Almost every BMW fan has been begging, pleading, scratching and clawing for an M3 Touring (wagon) to be made. The idea of a small, high-performance wagon from BMW M is absolutely ideal for most Bavarian enthusiasts. Unfortunately for us wanting fans, a long-roof BMW M3 will never exist. But I’m here to tell you, there’s no longer a need for it. All because of the BMW X3 M Competition.
I know, I know, suggesting that a sporty SUV is an acceptable replacement for a wagon is car-enthusiast-heresy. And typically, I’d be in agreement with the angry mob calling for the slow and painful demise of any pundit claiming what I’m claiming right now. However, the BMW X3 M Competition is shockingly good to drive and completely negates the need for an M3 wagon.
Before anyone threatens my life or gives me any unique and creative suggestions for my suicide, let me explain. The BMW X3 M Competition starts at $76,900. That’s about as much as the next-gen G80 BMW M3 Competition will cost, even if it’s a bit more. Both cars will share the same engine, power and even all-wheel drive system. The X3 M is just a bit bigger and more practical. So if you’re the sort of customer that would want a BMW M3 Touring, the X3 M Competition is almost exactly that, just taller.
My specific tester was an Alpine White BMW X3 M Competition with Sakhir Orange interior and carbon fiber trim. It also had the executive package equipped, which brought the total price to about $80,000. That’s a lot of money, sure, but the X3 M Comp packs so much car into that SUV body that it’s almost impossible to argue against.
Under that sculpted hood lies the beating heart of a proper M car. It’s the all-new S58 engine, which is a 3.0 liter twin-turbocharged I6 that makes 503 hp and 442 lb-ft of torque in Competition-spec. It’s the same engine that will power the next-gen BMW M3 Competition. It’s the same gearbox, too — an eight-speed ZF-sourced automatic. That auto ‘box sends power to an xDrive all-wheel drive system that has two different modes: 4WD and 4WD Sport. It doesn’t have the ‘2WD’ mode as the BMW M5 but that doesn’t matter, as 4WD Sport is plenty fun. Plus, drifting a tall SUV is probably ill-advised.
The engine is a masterpiece, though. It’s miles ahead of the S55 engine that powered the F80 M3 and continues to power the M2 Competition. It delivers its ample power with a silky smoothness that the M2 Comp wishes it had. On top of that, it makes a great noise, one that’s significantly improved over the previous S55. But the most impressive part of all of it is the forward thrust it delivers.
While the BMW X3 M can be a bit hesitant off the line, I suspect that to be tuning related and intentional. However, once it’s in its very healthy mid-range, it delivers a supercar-like punch that seems almost frightening in something as big and tall as an X3. Gearshifts are also dual-clutch-quick, without being harsh or unrefined. However, leaving in it sport automatic mode is best-suited for the X3 M, as it’s always in the right gear and is never caught flat-footed.
To be honest, I went into it expecting it to be fast and exciting. Even the BMW X3 M40i is fast and exciting in a straight line. What I was hoping for was for the BMW X3 M to be thrilling when the road got twisty. I was hoping for some genuine M Division excitement. And I got it.
Turn the wheel in the X3 M and the front end bites with an almost absurd enthusiasm. Its steering is incredibly sharp and has a decent amount of feedback. But kudos needs to go to the M Division’s engineers, as well as Michelin’s, as the massive front Pilot Sport tires simply never run out of grip. I’ve only ever driven one other SUV that refused to understeer as much as the X3 M and that was the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio. In fact, the BMW X3 M Competition reminded me a lot of the Alfa, just with nicer refinement and a better ride.
Speaking of ride, it’s remarkable that the BMW X3 M has a better ride than literally anything. Its combination of stiff suspension, massive wheels and small tire sidewall makes the X3 M brutal over rough pavement. In fact, it’s so stiff that it actually starts to feel sketchy while driving quickly over rough pavement and going slowly over big bumps can send the entire car rocking side-to-side. It can actually be nauseating at times.
However, having said that, I actually sort of liked it. The crazy stiff suspension was always a reminder of just how capable the BMW X3 M is on track. I’ve never actually driven the X3 M on track but I’ve ridden shotgun with a proper racing driver behind the wheel of one on track and I was mightily impressive. So every time I hit a harsh bump, after I groaned in discomfort, I laughed and smiled because I knew that what I was driving was something genuinely special and shockingly capable.
But the most important part of the BMW X3 M is the fact that it’s fun. In an era where even M cars feel so refined and easy to drive, the X3 M brings a rawness, an attitude back to M. Of course, it’s still a modern M car, so it’s interior is lovely, its technology makes life incredibly easy and it’s so absurdly capable that even a ham-fisted idiot like myself can drive it quickly without fear. However, it does all of that with an enthusiasm that’s electrifying. It feels like an excitable puppy, despite being a two-ton SUV.
On top of all of that, it’s still a BMW X3. So it’s practical, spacious and can fit five adults with ease. It can also fit two child seats and all of the crap that comes along with them in the trunk. So it can double as a family vehicle while munching genuine sports cars for lunch.
BMW enthusiasts might loath the idea of a BMW X3 M Competition being good enough to fill the void of an M3 Touring. To an enthusiast, an SUV can never be as good to drive as a proper wagon. But I’d reckon that any of its detractors have never driven the BMW X3 M Competition. It’s the M3 Touring we’ve always wanted, even if it comes in a slightly different shape.