2019 BMW X3 M40i new car review
At least until electric motors take over, the heart of anything performance oriented is the engine.
While rival Mercedes’ ubiquitous performance enhancer is a 4.0-litre bent eight, BMW’s reputation for widespread performance comes from a more slender six.
Plonked into any small-to-medium car shy of a fully-fledged M Division product, the 3.0-litre ‘B58’ inside the new X3 M40i has endowed respected models such as the M140i, M240i and 340i and 440i.
Going against its application in this high-riding family wagon is a war on physics – it’s large, heavy and less light-footed than any of those, but it still lives up to BMW’s silky smooth six-cylinder reputation. And sitting on an all-new platform with improved compliance, stability and all-round practicality, it could be the best flying family wagon BMW has built yet.
Vehicle Style: Premium performance SUV
Price: $99,529 plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 265kW/500Nm 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbo | eight-speed automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 8.9 l/100km Tested: 10.5 l/100km
Unlike the upcoming X3 M, the M40i gets a milder tune of engine with a single twin-scroll rather than twin-turbo arrangement that’s found in its smaller step-sibling the M3. But it’s still capable of reaching 100km/h from a standstill in under 5.0 seconds and claims to have the best handling of any X3 yet, at least until the M arrives.
Underpinning its ability are M-tuned items including adaptive sports suspension, an active M differential and bigger brakes, and the whole kit is fashioned with an M Sport bodykit and large 21-inch M alloys.
On top of the performance enhancements is an extensive list of equipment including leather trim interior with contrasting stitching and M highlights, heated front seats, adaptive LED headlights, keyless entry and push-start ignition, dual-zone climate control, automatic opening powered tailgate, heads-up display, 16-speaker Harman/Kardon sound system and a 12.3-inch infotainment system with live traffic satellite navigation, Bluetooth and cost-option Apple CarPlay connectivity.
Safety is also well catered for by the standard inclusion of BMW’s driving assist package that adds forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, speed limit sign recognition and a 360-degree camera view.
Unsurprisingly, it is the most expensive X3 to date, priced at $99,529 plus on-road costs. However, it’s also the most potent, and likely a fair margin more affordable than the upcoming X3 M.
Standard Equipment: Keyless auto-entry with push-button start, tri-zone climate control, active cruise control, leather trim with electrically adjustable and heated front seats, automatic on/off headlights/wipers, auto up/down high-beam and auto-dimming rear-view mirror
Infotainment: 12.3-inch colour screen with Bluetooth and USB input, cost-option Apple CarPlay wireless app connectivity, digital radio, satellite navigation and six-speaker audio
Cargo Volume: 550 litres
The new generation X3 has improved inside in every dimension, adding room for all the occupants while being a much nicer space to look at. That doesn’t make it immune from feeling like a copy-paste cabin which shares familiarity found across the current BMW stable: it has the typical centre stack that protrudes to a central point and faces the driver while the big 12.3-inch infotainment system is plonked on top and vents cut between it and the climate controls.
But the materials and finish feel top notch, with soft touch and quality finishes used throughout and the aluminium trim panels add a sporty feel without being contrived, and the digital dash – despite lacking the crisp cutting-edge look of some rivals – blends with the premium presentation of the cabin. And the colour head up display is clear to read even on a bright sunny day.
The steering wheel is a bit sharper in design to the regular tiller too, and thinner than some previous M wheels that could feel a touch fat in the hands. The driver's seat doesn;t drop into a low slung sporty position, but for an SUV it has a good range of adjustment and the view throughout the glasshouse is open and mainly unobstructed.
The optional digital climate control interface adds even more class with a narrow touch-capacitive screen and metal buttons flanking the console and, in the back, the second row has access to its own climate control and dual air vents plus a USB charging port and 12v plug. More importantly, space has grown in this latest generation (the new X3 is even bigger than the first-gen X5) with plenty of headspace and good knee and legroom down low.
Like the front, the seats are comfortable though lack the fronts’ extra side bolstering support which is helpful when pushing around corners.
The seats also split-fold 40:20:40 for a variety of increased cargo carrying options (the middle seat isn’t particularly wide) and the boot is already a good 550-litres large that expands to 1600L with all seats down. The side loading rails and pocket storage add further function to the large boot area.
