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First drive: BMW X3 M40i. Image by BMW.

First drive: BMW X3 M40i
Another high-performance, compact, premium SUV enters the fray - and the BMW X3 M40i is a corker.


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BMW X3 M40i

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

BMW delivers a new generation X3, and it's a typically brilliant all-round product. There are a range of turbocharged petrol and diesel engines, and the X3 Mk3 is excellent as a 3.0-litre diesel model... but go on, be a rascal and give the halo M40i performance model a whirl. You really won't be disappointed.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: BMW X3 M40i
Pricing: X3 range from 37,940; M40i from 50,530
Engine: 3.0-litre turbocharged six-cylinder petrol
Transmission: all-wheel drive, eight-speed Steptronic automatic
Body style: five-door SUV
CO2 emissions: 188g/km (VED 800 first 12 months, then 450 per annum next five years, then 140 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 34.4mpg
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
0-62mph: 4.8 seconds
Power: 360hp at 5,500- to 6,500rpm
Torque: 500Nm at 1,520- to 4,800rpm

What's this?

It's called the BMW X3 M40i, and it's the first performance derivative of the company's mid-sized premium SUV we've received. And... can we just stop you there? Only, we know you're about to tell us that BMW has built xDrive35i and M40i models of the X3 and related X4 before. Yes, that's true. But the xDrive35i was not an M Performance model, while the M40i was only ever an X4... and it wasn't sold in the UK. Hence, this X3 M40i is something of a pioneer.

It represents the top of a four-strong X3 range that will be launched in two phases. First up will be the diesels, a 2.0-litre four-pot badged xDrive20d and a beefier 3.0-litre six-cylinder unit named the xDrive30d. These will soon be followed by the M40i and an xDrive20i entry petrol model. All of these have the eight-speed Steptronic auto gearbox and four-wheel drive, so the sDrive RWD examples of the last X3 are no more. Trim lines will run SE, xLine and M Sport, with 60 per cent of buyers opting for the last of these, while a huge 80 per cent of X3 customers will choose the xDrive20d. The xDrive30d then takes another 15 per cent, which leaves the petrols fighting for just five per cent of X3 customers between them. However, as we shall come to see, that's grossly unfair on the M40i, which deserves a far bigger slice of the pie.

In terms of styling, the X3 is a gentle evolution of its predecessor. Look at the glasshouse, body shape and overall stance of the new car and you'll see the similarity to the outgoing X3; so much so that, during an off-road session where we were in the third of a train of four X3s, it took us about quarter of an hour to realise that the lead SUV being piloted by the instructor was actually a Mk2. But that's not to say the latest generation is ugly. Large kidney grilles, a sculpted bonnet, LED light clusters front and rear, and more defined strakes along the X3's flanks make it look big, imposing and expensive, without it coming across as hulking in the process. We like it, even in metallic brown.

The interior is a bigger step up, though, because the latest iDrive - controlled by voice, touch, gesture or the age-old rotary dial on the transmission tunnel - is drafted in, presented on a freestanding 10.25-inch display. This allows the fascia to be more slimline and attractive, helped by the fact that BMW has used some high-quality materials to finish everything off. There's a new steering wheel design, the storage area ahead of the gearlever has been enlarged to accommodate a pair of cup holders, and the equipment options will include technological items like a head-up display, a digital instrument cluster and a powerful Harman Kardon sound system.

The M40i, of course, ramps up the sport factor. It sits on 20-inch alloys and has big air intakes, reprofiled bumpers, silver door mirrors, spaced twin-exit exhausts at the back and subtle M badging. The same goes for the interior, which is jazzed up with a sport steering wheel and more M logos. Safe to say that while the latest X3 is good-looking, it's the M40i that has the most aesthetic appeal - especially in its signature Phytonic Blue paint. Lovely.

How does it drive?

We'll split this bit into talking about the 30d, which is much more representative of the sort of the X3s you'll eventually see hammering up and down our motorways in the months to come, and the M40i, which is a storming creation in the finest BMW M (Performance) traditions.

