TEST DRIVE: BMW X3 M40i — A Bavarian Labrador Retriever

BMW X3, News, Test Drives | November 8th, 2017 by 10
BMW X3 xDrive M40i 41 830x553

Personally, I’ve was never a huge fan of the BMW X5 M. Yes, it’s undeniably impressive and there’s a certain irreverent charm to it, but it’s …

Personally, I’ve was never a huge fan of the BMW X5 M. Yes, it’s undeniably impressive and there’s a certain irreverent charm to it, but it’s also so monstrous and expensive that it was never really a big sales hit. Instead, I always thought BMW should make an X3 M, as it would be more fun to drive, thanks to its smaller size, and its lower cost would bring more customers in. However, there’s never really been a true performance variant of the X3. There have been I6-powered X3s but never a genuine performance-oriented version. Until now, that is — Welcome the BMW X3 M40i.

This new BMW X3 M40i is the very first genuine performance-oriented version of the X3, something fans have been waiting for, seemingly, forever. So you can imagine that I was eager to get behind the wheel and begin my week-long test. Especially having driven previous X3 generations before, I was anxious to see what this new X3 was all about. The first-gen X3 drove well, was sporty and fun to drive. But it looked awful, rode poorly and was as cramped inside as a 3 Series. The second-gen car looked better, had a nice interior and was comfy, but it was boring to drive. So this new X3 M40i represented a chance to rectify all of those previous issues and be the ultimate X3. Thankfully, it has.

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Just walking up to the X3 M40i you realize that BMW finally got this one right. The previous two X3s sort of looked like afterthoughts of the BMW X5, as if BMW’s designers drew them on napkins during a lunch break. This one, though, looks fantastic. It’s by far and away the best looking X3 yet and it could be BMW’s best looking SUV at the moment. It’s really quite handsome, especially in person. Its chunky features and aggressive creases make it seem rugged, while its air intakes, stylish wheels and rectangular exhausts make it looks sporty.

I received constant compliments during my week with it. Whether it be family and friends, neighbors or strangers, the BMW X3 M40i made a lot of new fans. And no one seemed to be put off by it, either. Sometimes extravagant or sporty cars can garner dirty looks, as people can find them to be snobbish or rude. However, the M40i seems humble enough for the majority of people to like it, while being exciting enough for people to stop and stare. It also just looks really damn good.

In terms of styling, the BMW X3 M40i and Mercedes-AMG GLC43 are on level playing field, if you ask me, with the Jaguar F-Pace S at the top and everything playing catch-up. It’s really that good looking.

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Open the doors and step inside and you’re greeted with what may be BMW’s best interior at the moment. The design is fresh, with angular bits of trim, flowing lines and some more chunkiness. Everything in the X3’s cabin looks and feels robust, with nary a cheap material anywhere to be found. It’s also wonderfully ergonomic, as most BMW cabins are, and everything seems to be where it should be. The seats are also superb, being both incredibly comfortable over long journeys and supportive during spirited driving. They also look great and feel expensive.

Some small musings about the cabin, include some fun bits as well as little ergonomic details. For instance, there are large “X” badges throughout the interior of the X3, but not in places that you’d normally look. Sort of like BMW Easter Eggs. Open the door and just ahead of the lock and memory seat switches is an “X” stamped into the aluminum trim, though you can’t see it with the door closed (on the rear doors you can). Same goes for the B-pillar, where at the very top of it lies another stamped “X” which can only be seen with the door open. The X3 also features the best cupholders of any BMW I’ve ever driven, with big chunky ones ahead of the shift lever, with an inductive charging mat for capable mobile phones ahead of them. Also, the ability to cycle through music, such as Spotify, on the Head-Up Display is really helpful and cool to use.

As far as the back seats go, they’re more than large enough to accommodate a couple of adults on a long journey in perfect comfort. There’s plenty of leg and head room, even with the panoramic sunroof, and the rear seat-backs can also recline. Admittedly, having an infant car seat in the back required having the passenger seat so far forward that my wife’s knees were practically touching the dashboard and she’s quite small. So it can be a bit tricky with a car seat.

Thankfully, the trunk is quite large, as a baby stroller, a diaper bag, camera bags, backpacks and all sorts of other junk was all easily swallowed up by the X3’s trunk with room to spare. There’s even a clever little gas shock that holds the trunk floor opening up, so getting to the under-floor storage is a breeze. It all made my week with it far easier. And it shows off how well-rounded the X3 M40i is, allowing me to drive around a serious performance machine all week, with all of my family and gear in tow and never have a comfort complaint. Except for my wife’s knees.

Speaking of performance machine, I’m sure this is what you’ve all been wanting to read about. No one really cares how well a baby seat fits in the back or how much crap you can stick in the trunk. You want to hear about how well it drives. Though, it was important to tell you all just how practical and comfortable it is prior to discussing its performance because when you know how useful it is in everyday life, it makes its performance than much more incredible.

Prior to actually getting the car home and using it in my real life, I had to drive the BMW X3 M40i back from BMW HQ all by my lonesome. Five minutes into the journey and I was sold. I wanted one. Hell, I still do. If I could afford it, I’d be in a BMW dealership right now signing papers.

Powering the BMW X3 M40i is not the N55 engine you get in an X4 M40i. Instead, it uses BMW’s new B58 3.0 liter turbocharged inline-six engine, like the BMW M240i, 340i and 540i. Except, it makes more power than all of those cars. With 355 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque, the X3 M40i bests all of its B58-sharing stablemates on horsepower and only the M240i can match it for torque. Thank the car gods for BMW’s B58 engine because it’s flipping brilliant. I haven’t driven Mercedes’ upcoming inline-six engine, which I hear is also brilliant, but until I do I have no problem deeming the B58 to be the best six-cylinder engine in the world at the moment. Turbine smooth with effortless power and a typical growly, BMW noise.