ON THE ROAD
Engine: 265kW/500Nm 3.0-litre petrol turbo 6cyl
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, AWD
Suspension: Multi-link independent front and rear
Brakes: Ventilated front and rear disc brakes
Steering: Electrically assisted mechanical steering
It’s out on the road that the X3 M40i flexes its muscle over anything else in the X3/X4 line-up, bellowing along with a wonderfully smooth engine that’s full of charisma.
And as a replacement for something like the older E91 335i M Sport wagon (with its 225kW/400Nm turbo six), the M40i nails it for brio.
The 3.0-litre straight-six twin-scroll turbo motor produces 265kW at 5500-6500rpm and 500Nm from 1520-4800rpm. The last part of the equation is what gives tremendous pull from a standstill, with every Newton metre of torque pounding through the eight-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel-drive system from low in the rev range.
The soundtrack is equally as pleasing, grumbling on start-up (extra throaty on cold mornings to warm you up) and belting out a powerful six-cylinder quartet in the upper reaches towards redline. The traditional torque converter automatic keeps up every step of the way, clicking into gears with rapid execution to provide acceleration that annoys hot hatches at the lights and dispenses of overtakes quickly.
Into twisting roads, the automatic continues to keep up the good pace, picking an appropriate gear and holding on to a six-pot scream when in sport mode, though the steering-wheel paddle shifters provide ultimate precision when needed. Indeed, the drivetrain is a successful reproduction of the same M setup in everything it has touched.
But the chassis is a little less flexible and a bit more ridged, tied down with firm suspension that doesn’t feel completely planted around corners while hitting edges with sharp feedback. The adaptive suspension tune is the best of the current X3s for sporty composure, which can be tweaked back to a more comfortable ride, but it doesn’t feel like the ultimate driving machine yet.
Communication is otherwise sharp and accurate from the front, with steering best in comfort rather than toughened-up sport settings for feel and the brake pedal connects to firm bite from larger four-piston front and two-piston rear callipers on larger discs. And they never seem to tire. Combined with sharp mid-range pickup and plenty of herbs on tap it’s a lot of fun on the right road, particularly given its tall SUV shape with a generous boot.
But it’s around town that the M40i shows its flexibility best, calm when cruising and immediate in response when required to move through traffic, though never feeling like too much of a muscle car, even if it does bark out the back.
The official government combined fuel consumption figure of 8.9L/100km is pretty lean for a car of this potential too, though we hit an average of 10.5L in mixed driving conditions that's still comparatively low.
ANCAP rating: Five-stars - the BMW X3 scored a total 35.4 points out of a possible 38 when tested in 2017.
Safety Features: Eight airbags, all-wheel-drive, traction and stability control ABS anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist, hill-start assist, low-speed AEB, adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning with steering assist.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/unlimited kilometres
Servicing: Servicing requirements are stipulated by condition-based monitoring that determines if the vehicle requires maintenance.
BMW offers Basic and Plus versions of its Service Inclusive Package that cover four-years/80,000km servicing.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The Mercedes-Benz GLC43 is a touch older and a touch more expensive, but its twin-turbo V6 is a cracking motor that makes plenty of noise – even if it is 0.1sec slower than the M40i to the ton.
The Porsche Macan is also a bit older than the new BMW but it exhibits precision handling and an energetic engine that sounds the goods - a balance of power given it doesn’t match the X3 for technology and equipment.
The Audi SQ5 is one of the most comfortable to drive on this list and it has a strong driveline that’s slower but not out its depth. The interior design doesn't feel as plush but it's slick and loaded with tech.
- Mercedes-Benz GLC
- Porsche Macan
- Audi SQ5
BMW might have been slow to add a contestant to the middle-weight performance SUV segment but it has delivered a hard punch with the X3 M40i. While it comes at a price, the extensive equipment list, cracking engine performance and all-round comfort (and practicality) make it a great choice in the premium performance segment.
Alex Rae is Drive’s Melbourne based reporter with over 10 years’ experience in the automotive industry as a photographer and journalist. Having studied both engineering and the arts, Alex understands what makes things tick while appreciating that sometimes it’s all about form over matter…