So, the 30d. We managed to drive it both on and off road, although the rough stuff was, well... not so rough. It essentially involved driving around compacted, dusty gravel roads in a forest, although there were some challenging ascents, steep descents and a bit of axle articulation stuff to work through. Basically, although X3s will very rarely get their tyres properly dirty, the prognosis is that the BMW shouldn't be utterly hopeless off the tarmac.

On it, the 3.0-litre diesel proves charmingly adept in all departments. Like the X3s that have gone before - in 14 years of production, no less - it has a crisp chassis, good ride quality (this wasn't so true of the original Mk1, but we digress), a powerful and refined drivetrain, and a general easy-to-use character that makes this sort of premium SUV so immediately alluring to its target audience. We could mention that the gargling of the engine during wider throttle openings is a touch more audible than we're used to from this motor in other BMWs, or that there are traces of tyre and wind noise evident at motorway speeds, but overall the xDrive30d is all the SUV you could need. Especially as its 265hp/620Nm outputs make it brutally quick in all situations.

However. If brutally quick is what you want, then head straight for the M40i. It's phenomenally potent for something with what, on paper, looks a modest 360hp (hot hatchbacks are banging this number out these days) powering a car that's getting on for two tonnes in weight, but better than its searing speed is the noise. The M Performance exhausts are a riot, making the X3 M40i sound particularly vicious on start-up and at idle, while running the full gamut of burps, rumbles and thuds when the BMW is in its sportier driving modes. Thankfully, the 3.0-litre's tune isn't eradicated from this symphony and so the M40i has a simply tremendous soundtrack; Audi SQ5 TFSI, please take note.

Nevertheless, what stands out about the M40i is its on-road performance. Sure, it can do leisurely comfort well enough, offering a firm but fair ride quality, good suppression of wind and tyre noise, and lazy torque from that turbocharged engine. Yet, as we've already established, the 30d does all that equally well, if not better. What the 30d can't do, however, which the M40i most emphatically can, is charge from bend to bend like a proper hooligan, offering its driver plenty of fun and engagement in the process. While maybe not at Porsche Macan levels of handling finesse, the X3 M40i can still stand tall in the face of deeply talented chassis from rivals like the aforementioned SQ5 and the Jaguar F-Pace 3.0 V6 S.

It has magnificent body control, a distinct lack of understeer, great M Performance brakes and the as-usual-exceptional eight-speed Steptronic 'box, which reacts wonderfully to clicks of the steering wheel-mounted paddles when you're 'on it'. The actual steering itself is pleasantly precise and accurate, although the weighting is almost too heavy - even in normal mode, the X3 M40i feels reasonably heavy through the wheel and in Sport, it's hefty in the extreme. Also, while the handling is superb, there could be just a trace more of a rear-bias in the M40i's set-up to really make it shine. But those minor gripes aside, this is a fabulous performance SUV by any yardstick that you care to measure it by, and it's therefore among the elite for this type of vehicle, Porsche included.


There was a sort of inevitability about the new X3's excellence, because it has always been a strong contender in its class, and BMW is polishing its products to an extremely high standard these days. We need to drive a 20d variant on a British motorway during the depths of midwinter to fully ascertain how good the X3 Mk3 will be in a wide variety of motoring situations, but as the mighty 30d and good-heavens-above-this-thing-is-almighty M40i have already proven big hits, we're already comfortable in saying that if you're after one of the best mid-sized SUVs going, the X3 has to be front and centre of your consideration, at the very least.

4 4 4 4 4 Exterior Design

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Interior Ambience

4 4 4 4 4 Passenger Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Luggage Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Driving Dynamics

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Powertrain

Matt Robinson - 16 Oct 2017    - BMW road tests
- BMW news
- X3 images

2017 BMW X3 M40i drive. Image by BMW.2017 BMW X3 M40i drive. Image by BMW.2017 BMW X3 M40i drive. Image by BMW.2017 BMW X3 M40i drive. Image by BMW.2017 BMW X3 M40i drive. Image by BMW.

2017 BMW X3 M40i drive. Image by BMW.2017 BMW X3 M40i drive. Image by BMW.2017 BMW X3 M40i drive. Image by BMW.2017 BMW X3 M40i drive. Image by BMW.2017 BMW X3 M40i drive. Image by BMW.


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