In 2019 I was lucky enough to attend the launch of BMW’s first X3 M Competition (and X4 M Competition twin) in outback South Australia.
It was a makeshift high-spec rally circuit within a massive clay pit. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had in an SUV, period. Everything was let loose, Ken Block(-ish) style.
This proved two memorable things – one, is that fine Aussie bull dust will wreak havoc with precision German engineering. The other is that the X3 M Competition has red-hot, genuine M-car capabilities.
Once fully uncorked, its dynamic chops are far beyond most mortal capabilities, at least until nature’s fine powder makes its way into a hard-revving engine inlet.
The advent of high-performance SUVs has brought the obvious question: what’s the point? Or to be precise, what’s the point if you can’t use it? The context being nobody is going to take an SUV such as the X3 M Competition to a racetrack, let alone an outback rally track, regardless of price or potency.
Yes, these SUVs are expensive, and yes, you’re paying handsomely to buy into the idea of red-hot capability even if an owner chooses not to fully exercise potential. But I can assure you that, if unbridled by ownership responsibility and repercussion, once you let the 2022 BMW X3 M Competition fully off the chain it does way more than talk the talk – and it does so very loudly!
Fast forward to 2022 and the X3 M Competition – and its X4 twin – have arrived in mid-life facelifted guise. Its new broader-grille façade has neater, less gaping apertures (to reduce bull dust ingestion, perhaps) for what’s a subtly refreshed look.
Its wondrous 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged engine has been treated to a torque injection and there are new driver assistance systems in play – at least, those are three key highlights in the update.
No high-velocity rooster tails this time around in assessment, though. Shame. We are here to assess whether this M-car in an SUV body is tempered enough for the role it’ll serve during the lion’s share of most owner’s experiences.
When turned down to a dull roar, is there still enough fire in its belly to warrant not choosing a milder option, such as the vastly more affordable X3 M40i?
The X3 M Competition lists for $160,900 plus on-road costs – up $3000 on the pre-facelift version. Unlike much of the motoring landscape, pricing hasn’t crept higher since it was first announced back in mid-2021.
Australia only gets the hotter Competition version, though a ‘regular’ X3 M is also offered in some overseas markets.
Want the X4 SUV coupe? That’s $7000 extra ($167,900). Want performance, though not full-M effect? The X3 M40i, with its single-turbocharged 3.0-litre six, is a more digestible $115,900 plus on-roads.
Rivals? The Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio asks for $153,500 while Mercedes-AMG offers two tiers of cross-shopping, the turbocharged six-powered GLC43 at $120,477 and the mighty bi-turbo V8 GLC63 S at $175,800.
Given Porsche isn’t now offering the head-kicking Macan Turbo, the milder GTS ($129,800) is the current range-topper, offering the range’s peak performance. Volkswagen’s all-new 2.0-litre Tiguan R, at $68,990, isn’t really in the same league as this sort of company.
Some options bundles offered for the X3 M Competition include: Executive Package ($2000) with steering wheel heating and active seat ventilation; Innovations Package ($1400) for Gesture Control and Driver Recorder; and the M Carbon Package ($2500) for appearance tweaks.
Our test car is finished in stunning Marina Bay Blue metallic paint with BMW Individual Extended leather Merino in Tartufo (tan) with V-spoke 765 M rims, all no-cost options. The fitted Innovations Package adding remote engine start, BMW Drive Recorder and Gesture Control, brings the list price up to $162,300 before on-roads.
X3 M Competition highlights:
- 21-inch M alloy wheels
- Tri-zone auto climate control
- Alarm system
- Automatic tailgate
- 12.3-inch BMW Live Cockpit Professional
- Comfort Access
- Connected Package Professional
- DAB digital radio
- Electric seat adjustment
- Extended Leather Merino upholstery
- harman/kardon Surround Sound system
- Head-up display
- Instrument panel finished in Sensatec
- Interior trim, carbon-fibre
- Lumbar support for driver
- M Sport differential
- M xDrive
- M Adaptive Suspension
- Metallic paint
- Mirror package
- Navigation system
- Parking Assistant Plus
- Panorama Glass Sunroof
- Reversing camera
- Roof rails, high gloss black
- Seat heating for front row
- Sport leather steering wheel
- Speed Limit Info
- Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
BMW has offset the $3k price increase for the facelifted LCI guise by adding a smattering of extra features as standard that includes:
- BMW Laserlight
- Driving Assistant Professional (outlined below)
- Reversing Assistant
- Remote Software Updates
You also get a complimentary BMW Advance 1 Driving Experience Course, which is a nice little value addition.
The X3 M Competition is currently unrated by ANCAP or Euro NCAP.
However, some variants of the current generation – specifically xDrive20d and xDrive30i – scored five stars with ANCAP during assessment in 2017.
