Years ago, I remember reading an article about a journalist talking to a BMW M engineer back in the ’90s, asking if there would ever be a BMW M8 made from the original E31 8 Series. The man from BMW M said no, citing its weight as the reason. The 8 Series was just too heavy to be a proper M car back then. Apparently, the M engineers a few decades later missed the memo because they created an M car out of, at the time, the brand’s heaviest vehicles — the BMW X5 M and X6 M. I was always a bit curious as to why BMW M would do such a thing. I’ve also wondered why BMW M hasn’t worked its magic on the smaller, more nimble X3. Now, though, I needn’t worry any longer, as the BMW X3 M is finally here.
This current generation of BMW X3 must be the most deserving of BMW M treatment. While the brand-new X5 might be the best BMW SUV overall, the current X3 is the most fun to drive. After having driven the X3 M40i, we’ve all been dying to know what a proper M version would be like. It’s just such a nimble car for an SUV and has steering feel that’s reminiscent of old-school BMWs. So now that it’s finally been transformed into a BMW X3 M is incredibly exciting. And that transformation begins up front.
Powering the new BMW X3 M is a newly-revised version of BMW’s B58 engine, now dubbed the S58. It’s still a 3.0 liter inline-six cylinder engine but it’s been given a comprehensive M Division upgrade, to make more power while also making it more usable on the track. A forged crankshaft, closed-deck design and wide-arc sprayed iron coating for the cylinder walls have all combined to make the new engine stronger, more rigid, lighter and freer-revving than before. This has allowed BMW to increase power and durability. Even the core of the cylinder head has been 3D printed, to allow for geometric shapes that can’t be made with normal metal casting, thus allowing it to be even lighter than before. A new air intake as well as two mono-scroll turbochargers — one for cylinder 1-3 and one for cylinders 4-6 — now help the engine breathe better.
All of those tweaks and upgrades give the BMW X3 M a very healthy 480 hp and 442 lb-ft of torque. The latter of which is available from 2,600 – 5,600 rpm, giving it a nice, flat torque curve right in the middle of its rev range. According to BMW, it’s capable of 0-62 mph in 4.2 seconds but we reckon it will break into the three-second range in reality. It’s not just about power and performance, though. BMW has improved its cooling and oil management, so it can handle long track sessions without overheating or being starved of oil from high-g force cornering.
That engine is paired with an eight-speed automatic gearbox and an M-tuned xDrive all-wheel drive system. You’re all probably wondering about that xDrive, though, and whether or not it has the same “2WD” mode as the BMW M5. The answer, unfortunately, is no, it does not. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t play around with it. BMW has given the X3 M two different all-wheel drive modes — 4WD and 4WD Sport. The former is just conventional all-wheel drive, which is inherently rear-biased, but the latter shunts far more power to the rear wheels than normal, while still sending some to the front to save you from hurting yourself. There’s also an Active M Differential at the rear axle, helping to distribute power between the rear wheels.
The BMW X3 M has also been designed to have some real dance moves, as the chassis has been stiffened and given new structural bracing in its suspension. For instance, the BMW X3 M gets a unique front strut bar, with a carbon fiber version being available as an option come August, and some additional bracing at each axle. The way the carbon strut brace sits in the engine cover looks flipping awesome, too. It also gets unique chassis tweaks and revised elastokinematics at each axle. To make sure the X3 M is the real deal, the Bavarians took it to both the Miramas circuit in France and the Nurburgring in Germany to finer hone its skills.
Adaptive M Suspension is fitted as-standard, giving the X3 M some flexibility in its ride. Damping forces at each individual wheel are continuously adjusted, thanks to electromagnetic valves in each damper. The typical Comfort, Sport and Sport+ modes are on hand for the driver to choose from.
What’s nice is that the BMW X3 M benefits from some of the same tweaks to its variable steering as the 3 Series. So the steering ratio varies based on steering lock. Essentially, the more you turn the steering wheel, the sharper the steering becomes. This makes the variable rate progressive and predictable, allowing you to lean on it with confidence, while also giving it extremely sharp turn-in and comfortable straight-line cruising. Personally, I felt the BMW X3 M40i had better steering than the F30 3 Series, so I’ve very excited to test this X3 M.
To haul everything down, four-piston brake calipers are fitted at the front, with single-piston calipers at the back. The rotors are 395 mm in diameter at the front and 370 mm at the rear, both of which are drilled and vented.
It looks ace, too, this new BMW X3 M, especially at the back. Its quad exhausts and rear roof spoiler look downright devilish for an SUV and make it look very exciting. In profile, its lower ride height, roof spoiler, M wheels and little Air Breather all make it look cooler than the standard X3, even if it’s still a bit tame. Up front, there’s a more aggressive lower front fascia but it’s nothing too crazy and still looks rather reserved.
The BMW X3 M Competition models ride as standard on 21-inch wheels with a polished Jet Black finish. Tyres are 255/40 ZR21 items at the front and 265/40 ZR21 at the rear.
Inside, the interior is very similar to that of the F90 BMW M5. So it gets the same shift lever as the M5, the same steering wheel with its little red “M1” and “M2” switches, the same digital gauges and similar seats. That’s not bad thing, though, as it looks great and we expect the quality to be as excellent as it is on the standard X3.
Possibly even bigger news than the BMW X3 M itself is the addition of an X3 M Competition model. While not drastically different, the BMW X3 M Competition does come with enough to separate itself. For instance, it gets some carbon fiber bits on the outside, such as its rear diffuser, and some on the inside as well. It also gets M-striped seat belts and some other little visual touches, as well as an M Sport exhaust system. Oh, and I forgot to mention, it gets 510 hp. That’s right, the BMW X3 M Competition has five hundred and ten horsepower, or more power than the BMW M4 GTS did. Torque stays the same, though. According to BMW, the 30 hp bump is enough to drop the 0-62 mph time by one tenth.
The Competition models get a High-gloss Black finish around BMW kidney grille’s surrounds.
This new BMW X3 M, as well as its stronger X3 M Competition counterpart, seem absolutely fantastic. They both have more than enough power and performance to challenge genuine sports cars, look great, should handle and drive fantastically and have enough space and practicality to be everyday family cars. We can’t wait to drive them. Especially the 510 hp BMW X3 M Competition.
U.S. pricing starts at $69,900 for the X3 M and $73,400 for the X4 M; the Competition models will set you back another $7000. Made in the United States, they will be at dealerships starting in mid-July.