Review: 2020 BMW X3 M Competition
And just like that, halo SUVs are a thing
THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Good: Proves that “performance” and “SUV” don’t need to be mutually exclusive.
- What’s Bad: Climate change? What climate change?
If there’s a single vehicle that sums up everything that’s going on in the automotive industry right now, it’s the BMW X3 M Competition. Consider these questions and answers:
Who even wants a high-performance SUV, anyway? Well, someone does. They wouldn’t be built if they wouldn’t sell. And since the Canadian market is projected to be 80 percent SUVs by the end of this year and the trajectory is similar worldwide, this seems to be an inevitable trend.
But there’s no way it drives as well as a car, is there? You do feel a slight hint of top-heaviness from the body style at much higher cornering loads than most people will ever try. (I’ll buy a beer for anyone I see show up at an autocross or lapping day with one of these; those are the only people who will even approach testing its limits.) But for the most part, there’s a surprising lack of sacrifice here. Lightweighting and suspensions have come a very long way.
Does this mean halo cars are dying? Not necessarily, but they’ll need to make some room at the table. To purists, the idea that this might be considered a halo car – or halo SUV, if you will – is heresy. But if one considers a halo car the unobtanium version of what everyone else is buying, regardless of whether it’s also the prototypical answer to the question nobody was asking, then it looks like the concept is here to stay for the foreseeable future.
Do people with six figures to spend on a car have the privilege of not caring about climate change? Some of them care. Those people buy Teslas. But the ones who don’t care, or don’t think they need to care yet, will buy cars like this one for as long as the option still exists. And when I take my climate concern cap off and look at this car as someone who loves the purity of high-powered driving, I can see why. It really is excellent.
Not a Car, but You’ll Hardly Notice
If you’re familiar with the run-of-the-mill X3 M, then you know what you’re in for here: the Competition version comes fitted with the same 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged inline-six-cylinder engine, but it has a 30 bhp power bump for a total of 503 hp. The torque output is the same at 442 lb-ft, but here the peak gets pushed a little later to top out at 5,950 rpm. This gets paired with an eight-speed sport-calibrated automatic transmission and an all-wheel-drive system that pushes full power to the rear axle by default until a loss of traction is detected. And if you don’t want the car making that decision for you, 4WD Sport mode will keep the bias to the rear for even longer.
If you really like to tailor your own settings, then this is where M cars (or SUVs) excel. The two steering-wheel-mounted M buttons are fully customizable among the myriad steering, suspension, gearing, and traction control settings, all of which are also independently adjustable with centre console buttons and displayed on the slick fully digital gauge cluster. By default, the M2 button turns stability control off completely. And you thought automakers didn’t let drivers have fun anymore. But there are still off-road oriented features like hill descent control that speak to the fundamentals of an SUV, made possible through the magic of this car’s adaptive suspension. Yes, you really can have the best of both worlds.
But the awkward part that must be addressed is the resulting fuel bills. The Natural Resources Canada ratings of 16.6 L/100 km in city driving, 12.1 highway, and 14.6 combined are at a level that salespeople try to gloss over and keep tucked away in brochures. For what it’s worth, I felt that my 14.2 average over a week was well worth the fun I had. I’m sure it would get old before long at my journalist pay grade, but someone shopping in this price range would likely be able to carry the costs just fine.
Not a Sore Thumb
Some people want everyone around them to know exactly how much they spent as they drive past; others are quite happy to own a top-tier vehicle without drawing attention to themselves. Those in the latter camp are in luck here: it takes a sharp eye to spot the differences on the X3 M Competition. Apart from the obvious badging, there’s liberal use of gloss black, larger air intakes, and quad tailpipes. There’s a little more to it, but that’s the gist. If you want a car you can wring out on the weekends but that doesn’t elicit stares at the school drop-off, this is a good candidate.
The interior, on the other hand, has many of the same touches as BMW cars of a similar calibre, such as M-coloured stitching on the steering wheel, illuminating headrest logos, optional carbon fibre inserts, and layers of Alcantara, Merino leather, and contrast stitching. It looks a little cobbled together in photos, but it’s much more pleasant in person. The one exception to this is the iDrive controller, which employs a matte black plastic that stands out amidst its glossy surroundings.
To the Nines
As one might expect, if there’s a feature to be found on any X3, then it can be had here. Standard 21-inch wheels, the M Sport seats and exhaust system, heated front seats and a heated steering wheel, a panoramic sunroof, a head-up display, premium Harman/Kardon sound system, and Apple CarPlay are among the included highlights.
It’s perhaps a little shocking that getting ventilated front seats and heated rear seats, as well as a surround-view parking camera, requires buying a $3,300 package over top of the already-steep $93,000 starting price. There’s another package, Driving Assistant Plus, which for $1,500 adds lane keep assist and steering control, evasion assist, forward cross-traffic alert, and active cruise control. I found the lane keep assist technology to be too aggressive, enough so that I navigated the many layers of menu required to turn it off.
Android users, note that you’ll need to wait a little longer to have access to Android Auto. The X3 does run on iDrive 7, but it’s not equipped to receive the over-the-air updates that will allow some BMW vehicles to have Android Auto functionality pushed to them remotely later this year. The company is working on a solution that can be installed at a dealership, but the timing on that has yet to be determined.
There’s no question that the BMW X3 M Competition takes this suburban-parent standard to an entirely new level, and it does so credibly. Is it a level that the world really needs? Probably not, but high-end cars are rarely about need, and the want with this one is strong. If I choose to be pragmatic, though, for the number of times I’d actually get to wring this thing properly, I’d honestly be just about as satisfied with an X3 M40i. But the aspirational factor is clearly not as high on that one.
If we’re attempting to make an apples-to-apples comparison, there are a few things that might send some people to the Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S, including the higher-torque V8 and Android Auto, or to the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio for its unique styling (if not its reliability). But for BMW devotees who have been waiting with bated breath for an M that lets them have it all, the X3 M Competition delivers.
2020 BMW X3 M Competition
BODY STYLE: Compact crossover
CONFIGURATION: Front-engine, all-wheel drive
POWER: 3.0-litre 6-cylinder; 503 hp, 442 lb-ft of torque from 2,600 to 5,950 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 8-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY: (L/100km) 16.6 city/12.1 hwy/14.6 combined
PRICE: $101,395 as tested, including freight and PDI