In terms of category scores, the X3 managed 93 per cent for adult occupant protection, 84 per cent for child occupant protection, 70 per cent for pedestrian detection and 58 per cent for safety assist.
Standard safety features include:
- AEB with pedestrian detection
- Forward collision warning
- Adaptive cruise control with stop/go
- Lane departure warning
- Lane-keep assist
- Steering and Lane Control Assistant (semi-autonomous mode)
- Blind-spot assist
- Front cross-traffic alert
- Rear cross-traffic alert
- Speed sign recognition
- Proactive rear collision protection
- Evasion aid
- 7 x airbags incl. driver’s knee
The X3’s cabin is one of the segment’s best for a sense of space and airiness. With its expanse of glass and neat execution, the regular variants bring welcoming appeal.
Creating a flagship fit-out fit for a proper M-car that’s both purposeful and lush is no mean feat, but designers have done a decent enough job of it. The carbon and choice of various inlay materials, the mix of textures and colours, the red M buttons and ambient lighting all bring small lifts, but it’s really the seats in that BMW Individual Merino Tartufo tannish brown that inject the largest sense of upmarket celebration.
The seats are focused in shape but not to the detriment of comfort, offering driver-centric positioning and a good degree of under-thigh support thanks to the extendable bases. Ergonomics are sound, outward vision is excellent and there’s just enough ‘spirited driving purposefulness’ while maintaining an unmistakable SUV vibe.
The X3 has BMW’s strange concentric digital instrument display, but it’s simpler and clearer than the overly fussy skin in 3 Series-based models.
It lacks fancy configurability too, though you do get M-specific content – the sportier drive modes swap to a central-tacho skin that makes more visual sense in the heat of a hard punt. The head-up display, with hockey-stick tacho graphic, is also an M exclusive.
Swapping drive modes, or its component settings, is clumsier than need be. Dual wheel-mounted red M-mode thumb buttons allow shortcutting to one or another preconfigured and assignable suits for powertrain, suspension, steering and the like.
Then there’s M Mode, that toggles between Road, Sport and Track. Separately, you can swipe the infotainment screen for M Setup to individually adjust all manner of system parameters and settings on the fly. I’m sure it becomes far more intuitive with more acclimatisation than I managed to invest…
BMW’s large 12.3-inch infotainment screen offers both touchscreen and iDrive Touch rotary controller and button array operation. Its Operating System 7 is fast, sharp, slick and nigh on idiot-proof.
If there are markdowns, it’s that the whiz-bang camera system’s core displays are quite fish-eyed and that there’s no inductive phone charging – even though wireless CarPlay is fitted.
The first row has USB-A (console cubby) and -C (console bin) ports. In terms of storage, the M-car doesn’t lack anything to the functional fit-out of lower-grade X3s, including oversized door bins, paired cupholders and a decent console bin.
Row two accommodation is a real strong point of the current X3 generation, offering excellent access and proper three-adult seating and width with ample leg and head room for large occupants. The tasty brown leather effect and conveniences such as the third-zone climate controls and USB-C ports finishes it off nicely.
Boot space is a decent 550 litres, the 40:20:40 split-folding rear seatbacks converting to a maximum of 1600 litres when folded down to become a two-seater.
In short, despite the high-performance focus, the X3 M Competition doesn’t present any compromise in the fully functional family friendly practicality.
A fair chunk of the X3 M Competition’s outlay goes to the go-fast oily and electronic bits under the skin. It has real-deal M-car DNA, much of it shared with the iconic M3 Sedan.
The heartbeat is the S58 3.0-litre bi-turbo inline six, which carries over 375kW (or around 510 old-school horsepower) and pulls to the tune of 650Nm, which is 50Nm up on the pre-facelifted version. The standard X3 M offered overseas outputs a lower 353kW.
Drive is sent to a variable M-specific xDrive all-wheel drive system that fits an Active M Differential. It offers a choice of torque splitting calibration too, between regular and a more rear-biased 4WD Sport drive. Unlike the M5, the front axle cannot be decoupled.
The ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic is also M-certified, with a lateral-type by-wire console drive selector (to allow fore-aft sequential shifting) and paddle-shifters.
Other M hardware includes: M adaptively damped suspension; M-spec brakes with two-piece composite alloy hat/steel rotor construction; staggered 21-inch 255mm front and 265mm rear Continental rubber and an M Sport exhaust system with four 100mm tailpipes.
Stability control can be adjusted from very loose (M Dynamic) to defeated completely, for when you accidentally find yourself at a racetrack or an outback rally circuit…
Quick? It’s claimed the new facelifted version is, at a scintillating 3.8 seconds for the 0-100km/h sprint, a sizeable four-tenths quicker than the pre-updated version. Yikes!
