TEST DRIVE: 2020 BMW X3 M Competition – Uncompromised

Test Drives | February 24th, 2020 by 13
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It’s been a long time coming. People have been asking for a BMW X3 M model for a long time and it took BMW nearly three generations to get it done. The Germans knew this had to happen at some point, but they wanted to make sure they get it right.

Especially, since unlike the BMW X5 M or the BMW X6 M, the dynamics of the 2020 BMW X3 M would matter more in the final product. Therefore, after four and a half years of development, BMW finally unveiled the cars everyone was waiting for.

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Let’s be fair, the BMW X5 M doesn’t really match up to the dynamics we’re all expecting from an M car. It’s too big and heavy to do that and even the clever engineers in Munich have their limits when it comes to bending the laws of physics.

Therefore, nobody really expects a car like the X5 M to handle like an M5. And that’s ok. Most people buying a BMW X5 M are okay with that and know exactly what they are doing.

But when it comes to the X3, due to its more compact size, a bit of an effort was necessary to make it feel as close to an M car as possible. Even the people developing the car told us that the aim here was to create a sort of ‘M3 X’ if you will. For the most part, they kind of got it right.

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Design – Typical Of An M Car

The moment you look at the BMW X3 M Competition you realize it follows in the footsteps of other M cars by the strictest of margins. The visual details that give it away are subtle. And I love that about it. It has the perfect sleeper design to allow you to mess around with other people on the road.

Up front you’ll notice the changes are minimal compared to an M Sport BMW X3. The kidney grilles are probably the biggest indicator that this is an M car, because they have double slats (but few people will know that’s a feature used on pure M cars) and because they have an X3 M badge on them. The front bumper is also slightly changed with different air intakes and a more prominent center intake.

Move around to the sides and you’ll also notice other typical M features. They include the gills on the front fenders and the M-style side mirror covers. Look closer and you might just notice the huge perforated brake discs hiding behind the wheels.

Round the back you’ll notice the badge on the tailgate (which can be removed if you want to, in some markets), the new diffuser housing four large tailpipes as well as an extra spoiler at the top of the tailgate.

Listing all these key differences makes it seem like there’s plenty to identify this car as an M model. Yet, in reality, the changes are so subtle, you’ll see a lot of people ignoring you around town, thinking this is just another X3. For some customers, that will be exactly what they are searching for.

The Cabin – Luxurious And Sporty

Step inside and things get a bit crazier. The general layout is still the same as on the regular X3 models but there are a few  interesting dead giveaways that will let you know this is a proper M car. The biggest difference comes in the seating department.

Just like any other M car, the X3 M gets proper M seats that look and feel fantastic. I love the quilted pattern right down the middle and the bi-color leather setup. As for comfort, let’s just say they managed to take away some of the jilts sent through the car’s body by its super stiff suspension.

I’ll tell you more about that a bit later on.

The instrument cluster is also different and on par with what you’ll find on cars like the F90 M5. It’s the old iDrive 6.0 version that greets you inside, but this April, the X3 M and X4 M models will also get iDrive 7.0.

The instrument cluster has two round, clockwise-turning gauges in it. It looks just right and the head-up display also provides plenty of useful information, especially in M mode.

Another differentiator sits on the center console and it’s the M gearshift lever. It looks absolutely great, in my book, and I love the fact that it doesn’t move like the lever on other cars fitted with the 8-speed ZF gearbox. The fact that I have to tilt it to the left and then move it upwards to engage reverse, just like you would on a manual gearbox, is one of my favorite things about it.

Unlike on the old selector used on the 7-speed DCT gearboxes, the new one has a Park button and that makes it even better. Right on top of it you’ll find a transmission speed selector while on the side three buttons let you set up your car’s handling characteristics any way you want.

Luckily, unlike on older M cars, the steering wheel now has two red buttons on it labeled M1 and M2 and they allow you to save certain setups and avoid having to meddle through the menu all the time to get it just right. I had three driving modes set up and found they are all you can possibly need.

Lots Of Different Configurations Are Possible

The car sets off in its default mode which means the steering and the suspension are set to Comfort while the engine is set to Efficient mode. It’s basically the most ‘relaxed’ setup you can get for this car and would be the one you’d use taking the kids to school.

Next, I set-up the M1 button in a sort of intermediary mode. The steering, suspension and engine response were set to Sport. Last, but not least, the M2 button was set up for the most hardcore choices available. The Steering is in Sport Plus mode, the transmission in the fastest and hardest setting, the suspension was all in Sport mode too while the pedal response followed the same rule.

Even the M xDrive system was put in 4WD Sport mode, turning the DSC partially off. This was the ‘hooligan’ mode in my book. Therefore, I had all three bases covered, to say so.

How Does It Drive?

The moment you set off though, in its most comfortable setup, the 2020 BMW X3 M Competition starts to show its pedigree. What I noticed immediately was that the driving position seems lower than in the case of ‘regular’ flavored X3 models. As you may recall from my other reviews of this platform, I found the driving position a bit too high.

In the X3 M Competition, it’s just right.

The car is poised, well balanced and relentless. Maybe too relentless if I may say so. That’s because the approach when making it was to create a ‘high-performance’ car first leaving the rest to the side. That turned this car into one of the harshest riding automobiles I ever drove.