That engine is paired with BMW’s ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic and it’s as wonderful as it’s ever been in the M40i. In automatic, it’s silky smooth and intelligent, always in the perfect gear. When shifting manually, shifts are rapid and on time, never delaying your command. This powertrain combination is near-perfect and allows the M40i to be either a luxury cruiser or a hooligan, all depending on how you want to drive it.

According to BMW, the X3 M40i can get from 0-60 mph in 4.6 seconds, which is entirely believable from behind the wheel. The BMW X3 M40i is proper quick. Surprisingly so. Stomp the throttle and it fires off the line, with barely a whiff of turbo-lag, and keeps pulling into triple-digits. Top speed is limited to 155 mph but it feels like it can do a lot more than that. It’s really impressive.

There’s also a lovely growl from the exhaust, some burps on upshifts and pops and bangs on downshifts. Is some of it artificially enhanced by speakers? Yup. Do I care? Nope. As long as the sound I’m hearing is a good one, I don’t care where it’s coming from anymore. It sounds real and it sounds good. So leave it alone.

But it’s the duality of the thing that’s most impressive. There are a lot of modern cars that are good at being both comfortable and fun to drive. But the BMW X3 M40i genuinely excels at both. In Comfort mode, it’s a proper luxury car. It’s quite, supple and comfy, allowing passengers to be cossetted by thick leather heated seats, a soft ride and really wonderful technology. But stick it in Sport mode and it’s like a beast awakens. The throttle response sharpens, the gearbox comes alive and the steering weights up, though not to the point of feeling unnatural like in most BMWs. If you want, the X3 M40i can handle like a genuine sports car, not like a sporty SUV. It’s hilarious, actually. I found myself giggling like a schoolboy when chucking it through some twisty back roads.

Front end grip is impressive, especially on the Pirelli P Zero summer tires (can we just stop for a moment and appreciate an X3 wearing P Zeros?), and turn-in is quick. In fact, the steering in general is one of the best parts of the BMW X3 M40i. This might be an unpopular opinion among the snobbish purists but I love the the steering on this new X3 M40i. It’s quick, but not overly so as to feel overboosted, the weighting is spot-on and there’s some genuine feel through the wheel. Can I feel ever nuance in the road through the steering wheel like on an E36? No, of course not. But this steering is some of the best I’ve felt from a modern BMW. I’d say outside of the BMW M2, it might be my favorite steering BMW on the market. And it’s an X3. Is this the Twilight Zone?

There’s also tons of grip from the xDrive all-wheel drive system. With traction set to MDM mode (M Dynamic Management), it turns off most of the fun-killing nannies while still keeping things safe. So you can really hustle it through some tight corners, at surprising speeds for an SUV, and it keeps everything in check without ruining the fun. It’s alarming, actually, how fast it can go ’round corners and how much fun it is to do so. Again, this is an X3 not a 3 Series.

Brakes are good too, stopping the relatively heavy car without fuss. They’re M Sport brakes, as evidences by the bright blue brake calipers, and they work well. Not the best brakes I’ve ever used but really solid and I never had a complaint about them during my time with it.

Over the course of my week with the BMW X3 M40i, I learned to love it more and more. It surprised me right out of the gate, as it was far better than I had expected, right from the start. However over time, I grew even more fond of it, thanks not only to its performance but the little touches. For instance, the way you can see over the scuttle and look out at the creased hood as you’re driving along not only looks awesome but allows you to place the car exactly where you want it.

The A-pillars are slim enough so as to not get in the way of sight lines, either. The tall windows provide a great greenhouse, the large dead pedal gives you a comfortable place for your left foot and the heated steering wheel heats up quickly, making getting into the car on a cold morning a delight. All of these little touches show the attention to detail and thought that’s gone into making the X3 M40i.

To be honest, there isn’t a thing the BMW X3 M40i does poorly. Normally, a Jack of All Trades is naturally compromised somewhere but it doesn’t seem like the X3 M40i compromises anywhere. If there’s a single issue I might have with it, it’s the price. An example as loaded as my tester costs in the mid-$60,000 range, which isn’t cheap. However, it comes with so much car that I’d gladly spend the money.

The BMW X3 M40i genuinely is a Bavarian Swiss Army Knife (A Bavarian Army Knife?). It can do everything and it does it all so well. It looks great, has a fantastic cabin, handles like a proper sports car, yet can be a damn good luxury car when you want it to. All while being able to carry five passengers and all of their luggage. I don’t know if I’ve ever driven a more well-rounded BMW, a BMW that was so good at so many things. Typically, cars like that don’t have much character but not so with the X3 M40i. It’s like a Labrador Retriever, loyal, fun, playful, obedient and good looking. That’s the BMW X3 M40i. And I want one.

Personally, I've was never a huge fan of the BMW X5 M. Yes, it's undeniably impressive and there's a certain irreverent charm to it, but it's also so monstrous and expensive that it was never really a big sales hit. Instead, I always thought BMW should make an X3 M, as it would be more fun to drive, thanks to its smaller size, and its lower cost would bring more customers in. However, there's never really been a true performance variant of the X3. There have been I6-powered X3s but never a genuine performance-oriented version. Until now, that is -- Welcome…
Exterior Appeal - 9
Interior Quality - 9
Steering Feedback - 8
Performance - 9
Handling - 9
BMWness/Ultimate Driving Machine - 9
Price Point - 7

8.6

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