While in Spartanburg for the launch of the new BMW X3, the German automaker has granted us a few hot laps aboard the X3 M40i, the top X3 model until the fully-developed X3 M arrives to the market. BMW Chief Driving Instructor Matt Mullins, Clive Owen’s double in the latest BMW film, “The Escape”, jumped behind the steering wheel and promised us an exciting drive. The interesting tidbit was that BMW driving instructors were also seeing the car for the first time, so in a way, we were both eager to see its potential.

Under its hood lies a variant of BMW’s B58 3.0 liter turbocharged I6 engine, similar to what’s in the BMW M240i. However, where the M240i has 335 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque, the X3 M40i gets 355 hp and the same amount of torque. It’s paired with BMW’s ZF-sourced, sport-tuned eight-speed automatic transmission and a more performance oriented xDrive system. According to BMW, it can get from 0-60 mph in 4.6 seconds, making it the fastest car in its class.

Stiffer suspension and more sport tuned damping, along with bigger M Sport brakes, should make the X3 M40i handle and stop as well as it goes. Thanks to its CLAR platform, the G01 X3 is also lighter than its predecessor – by about 100 lbs – despite a slightly longer wheelbase – 2.2 inches.

The aerodynamics have also been improved, thanks to a sportier front-end and sleeker roofline – 0.33 drag coefficient compared to the 0.36 in the current model.

Therefore, the X3 M40i should be a monster drive on the track. Mullins gives us a quick sound check before we head out on the short, yet fun to drive circuit at the BMW M Performance Center in Spartanburg. The one thing that immediately stands out is the deep sound of the exhaust system, as the car rolls out on the track. Engineers told us that the engine was tuned to misfire one cylinder to make the proper growling sound.

Mullins now floors the gas pedal as we fly – literarily – through the first corner before landing firmly on the ground as we enter the next bend where the X3 M40i stands out with its little body rolls and stiff suspensions. The rear-biased xDrive is what you’d expect from a BMW sporty SUV, so the feel of a proper sports car is immediately noticeable.

Our attempts to film the ride with our iPhone were unsuccessful, a statement to the spirited drive by Mullins who throws the car from corner to corner with a smile on his face and barely two hands on the wheel. The car responds well to his inputs and according to the professional driver, the steering feedback shows up, just as you’d expect from an M-tuned car.

The turbo lag is also minimal and as soon as torque kicks in, the car pushed forward with ease, and quickly rises to 60 mph, or past that. The eight-speed automatic responds quickly and crisply to the paddle shifters, while the M Performance brakes quickly and promptly stop the powerful SUV.

The ride aboard the X3 M40i is coming to an end, but one thing was immediately clear – the X3 M40i is a proper sports SUV, with great looks, premium materials, impressive sound and performance, and until the X3 M arrives, it will be one of the most fun BMW SUVs to drive. Overall, the driving experience is similar to the X4 M40i, but for some reason, the new X3 seems more refined and more fun to ride in it. At least until we get to actually drive the car…