Priced from £51,705 Release date June
If there’s even a hint of petrol pumping through your veins, you’re probably aware of what the letter ‘M’ means on a BMW: Motorsport. While things have been diluted somewhat by its liberal use on sportily styled cooking models, BMW’s M division can still be counted on to produce the most dynamic versions of every model. In the case of the marque’s large SUV, it’s the BMW X3 M40i.
Although it isn’t a ‘full’ M car like the M3 or M5, M Performance models like this one get more powerful engines, tweaked suspension and other mechanical mastery. In this case, there’s a 355bhp turbocharged six-cylinder engine under the bonnet, stiffer springs (with the option of adaptive dampers) and racy styling inside and out.
Factor in a price just exceeding £50k and you’re looking at a direct rival for the Audi SQ5 – an SUV that’s seen off far more expensive rivals in one of our group tests. Given BMW’s record for making driver’s cars, could we have a new performance SUV king?
2018 BMW X3 M40i on the road
As with all other 40i-badged BMW models, the engine is a real peach. You see, despite being able to fire the X3 M40i from 0-62mph in 4.8sec, it’s a real smoothie when you’re not trying to compress your shopping into an amorphous blob. If you’ve got Comfort or Eco Pro mode selected, the six-cylinder unit is hushed and sends few tremors through the controls.
While the eight-speed automatic gearbox is keen to smoothly shuffle into the highest ratio possible, it’s just as quick to change down should you require a slice of acceleration. Not that a downshift is always necessary; there’s ample shove from low in the rev range.
Cycle through to Sport or Sport Plus mode and the motor’s character changes significantly. With the gearbox holding onto ratios for longer and thumping them through far more quickly, the engine really comes alive, howling its way to the redline with pops and cracks to accompany gearchanges and bouts of deceleration. Put simply, it’s far more characterful than the SQ5’s V6.
Regardless of how heavily you’re leaning on the skinny pedal, there is a constant reminder of the X3 M40i’s sporting intent. Even with the optional £530 adaptive suspension in its softest mode, the car never truly settles, regardless of how smooth the road looks. While it’s no boneshaker, some might find the X3 M40i’s constant fidgeting a bit irritating. There’s no doubt that an SQ5 on Audi’s superb air suspension is a far more relaxed long-distance companion.
The upshot of the firm ride is handling that is at odds with the X3’s upright stance. Even in Comfort mode, body lean is more saloon car than steamship. Stiffening the suspension results in even less roll and tighter body control over an undulating B-road. Impressively, it does this without making the X3 M40i feel like it’s going to throw itself off the road should things get particularly bumpy.
Standard four-wheel drive generates huge reserves of traction, making it easy to fire the X3 M40i out of corners in confidence. Even so, you can tighten your line with a dollop of accelerator if you’ve got the stability control relaxed or off. In this respect, it feels more playful than the neutrally balanced SQ5. Our only real complaint is that, while the steering is precise, it isn’t quite as well weighted or communicative as a Porsche Macan’s. It's also worth mentioning that the X3 M40i always feels like the big hefty SUV that it is.
2018 BMW X3 M40i interior
BMW may not make the most exciting interiors, but there’s an awful lot to recommend. Unyielding plastics are tucked away, buttons are nicely damped and everything is angled towards the driver. Indeed, only the SQ5 can beat it for interior ambience and, even then, the margins are small.
We doubt four adults will have any issues travelling for long distances, while the boot is a good size, too. Should you want more information on space and practicality, plus how the car compares with rivals such as the Q5 and Macan, have a look at our full review of the standard X3 here.
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