BMW X3 M Competition 2020 road test review

Moving Well | Tim Nicholson | Posted on 25 April 2020

Tim Nicholson road tests the high-performance but flawed BMW X3 M.

  • Thumbs up

    Incredible straight-line performance from phenomenal flat-six engine, high-end sports-luxury interior, cabin space.

  • Thumbs down

    Overly firm ride, heavily weighted steering, massive turning circle, high ride height blunts handling.

  • Perfect for

    A track-day blast or a fang on a German autobahn.

  • Verdict

    Breathtaking performance and beautifully appointed interior, but harsh ride lets it down. If you buy one, you’ll need a second car just for driving around town.

One of the key reasons for BMW’s sales success in Australia has been the take-up of models from its performance-focused ‘M’ division. Australia is one of the biggest markets for M globally, and it’s growing every year. 

The X3 M and X4 M Competition SUV twins now sell in similar numbers to old favourites like the M3 sedan and M4 coupe, reflecting a changing of the guard for performance cars down under.

The popularity of performance SUVs means BMW has a number of competitors, including the Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S ($164,600), Jaguar’s F-Pace SVR ($140,262), Alfa Romeo’s Stelvio QV ($149,900) and the Porsche Macan Turbo ($142,000).

BMW has undercut Mercedes with its $157,900 price-tag (before on-road costs) for the X3 M Competition tested here, but it’s pricier than all the others. If you prefer the X3’s swoopy X4 twin, that’s an extra $7000.

There are few options available for the X3 M as it has a lot of gear included as standard. Our test car only came with three options – metallic paint ($2000), rear-seat backrest adjustment ($300) and front as well as rear heated seats ($700), bringing the total to $160,900 plus on-road costs.

The X3 M is something of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It’s not immediately obvious on first sight that it’s a powerful performance car, though the over-sized air intakes at the front and 21-inch sports alloy wheels give some of the game away. 

Inside, the X3 M’s price point is evident. The materials used throughout scream high-end, especially the dual-tone tan and black leather and Alcantara sports seats with contrast stitching. The chunky three-spoke steering wheel with blue and red stitching is another nod to the iconic ‘M’ brand, while the carbon-fibre trim inserts look very cool and very real.

The X3 M’s cabin is full of surprises at night, like the illuminated M badge on the seats under the headrests and funky interior lighting package.

BMW X3 M
BMW X3 M


Vehicles built from April 2020 onwards come standard with Apple CarPlay – it was previously a cost-option – while Android Auto is coming in the second half of the year. 

The 16-speaker harman/kardon surround-sound system is excellent, and the dash design is typical of modern BMWs with everything logically laid out. The iDrive operating system has improved dramatically over the years, but it risks becoming too complicated with the introduction of more features and menus. It took us a while to find the menu to connect our phone via Bluetooth. 

The superb front seats offer incredible support to keep you planted on twisty roads, and the rear pew is supportive and child-seat friendly. 

The latest-generation X3 grew in size over the previous model and that means second-row occupants have plenty of space. Even with the panoramic sunroof, there’s acres of headroom. It also has knee-level air vents, rear-seat climate control and optional rear heated seats. Bottle storage in the doors is generous but there are no map pockets.

Opening the tailgate with a kick motion under the rear bumper reveals a substantial 550-litre cargo area. The 60/40 rear seats fold down to provide up to 1600 litres of boot space. Instead of a spare wheel, owners must make do with a tyre repair kit.

Powering the X3 M Competition is a new 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine that is rumoured to appear in the next-generation M3 and M4 twins due in a year or so.

It pumps out 375kW/600Nm and, according to BMW, can complete the 0-100kmh dash in 4.1 seconds.

From a standing start, the X3 M Competition picks up speed incredibly quickly. A particularly steep hill on our drive route couldn’t blunt the performance of the BMW – it just kept gathering speed, and that was in ‘Efficient’ mode.

BMW X3 M
BMW X3 M


There’s a hint of hesitation from the powertrain when pulling out of tight bends, and the eight-speed automatic transmission occasionally holds a gear too long, but for the most part the shifts are lightning quick. That the engine sounds delicious just adds to the drama.

But then there’s the X3 M’s uncomfortably stiff ride. Performance cars generally have a tighter suspension tune to improve dynamics, but this is next level. As a daily drive, the X3 M is flawed. The ride is so stiff that you start to dread driving over speed bumps. The steering is too heavily weighted, which is great for spirited driving on a track, but not so great in Brunswick. Its massive turning circle makes manoeuvring in tight spaces a challenge.

Thankfully it has separate adjustable settings for the suspension, steering and engine and transmission response, but even with the suspension switched to Comfort, the ride is still unpleasant.

The driving position of the X3 M takes some getting used to. Given the additional ride height, it doesn’t feel as planted to the road and nimble as traditional performance cars like the BMW M3. 

On S-bends and other winding sections of the drive route, you can feel a bit of lateral movement, but it has exceptional levels of grip.

In terms of safety, the active steering system that keeps you in the centre of the lane as the vehicle steers itself is excellent. 

The adaptive cruise control with stop and go function follows the vehicle in front. When it slows or stops, so does the BMW. When the vehicle ahead moves forward, so does the BMW. Driving from the airport to Brunswick via the Tullamarine Freeway, we didn’t touch the accelerator or brake once. This is confidence-inspiring technology. 

BMW’s fuel consumption claim is 10.6 litres per 100 kilometres and we achieved 12.8L/100km. The X3 M requires 98 RON premium petrol.

BMW X3 M Competition

PRICING

List price: $157,900 plus on-road costs.

Price as tested: $160,900 plus on-road costs.

Model range: $157,900 plus on-road costs.

DRIVETRAIN

3.0-litre six-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine, eight-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive.

Power: 375kW@6250rpm.

Torque: 600Nm@2600-5950rpm.

Wheels: 255/40 R21 front and 265/40 R21 rear.

FUEL

98 RON petrol, 65-litre tank.

Consumption: 10.6L/100km (government test), 12.8L/100km (RACV test). 

Emissions: 244g/km CO2.

STANDARD SAFETY

Driving Assistant Plus featuring lane-departure and lane-change warning, lane-keep assist with side-collision warning, adaptive cruise control with stop and go function, front cross-traffic alert, steering and lane-control assistant, and tyre-pressure monitoring.

STANDARD FEATURES

Head-up display, DAB+ digital radio, M Sport driver and front passenger seats, wireless charging, panoramic sunroof, Navigation System Professional with 10.25-inch display, M Sport exhaust, 16-speaker harman/kardon surround-sound system.

WARRANTY

Three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty. Five-year, 80,000-kilometre service package, condition-based servicing.  

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