Combined fuel consumption is advertised as 10.7L/100km. Our time with the test car saw mid-11s for sensible around town driving, which is quite decent given its performance potential.
Does BMW’s go-fastest mid-sized SUV have a proper M-car vibe? Yes, indeed it does.
There’s a raspy idle, an ever-present metallic bark and an almost Pitbull-on-a-chain eagerness to the powertrain response that’s edgier and less polite than the X3 M40i.
Less Jekyll, more Hyde. Nor is the M-spec powertrain as clean and resolved, with a few sharp (albeit not necessarily rough) edges in its low-speed manners. It has that mechanical, connected and unfiltered aura shared with the M3, if not quite to the same heightened degree.
It’s important to have the M-car fizz. Otherwise you’d stump up much less for the more benign single-turbo-six M40i, which is geared for a politer experience.
This car is bloody quick but equally impressive is how the X3 M Competition remains pliant enough in response that a nanny could drive it. The torque piles on in a linear enough fashion that is useable rather than unruly.
That said, it mounts peak torque quickly enough that you rarely need to dial up more than 2500rpm around the ’burbs, even when you’re in a hurry.
Sport mode heightens response, and shove becomes more immediate to expected degrees. There’s a real dual-clutch-like hit to the torque-converter auto’s crisp upshifts.
However, the X3 M Competition is alert enough in its Normal mode that mode swapping is really unnecessary for everyday use. Indeed, that palpable thrust starts to become nibbling rear wheelspin the instant the road surface becomes wet.
The hi-po aura extends through the steering and brakes. The wheel is well connected if at times a touch under-assisted, with the brakes having conspicuous stopping power – even if they are a little bite-y at low speeds. And, those big staggered-width Continentals offer a tremendous amount of grip once you tip the X3 M Competition into a corner.
The X3 M doesn’t have the lightness and quite the same engagement as an M3 on a twisty road. You can only fight physics and mask inertia so much.
But, it’s an impressively well-tuned chassis with clear M-fettled thoroughbred genes. Point to point, it’s really about as swift, controlled and composed as you could possibly hope for. You really have to pedal hard to flex the muscles of some of the M-spec hardware augmenting the handling dynamics.
The downside is that as a daily driver or in the school run, the mightiest X3 can get tiresome. That’s because it’s various Normal and Comfort settings aren’t really accurate to the labelling. This machine is more about degrees of increased sports intensity.
The chassis favours handling and body control to a degree that leave the ride sharp at best and downright brittle at its worst.
There is some compliance and it does filter out some road imperfections, but its edginess never becomes properly comfortable. Add the tyre rumble and there’s some compromise in its long-legged grand touring chops vs its corner-carving capabilities.
Though this is all key to its M-car character, it’s certainly not tuned for Oz. Or at least it doesn’t offer any cushy ride options in its adaptive suspension that’s favourable for the worst of Australia’s often third-world open road conditions.
In truth, some buyers like this sort of underpinning sportiness in harder-core fare, but it doesn’t offer the breadth of character of, say, the pleasant-riding Alfa Romeo Stelvio QV.
BMW Australia covers its line-up with a three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty. This is two years less than fellow Germans Mercedes-Benz or Audi.
Servicing is offered per visit or, more affordably, via pre-paid plans.
Two five-year/80,000km packages are available, starting with the Basic at $4256 and the more comprehensive Plus at $9496, that latter including brake disc/pad, wiper and, erm, clutch wear.
Given the heft of X3 M Competition’s stopping power, the latter choice could prove shrewd insurance if you plan to the treat your hi-po SUV with red-misted contempt.
We’ve called out the X3 M40i for being pricey to service in the past, and the M version commands nearly twice the ownership outlay.
BMW’s ultimate mid-sized SUV is pricey, bloody swift and hard-edged through aspects of the on-road experience –whereas many fulsome family wagons usually lean more softly.
Is that an indictment? It might be if the Munich marque didn’t offer a more affordable and more even-keeled X3 M40i xDrive – and yet it does.
No, the X3 M Competition really needs the focus and fire it unquestionably possesses to justify itself: it really shouldn’t be any other way.
To pan a bona-fide M model for lacking enough of a comfortable sheen is much like criticising a base X3 sDrive20i for lacking in thrills or performance. It’s largely superfluous condemnation on both accounts.
What the X3 M Competition promises is M3 heat in an SUV package. And it does so, mechanically and emotionally.
That the big wagon format slightly impedes outright ability and focus against a much lighter mid-sized high-performance sedan is the trade you make for choosing an SUV – and it’s a fair and reasonable trade at that.
What’s needed, beyond anything else, is that the X3 M Competition lives up to expectations of big fireworks without impacting practicalities to an extreme extent. It remains liveable and even sensible enough, in concert with its very feisty nature, and it is definitely the midsize BMW SUV that Ken Block would pick.
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