BMW X3 M Review 2021 | Top Gear
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BBC TopGear
Car Review

BMW X3 M

£ 41,820 - £ 85,300
410
Published: 16 Jun 2019
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Far from M Division’s finest hour. Flashy and fast, but you couldn’t live with this ride

Good stuff

Devastatingly easy to drive stupidly fast, if you like that kind of thing. Not the ugliest modern BMW.

Bad stuff

Appalling ride. Mute handling. Engine lacks character. Too expensive.

Overview

What is it?

A very late arrival to a party BMW should have been hosting. Way back in 1998, the X5 was one of the very first schport-premium 4x4 SUVs on the scene. Then BMW saw the downsize trend coming way ahead of Mercedes and Porsche, and delivered the X3 – years before rivals reacted with the GLC and Macan.

And yet, the purveyors of ‘The Ultimate Driving Machine’ never thought to build a fast one. While AMG, Porsche and even Alfa Romeo have been making merry with 500bhp engines and middle-sized SUVs, there’s never been an M Division version of the X3. Until now. 

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Now, you might not like the idea of a super-X3 (us neither), but you have to respect the depth of engineering BMW’s thrown at it. An all-new M engine. Gearbox and drivetrain from the fabulous M5, including a bespoke rear differential. Beefed-up brakes, multi-mode suspension, extra bracing for the engine bay… the list goes on. 

So, if you’re not keen on an X3 M, and think yourself a connoisseur of traditional fast BMWs, then think of it like this: you’re reading about the next M3’s undergubbins, really. Just in a taller, SUV-shaped suit. Exactly what buyers the world over are clamouring for. Ker-ching, said BMW’s cash register.

There are two versions to choose from: the standard X3M, with 473bhp and 442lb ft, and the version we’ve driven, and that you’re gawping at in the pictures. That’s the X3M Competition, which is tweaked up to 503bhp (but no more torque). 

That gets it from 0-62mph a tenth of a second faster than the ‘non-comp’, in 4.1 seconds. Flat out, the speed limiter is eked from 155mph to 174mph. Meanwhile, Comps are outfitted with 21-inch wheels and darker exterior trim.

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All the ingredients are assembled, then. Has the wait for an X3 M been worthwhile? Erm, no. Here’s why.

Our choice from the range

What's the verdict?

Far from M Division’s finest hour. Fast, but you couldn’t live with the ride

What’s galling about the BMW X3 M is this: it demonstrates just how much power the marketing department have in modern cars. 

There is no way on this Earth that BMW’s world-class chassis engineers climbed into this car day-in, day-out during its development sign-off, and thought “this r-r-ride is OUCH t-t-t-otally f-f-fine”. 

There’s no way they thought the piped-in engine noise sounded great, or that they were happy with the meaningless changes in the car’s character between the modes. But they’ve gone along with what the guys in shiny suits demand, because the guys in shiny suits think they know what buyers will want. Or rather, what they can get away with. 

And here’s the kicker: you can buy a really, really good fast BMW X3, powered by a straight-six engine, with lots of M badges, that rides well, handles tightly and won’t concuss you over a pothole. Check out the X3 M40i, with a thoroughly adequate 355bhp. It’s a fine car. And goes to show, sometimes, less is more.

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