Around town that’s highlighted even more, as the suspension will keep on bouncing you around, from side to side as soon as you hit a patch of rougher roads. And we all know that potholes become your worst enemy when driving a car with such a stiff setup.

Furthermore, there’s a lot of noise coming into the cabin from the suspension whenever you’re not driving on silky smooth roads, an unacceptable amount if you ask me.

There are jolts reverberating throughout the cabin and the car simply feels unsettled all the time. The steel springs and the suspension setup overall are just too stiff for my liking.

Then again, maybe I’m getting old. Maybe there’s a market out there for people who prefer their cars to feel this way on their daily commute, just so that they can reap the rewards once they hit the track. Yes, when you push this thing hard, it is rewarding in the way it drives, to say the least.

The 2020 BMW X3 M Competition tips the scale at somewhere close to 2 tons. It is also quite a bit taller than an M3 and yet it feels nearly as composed on the road, at high speeds. Without a doubt, it offers a confidence-inspiring level of grip while the body roll is kept in check a lot better than I expected. And this was during cornering at fast speeds.

Immediately you feel how it pushes you and taunts you to go faster and faster until you reach its limits. There’s a precision in the way it corners that mimics what you may find on other M cars as well. Of course, that makes the whole experience feel familiar. Therefore, after a while behind the wheel you can’t but arrive at the implacable conclusion that this is a true M car after all.

That’s what it feels like!

M xDrive And The New S58 Engine

The M xDrive system is also one of the stars in the 2020 BMW X3 M Competition. It’s basically the same as on the M5 but it won’t send all the power to the rear axle. Even so, in 4WD Sport mode it allows you to turn this car into a proper drift machine. Now, the rear end will skedaddle all over the road if you’re not careful.

The remaining torque going to the front axle also helps provide a bit more feedback through the steering wheel.

None of that would be possible without the engine though. As you might already know, under the hood of the BMW X3 M Competition hides a new S58 engine.

The name already tells you that this is based on the multiple-award winning B58 3-liter straight six mill but, according to BMW, the M engine shares less than 10 percent of its parts. It has a forged crankshaft, forged pistons, a 3D printed head and a new intercooler not to mention the twin turbos attached to it. All those factors create a mill that has plenty of power at any RPM and will keep you glued to the back of your seat at all times if you insist.

With 503 HP and 600 Nm (442 lb-ft) of torque at its disposal, the 2020 BMW X3 M Competition can hang with the best in the segment. What I loved the most about it though was how smooth it delivered its resources through the 8-speed automatic gearbox.

Unlike its S55 predecessor, the torque band on the S58 is considerably wider and that makes the mill a lot more predictable in the way it delivers its power. It also means that there is no longer an issue with the sudden traction break in the S55.

What I would’ve liked though was a bit more sound out of it. The center console has a button on it which allows you to open or close exhaust flaps to make your car sound better. I found that trick rather useless. Even in its loudest setting, the S58 didn’t deliver an enticing soundtrack.

The Active Sound Design system pumps more sound into the cabin, but there’s no pops and bangs happening at the other end of the exhaust. This is mainly because of the new petrol particulate filter used in European cars. The U.S. market certainly sound better and more rewarding.

It’s also fair to say these are the times we live in and they come with both good and bad things. 10 years ago, buying a car that can deliver such poised dynamics with such a high center of gravity would’ve seemed impossible. Yet, here we are today looking at such high-riding SUVs as if they are the new ‘normal’. The list includes cars like the Alfa Romeo Stelvio QV and the Mercedes-AMG GLC63 S, both exceptional in their own way.

Should I Buy One?

As for the 2020 BWM X3 M Competition, I couldn’t but feel like it was a bit too much. The main goal of this car, I’m told, was to provide M thrills to those family guys out there. While the M thrills part is definitely covered, the utilitarian aspect has been forgotten somewhere along the way. Sure, you have space for five adults and plenty of luggage but will anyone actually want to go road tripping with you?

Around town, as I already pointed out, it can’t be called comfortable unless you’re driving on clouds. The suspension is far too stiff for my liking and way too noisy. Then there’s the fact that you might find solace in the thought that the engine under the hood has 503 HP.

But there’s no room to ever use even half of them, let alone push the car hard into a corner to outshine everyone else on the road.

So, who is this car for, in the end? I believe it will be most useful to those who plan to take it out to the track at least every once in a while. That’s where all the tradeoffs you have to deal with on a daily basis start to make sense and that’s where the BMW X3 M Competition truly shines.

Otherwise you might be better off just buying an X3 M40i which is a lot more comfortable and has plenty of power for your daily needs anyway. Because as good as the BMW X3 M Competition is at the very edge, as hard it is to live with it every day.

2020 BMW X3 M Competition

Exterior Appeal - 9
Interior Quality - 9
Steering Feedback - 8
Performance - 9
Handling - 8
BMWness/Ultimate Driving Machine - 8
Price Point - 8

8.4

So, who is this car for, in the end? I believe it will be most useful to those who plan to take it out to the track at least every once in a while. That’s where all the tradeoffs you have to deal with on a daily basis start to make sense and that’s where the BMW X3 M Competition truly shines.

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