumps the output to 503 hp, drops the 0-60 mph time, increases the peak torque range, and adds a louder exhaust. At a premium of $7,000, we simply can't justify the price of the Competition models. What are they even competing in any way? These are family-hauling SUVs, so we find the use of the Competition name to be confusing. You probably won't ever take these vehicles to the track, while out on the road the horsepower difference won't be noticeable. Save the money and spend it on a dedicated track toy.