It’s easy to make an SUV fast in a straight line – just add more power. But can it be engineered to be fun? That’s the real question. Hence the burgeoning M Performance moniker is now attached to an X3, a variant that up until now has run without the haloed M badge on its rump.
What do you get for your $99,529? Impressive B58 powertrain aside, the M40i gains the M Sport Package, adaptive M xDrive all-wheel drive, adaptive M suspension, M Sport differential, eight-speed ZF automatic, bespoke M Sport exhaust system and 21-inch M light alloy wheels.
It’s safe to say that current X3 flagship (until the X3M arrives) isn’t whispering the involvement of the M Division when it comes to the nuts and bolts.
The interior and exterior styling also gains the M treatment. However, it’s not as in your face. The cabin is more luxury-focused, while the bodywork changes merely hint at what lurks beneath. When removed from the spec sheet, subtle is the X3 M40i’s middle name. It’s a very unassuming car and it blends into the crowd like any other BMW SUV.
Addressing the fast part of the X3 M40i equation is fairly straightforward. It is damn quick for an 1810kg, full-bodied SUV with a 550-litre boot. Actually, it’s so big boned that the X3 has now outgrown the original X5. The boosted 3.0-litre straight six is unquestionably effective, hence the M40i gets to 100km/h in a launch-control assisted 4.8 seconds with 265kW and a meaty 500Nm at its disposal.
However, to simply call the B58 ‘effective’ is selling it short. With a fat torque range coming on from as low as 1520rpm, you’re never short of pulling power. There’s a genuine reward for staying in a higher gear and working the mid-range, yet it’ll happily rev out with purpose to redline. The boosted six never feels laggy or off the boil – you just plant your right foot and it takes off.
The guttural sound the M40i makes while doing so, albeit slightly synthesised, is also in complete contrast to the image and presence of the X3. The pops and cracks on the overrun (in conjunction with blurts on upshifts) give real theatre to the experience. The M Sport exhaust, tied to the already visceral B58’s acoustics, means that this the best sounding sub-M six-pot BMW makes. It will have everyone chortling on the way home from soccer practice…
So, that’s job done by the M Division in terms of straight-line prowess, but the M40i doesn’t kick an own goal when it comes to handling. There’s an underlying rear-drive BMW-ness about the way it hurls itself through a twisty section of road and the adaptive dampers afford a compliant ride quality at speed. The brakes stand up to the task as well, however, the steering is rather nondescript.
The ubiquitous drive modes come into play, too, with Sport Plus being the pick for spirited blasts. In the loosened dynamic setting you can get some controlled movement from the rear on corner entry. And thanks to the variable torque split and rear diff apportioning grunt to the wheel with the most grip, firing out past the apex is a fuss-free affair.
Letting the side down is the Bridgestone Alenza run-flat rubber. For an SUV with this performance level, a tyre with more bite – like the P Zeros fitted to the X4 M40i – is preferable as the X3 feels like it has more mechanical grip from the chassis than the tyres.
Understeer can be induced and some of the M40i’s movement under braking and load is down to the lack of tyre grip rather than a distinctly playful platform. However, the SUV part of the equation can’t be forgotten here. Its dynamic abilities (and deficiencies) must always be kept in perspective with the genre it plays to.
The added appeal for buyers is that for all the performance on offer, the M40i is still an X3. It’ll lug the family and doggo around in supreme comfort. And given the aforementioned X5-esque dimensions, there’s plenty of room for all.
Loads of standard kit (radar cruise control, active lane keeping, blind-sport monitoring and a 12.3-inch digital dash) keeps the value equation in check, while iDrive6 infotainment, a 10.25-inch touchscreen display and a 16-speak Harman/Kardon surround sound system ticks off the gadget checklist.
If you’re after tangible performance, yet still can’t help but be pragmatic, then something like an Audi S4 Avant or Mercedes-AMG C43 Estate is going to tickle your fancy more of the time.
However, the X3 isn’t without charm, convenience or character. And it certainly isn’t lacking dynamic talent. If this is supposed to be the performance sub-brand, then the upcoming X3M is a very tempting prospect. So is the X3 M40i fun? Somewhat surprisingly, yes.
2019 BMW X3 M40i SPECS
Engine: 2998cc in-line 6, DOHC, 24v, turbo
Power: 265kW @ 5500-6500rpm
Torque: 500Nm @ 1520-4800rpm
Kerb Weight: 1810kg
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