BimmerLife staff recently got the chance to put a few hundred miles on a 2019 X3 M40i through a range of varying terrain and challenging conditions; our thoughts follow.
We often use this website to wax poetic about our love for European sport wagons, and how they strike the perfect balance between performance and utility, offering cargo space in a package that can still be driven spiritedly. Everyone reading this likely knows that you can’t buy a new BMW touring in the U.S. anymore, and for the last few generations, the offerings here were rather limited to begin with. That hasn’t stopped enthusiasts from looking for a single vehicle that can do it all, and over the past year or so, the third-generation X3 has been the hottest selling BMW model of the entire lineup. While the bulk of deliveries—61,351 in the U.S. alone during 2018—are most likely four-cylinder lease specials in boring colors, the B58-powered X3 M40i is the real gem of the lineup.
We know that the M40i can largely be considered old news, with the S58-powered X3 and X4 M having hit the market this year, but it is the base-model six-cylinder that you really want. As we explained back in July, BMW’s M Performance models, specifically cars like the M550i, seem to embody a near-perfectly apportioned mix of performance and everyday usability that doesn’t come with the harshness of an M car. This excellent combination of two important characteristics is also usually available for a significant discount as well, and real-world performance that one can actually get away with on public roads is also almost dead even.
The X3 M40i is no exception to this rule of the BMW lineup. It looks sharp in comparison with rivals from other German competitors, has acceleration, braking, handling, and road-holding ability that exceed what most most will ever make use of by a wide margin, and offers uncompromising utility in the way of passenger room and cargo capacity for its segment. You can also bet that it’s going to be the volume seller against other entry-level performance SAVs, meaning that if you’re in the hunt for a second-hand example, depreciation and resale values will soon be in your favor.
It’s not perfect by any means, but it is still the best X3 yet. In terms of aesthetics and quality, the interior is likely the weakest point when put up against rivals from Mercedes and Audi. BMW’s interior material choice seems to be trending in the right direction with the newest generation of models, but it’s still a bit more spartan than what you’re surrounded by when driving the competition.
One could attribute this to BMW choosing to be a bit more driver-focused, but the technology in the current G01 X3 is also slightly behind what the other German marques offer, specifically things the driver interacts with during every trip. The all-digital gauge clusters and sweeping nav screens found in the current models from Audi and Mercedes are on another level of responsiveness, vibrance, and interactivity, while the X3 feels a bit dated. The X3 will likely receive the latest version of BMW’s Live Cockpit Professional when the LCI arrives, but that system still lags behind the market.
Elsewhere, storage capacity, passenger accommodations, and other features do not suffer. For the vast majority of society, an X3 is all one really needs, with seating for five and an expansive cargo area in the rear that is accessed through the power tailgate. We had our press X3 laden with camera gear, including full-size tripods, all of which it swallowed up effortlessly, with no Tetris-inspired packing required.
In terms of performance capability, the X3 is a strong contender as well. While model years 2018 and 2019 came with 355 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque, when 2020 model year versions went into production earlier this year, the 380-horse version of the B58 from the Z4 M40i and M340i was added. Torque remains unchanged, which means you’ll probably only feel the difference at triple-digit speeds, but it’s still a lot of grunt in a midsize crossover SUV. An acceleration time of 4.4-seconds for a 2019 model year example recorded by Car and Driver—who preferred the base-model four-cylinder xDrive30i—ranks the M40i behind the Porsche Macan Turbo with Performance Package and Mercedes-AMG GLC43, the latter of which uses a V8, but this territory is where the X3 M and X3 M Competition will shine.
Being able to actually use all of the power and torque is where the X3 M40i stands out in the BMW lineup. With the condition of America’s roads today, the default vehicle choice with which to traverse pockmarked city streets or uneven rural pavement is quickly becoming the crossover SUV. The X3 M40i has just enough travel in its (optionally adaptive) suspension to shrug off road surface imperfections with ease, while something like an M340i or M3 becomes darty and cumbersome to control thanks to tram-lining and other feedback from rutted asphalt. Potholes no longer represent the mortal danger they do in something lower to the ground with less sidewall, and navigating a driveway isn’t an exercise in geometry—you just take it, and for some, even braking is optional.
Don’t misconstrue that with the X3 M40i being totally aloof though. We ascended from the desert floor to an elevation of more than 5,000 feet (and then back down) no less than three times during the day on tight, curvy mountain roads, and were never left disappointed by the suspension, handling, or steering, although our cargo may have had a different experience. In fact, we passed multiple other vehicles during these drives, including a few BMWs. Our winning combination was to keep the suspension in comfort (to cope with the undulations of the road) and the engine in Sport+, primarily to enjoy the the exhaust crackles and pops—when we started to run low on fuel, Eco Pro helped us keep the range out of the red on the way to a distant gas station.
We can’t leave out the inevitable X3 M comparison, but for tens of thousands more, you only get a few tenths of a second shaved off acceleration, while the exquisite interior is a bit too much for most non-celebrity clients. We have no doubt that BMW will sell the X3 and X4 M by the bushel, but these cars have their place in the upper echelon of society, while the X3 M40i is closer to the ultimate performance performance crossover that you’ll actually use every day; ours even came with the tow package.—Alex Tock
For a more detailed look into the X3 M40i, check out the cover story of the September 2019 issue of Roundel.
[Photos courtesy Alex Tock.]