BMW X3 M Competition SUV
"The BMW X3 M Competition is a fast, practical SUV with a great engine but the ride is firm”
- Ferocious performance
- Impressive interior
- Stiff ride
- Not very playful
- Expensive to buy and run
You'd be forgiven for thinking the BMW X3 M Competition is merely a run-of-the-mill SUV with a slightly tuned engine and a sporty makeover. But this is, in fact, a thoroughbred BMW ‘M’ car, with wide-ranging modifications to separate it from more humble high-riding family runabouts.
The M treatment was partly encouraged by rivals because, odd as it may seem, the X3 M Competition isn't alone. There's the V8 Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S, Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio, Jaguar F-Pace SVR and Porsche Macan S, making anyone after a small SUV with sports-car performance spoilt for choice.
At the X3 M’s heart lies an all-new 3.0-litre straight-six turbo petrol that's destined to be a highlight of the next-generation BMW M3. Its 503bhp catapults the car from 0-62mph in 4.1 seconds and not only does it deliver the goods but keen drivers will be pleased to hear it also has plenty of flair. It revs keenly for a turbocharged engine and makes a surprisingly pleasing noise, even if it can't quite compete with the Mercedes V8 in this regard.
Four-wheel drive and BMW's electronic safety net of traction control and skid prevention means the X3 M Competition can harness a surprising amount of the engine's power and fire out of corners, but it isn't ultimately as playful as a Macan or the Alfa Romeo Stevlio Quadrifoglio. The ride also feels rather stiff at town speeds, improving as you pick up the pace.
For many, the appeal of the X3 M Competition will lie in the fact it offers so much performance, yet still has a high seating position, plenty of space for tall adults in the front and back seats, and lots of room for luggage. Whether prospective buyers will be able to stomach its £77,000 asking price is another matter, particularly when the Porsche Macan S is so good to drive - even with far less power - and costs around £20,000 less.
MPG, running costs & CO2
If you choose the X3 M over the rest of the X3 range, you won’t be prioritising fuel economy - there are petrol and diesel engines far cheaper to run lower in the line-up. Even with the automatic gearbox and engine in its most economical settings, the rapid SUV only manages a WLTP test figure of 26.9mpg, which is at least similar to its rivals.
CO2 emissions of 239g/km are almost irrelevant in terms of running costs because the car is deep into the top 37% BiK band for company-car drivers and road tax is the same £145 annually as a petrol supermini. However, because the X3 M costs more than £40,000, you'll need to pay £465 in total for road tax for the first five renewals.
While it has yet to be announced, we expect the X3 M to sit in an insurance group between 45 and the top 50 band, which is where the Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 and Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio are positioned. You'll also need to budget for the cost of pricey replacement parts, including brakes and tyres, that are inevitable in a two-tonne SUV with this level of performance.
Engines, drive & performance
The big news is the 3.0-litre turbocharged straight-six engine under the BMW X3 M Competition's bonnet, which makes its debut in the SUV before it goes into the BMW M3 super saloon and BMW M4 coupe. With 503bhp in Competition guise - the only version of the car we're getting in the UK - it matches the Stelvio Quadrifoglio and V8 GLC 63 S, and is the most powerful straight-six BMW has ever produced. Coupled with four-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic gearbox, the engine fires the X3 M from 0-62mph in 4.1 seconds and hauls it to a restricted 155mph on a runway with little let up. BMW will extend the cap to 174mph as an option.
There's little indication the engine is turbocharged, such is the linearity of its power delivery and the fact it feels satisfying to hold onto a gear all the way to its 7,200rpm redline. It feels more satisfying than BMW’s previous straight-six too, largely because its active exhaust provides a deep bellow at low revs, with crackles and pops when you come off the accelerator or change gear. Some may find the Mercedes V8 more exciting, and the Stelvio accelerates even harder, but the BMW has an excellent engine regardless.
Its rampant power is tamed by four-wheel drive, which sends more of its power to the rear wheels than in standard X3 models for a more enthusiast-focused character. The steering is accurate, but lacks the weighty feel of older M cars, and the safety systems can be felt reigning things in if the chassis is pushed too hard. The Alfa Romeo is more playful in this regard, and perhaps the X3 M's biggest issue is a very firm low-speed ride. This can make it feel a bit uneasy around town but the suspension seems to work better as the speed picks up, masking bumps more effectively.
Interior & comfort
We already rate the BMW X3's interior very highly and while the X3 M starts at over £70,000, it still stacks up. The design easily beats the Alfa Romeo and also feels more cohesive than the mix of old styling and new technology found in the Mercedes - although the GLC arguably has slightly more character. In fact, the X3 M is only just beaten by the Porsche Macan for overall quality and driving enthusiast appeal.
Interior upgrades include sports seats featuring embossed 'M' logos in Merino leather, along with the option of Alcantara and carbon fibre interior trim. Other standard kit includes adaptive LED headlights, a Harman Kardon stereo, folding door mirrors, black exterior trim (including the kidney grille) and 21-inch alloy wheels.
Practicality & boot space
Despite its high-performance characteristics, the X3 M doesn't lose anything much in the way of practicality. It's just as spacious inside, with the underpinnings from the BMW 5 Series ensuring there's plenty of room between the front and rear wheels. Legroom and kneeroom benefit as a result, and two six-footers can easily sit in tandem with headroom to spare.
Just like the regular X3, the boot measures up to 1,600 litres when the 40:20:40 split-and-fold rear seats are folded down. Tipping the central section forwards means you can easily carry skis and long items of luggage with four people sitting in comfort. Unlike some sports models, the X3 M is also rated for towing, and its maximum braked trailer capacity of 2,500kg will be high enough for most owners.
Reliability & safety
There should be no safety worries but BMW hasn't performed well in customer satisfaction surveys of late. The renowned German marque could only manage 25th out of 30 manufacturers in our 2019 Driver Power survey, languishing behind Lexus in first, Alfa Romeo in second and Jaguar in ninth. However, BMW did just pip Mercedes.
The BMW X3 itself came 89th out of the top 100 models and BMW owners told us insurance and servicing were pricey, while its cars ride poorly. However, they were more positive about interior build quality and BMW engines and gearboxes.
The X3 is one of the safest SUVs in its class, with a five-star rating from Euro NCAP when it was tested in 2017, including 93% for adult occupant protection. Standard kit includes autonomous emergency braking, speed limit information, rear cross traffic alerts and lane departure warning. Owners can add Driving Assistant Plus to add semi-autonomous lane keeping and front cross traffic warning.