BMW is hard at work preparing products to satisfy virtually any shopper taste for luxury and performance, and their latest X3 is a great example of the trend.
All new for 2018, the latest-generation of this popular luxury crossover (which BMW would prefer you call a ‘Sports Activity Vehicle’) is available in various forms, from mild to wild. Topping the range is the first-ever X3 to wear BMW’s sporty ‘M’ badge. This one’s called the X3 M40i, and it turns the thrill dial to 11 on a luxury sports ute that’s also remarkably easy to live with.
It’s an enhanced variant of BMW’s long-popular X3, or a blending of about two thirds BWM X3, and one third BMW M3 performance car. The result is a daily-usable and well-reviewed luxury sports ute, configured to excel during all-weather family use while flaunting an extra dose of performance delight for the enthusiast.
If you want a luxury sports car, but need a luxury crossover, the X3 M40i was cooked up for you.
And in the X3 M40i, you’re the boss.
A button click toggles between adaptive, eco-pro, comfort and sport drive settings, each morphing the X3 into whatever type of vehicle you’d like to drive at any given time. Each mode triggers special changes to the suspension, steering, throttle and more, in milliseconds. It’s like having access to multiple personalities, each engaged with a click.
In comfort mode, the X3 M40i is an apt highway cruiser. Noise levels are kept nicely muted, there’s a commanding but not towering driving position, and the suspension is forgiving if a touch firm. Here, it rides and handles like any number of luxury sport sedans. Notably, steering is light and easygoing, making it easy to drive smoothly. Ditto the throttle, which is numbed down a few notches to help improve fuel mileage and refinement.
The ecopro mode works just like comfort mode, though it takes extra steps to desensitize the throttle, and makes the transmission upshift earlier to save fuel and add range to every tank.
The adaptive mode reads your intentions and self-adapts on the fly. it’s like the ‘automatic’ shooting mode on a digital camera, calling the shots for you.
Finally, sport and an extra-sporty sport + subsetting can be selected. Here, the suspension stiffens, special flaps in the muffler open to make the exhaust louder, the steering gets faster and heavier, and the throttle goes to hair-trigger levels of sensitivity. Engage sport mode and it feels like someone fed the M40i a gallon of espresso and zapped it in the backside with a high-powered tazer.
The M40i’s best stuff is strutted in it’s two sport modes.
Access to the turbocharged straight 6’s 355 horsepower is instant and satisfying and the steering and suspension work beautifully off of one another for some authentic handling fun. Engineers even tweaked the AWD system to send more power to the rear axle so drivers can push the machine around fast corners with the throttle, if so inclined.
Most impressive? It feels more like a small sports coupe than a tall crossover when pushed and the soundtrack is equally as entertaining. With the exhaust in its louder setting, a mellow, exotic howl drenches the cabin at full throttle, and if you get the timing right for manual mode upshifts or throttle lifts, delightful popping and snapping noises are belted from the tailpipes.
The eight-speed automatic shifts at blink-of-an-eye speeds with perfect rev-matching in both directions, too. Drivers can expect 0-60 in 4.8 seconds — a tie with the 400-horsepower Porsche Macan Turbo, which costs about $26,000 more.
Braking performance is as expected from a sporty BMW: precise pedal action, easy modulation, and with a strong bite from an initial pedal press.
It’s all taken in from the X3’s all-new interior — complete with high-end touches sourced from elsewhere in the BMW model line. Plenty of leather and stitching and aluminum gussy up the place to a level that supports the price-tag, and the all-digital instrument cluster is gorgeously animated and customizable, even if it seems to smudge should you so much as look at it the wrong way. I found no issue with space in any seat, nor with the availability of nearby storage provisions or charging ports. The Harman Kardon stereo is a beast, and the headlights are typical of the brand: some of the best you’ll ever come across.
The cargo hold is excellent: there’s a low load floor, an easy-to-pack squared-off shape, under-floor storage, and a clever rail-mounted tie-down system to keep clumsy items secure.
Gripes? Rough in-town roads see ride quality degrade toward discomfort at times, and the vivid head up display partially disappears if you’re wearing polarized driving glasses, which you should be.
If you’re in the market for a hilariously-entertaining and high-performing luxury sports ute that also happens to work very well as a regular luxury sports ute, put this one on your test drive hit list.
Pricing from the low 60s.
Model: 2018 BMW X3 M40i
Engine: Three-litre straight six, turbocharged, 355 horsepower
Transmission: eight-speed Automatic with paddle shift
Features: adaptive suspension, automatic climate control, upgraded stereo, LED lighting, navigation, Head Up Display, power tailgate, climate controlled memory seating, panoramic sunroof.
What’s hot: fun to drive, easy to live with, knockout powertrain, plentifully fast, great cargo hold
What’s not: easily-smudged instrument cluster, rough roads can cause heavy ride quality degradation
Starting price: $61,500