The BMW X3 M Competition is a mid-sized luxury premium SUV with sports car performance – and the ride quality to match
Photos: Ben Chia & Lionel Kong
Given the BMW M division’s prolificacy in coming up with go-fast BMWs in recent times, it’s a bit of a surprise that it has taken until now for them to come up with an M version of their hugely-popular X3 sport utility vehicle (SUV), which has been around for over a decade and three generations now.
But according to M boss Markus Flasch, the M division doesn’t do things in half measures, and will only put a car through the full M treatment once it is determined that there is enough customer demand for it. Thus, the X3 M is born out of the sales success of its ‘milder’ sibling, the X3 M40i (below), which went on to become the M division’s best seller upon its introduction in 2018.
It seems like a pretty logical line of thinking: “This is popular, so let’s give them the same but more.” But as the X3 M Competition demonstrates here, more does not always necessarily seem better.
As a full-fledged M product, the X3 M Competition naturally has every performance metric turned up. 510 horsepower and 600Nm of torque from its 3.0-litre turbocharged inline six engine are pretty incredible figures. As is its 0-100km/h sprint time of 4.1 seconds, a timing which can shame more than a few supercars.
It’s scarcely believable then that this is an SUV that can carry five people and their luggage. But you’ll also note that I’ve left out that cliched phrase ‘in comfort’ at the end of that last sentence, because comfort is, unfortunately, where the X3 M Competition falls short.
The car feels extremely stiff, with a ride quality that can be, at best, be described as ‘firm’. Despite the presence of adaptive suspension, it feels like the X3 M has been set up for ultra-aggressive driving, all day, all the time. I’ve not driven an X3 M40i myself, but I can only imagine that it would be nowhere near as hardcore as this, and would probably make for a far more palatable proposition as a fast BMW SUV for daily use.
In the softest Comfort setting, the X3 M’s ride is still reasonably acceptable on super smooth roads (a rarity these days). Once you hit a bump however, the car becomes a hyperactive live-wire and jumps about uneasily in an unsettling fashion. There’s no semblance of pliancy at all, and you’ll soon tire of the way the X3 M shakes and rattles at every road imperfection you encounter.
Needless to say, putting it in Sport or Sport Plus mode compounds the issue further. The 21-inch wheels don’t exactly help matters either, but I can’t imagine smaller wheels improving the problem by much.
The trade-off from all that is that the X3 M offers a pretty enthusiastic drive when you show it a set of corners. It’s not quite the best handling SUV in its class – that title still belongs to the Porsche Macan – but it’s not inconceivable to imagine that the X3 M can more than hold its own around the race track.
READ MORE: The Porsche Macan S may be down on power over the BMW X3 M Competition, but it certainly is a much nicer drive
The steering is fast and accurate, if somewhat lacking in feel, and the car turns in with precision, almost belying its identity as an SUV. There is some body roll, as is expected from a car of its ilk, but in Sport Plus mode it is fairly well-controlled. And then there is of course the performance. Plant your foot down on the right pedal and the X3 M shoots off like a rocket, in a manner that almost feels other-worldly and physics-defying.
For a pretty hard-edged performance car, the X3 M is surprisingly subtle in its appearance. There are the usual large air intakes up front, aerodynamic wing mirrors, and M badges and requisite bulges everywhere, but otherwise there’s very little that marks this car out as a 510hp monster.
The interior offers a little bit more flair, with the M sports seats decked out in a distinctive Midrand Beige/Black colour combination, and the dashboard and centre console featuring liberal applications of carbon fibre trim. The M logo embedded in the headrests even lights up at night, just to remind you what you’re driving.
What you’re driving then is really a sports car that just so happens to have an SUV body. It’s certainly obvious that the X3 M puts performance as a priority over everyday comfort and usability. There are more well-rounded performance SUVs on the market that are somewhat more liveable, but the X3 M at least has carved out for itself a pretty unique proposition in a highly competitive segment. And if that is what M customers want, then who are we to deny them that.
BMW X3 M Competition
Engine 2,993cc, inline 6, turbocharged
Power 510hp at 6250rpm
Torque 600Nm at 2600-5950rpm
Gearbox 8-speed automatic
0-100km/h 4.1 seconds
Top Speed 250km/h
Fuel Efficiency 10.6L/100km
VES Band / CO2 C2 / 244g/km
Agent Performance Munich Automobiles
Price S$457,888 with COE
Verdict: Ultra hard-edged performance SUV offers capable handling chops, at the expense of ride quality