BMWs have always had a special place in my heart. I watched the BMW Films: The Hire series as a kid. Directed by big Hollywood directors such as John Woo, Guy Ritchie, and Tony Scott, these were a set of short films commissioned by BMW as a clever form of advertising. Since YouTube didn’t exist back in 2001, you had to download these films from BMW’s website and then watch them yourself. After watching Clive Owen powerslide Madonna through downtown rush hour traffic, it was forever instilled in me that BMWs were truly The Ultimate Driving Machine. In recent years, however, BMW has gone a little soft, with an ever greater focus on luxury and refinement, rather than the driving dynamics that once so emphatically characterized the company apart from its competitors. We tested the latest generation M3 a few years ago, and it left quite a bit to be desired; the steering felt disconnected and the normalization of dual clutch gearboxes detracted from the sense of driver involvement. I was worried the brand new X3 M40i would be more of the same, especially given that it’s from their crossover line.
Thankfully, I was not disappointed. The X3 M40i features BMW’s lovely turbocharged, three-liter inline-six, with an impressive 355 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. The torque for this engine arrives early, at a mere 1,520 RPM, giving the car an incredibly meaty feel; it doesn’t matter what gear you’re in, this car will pull. How this car pulls, however, is as impressive, if not moreso. The power delivery is direct, and linear, without so much as a hint of the less desirable traits typically associated with forced induction. It’s an engineering marvel, and the decadent smoothness of this inline-six configuration leaves me genuinely, positively joyous that BMW has remained steadfast against the seemingly all-pervasive V6 hegemony.
The brakes and the transmission are both phenomenal. The brakes bite immediately, and stop the car with authority. The automatic transmission, meanwhile, is a technical tour de force, shifting with the speed and immediacy of a dual-clutch transmission, whilst still maintaining the smoothness and ease of a torque converter at low speeds. The speed of the shifts is particularly noteworthy, with virtually no delay between the pulling of the paddle as well as the shift itself.
The cornering ability of the X3, for a luxury crossover SUV, is nothing short of astonishing. The front-end grip is readily apparent upon initial turn-in, with the front darting into corners immediately with only a hint of understeer. An application of the throttle mid-corner, in turn, allows the rear-end to start pushing the car and accelerates the rate of rotation around the corner. The body-roll is exceptionally well-controlled, without unduly sacrificing the ride comfort necessary for long-term livability; for all its dynamic competence, the X3 remains a quiet and refined driving experience, with road and wind noise kept firmly at bay.
The X3 still suffers from a few dynamic weaknesses, however. The steering feel, for instance, remains frustratingly vague; there’s a lot of dead spot on center, and there isn’t much precision on hand. Nevertheless, when in sport mode, the steering is at least well-weighted. Additionally, the optional Adaptive M suspension is not worth the upgrade; it scarcely affects the handling characteristics whilst active, yet significantly harshens the ride.
Still, upon review, what BMW has managed in calibrating the X3’s driving dynamics is a genuine achievement. Without sacrificing much in the way of comfort and refinement, BMW has created one of the finest handling crossovers on the market today
The X3 M40i comes standard with LED headlights, fog lights and a full panoramic sunroof. Our test car had lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, forward collision avoidance and other safety features as part of the Driving Assistance Package. This package does not include radar cruise control or lane keep assist, both of which require the Driving Assistance Plus package. We also had the optional wireless Apple CarPlay system which, unfortunately, does not work with USB; it is wireless only. Android Auto is also not available. The optional wireless Qi charger, nevertheless, was a nice compliment to the wireless CarPlay system to give the full wireless experience.
In terms of creature comforts, we had the optional full digital gauge cluster and heads up display. There’s also a Surround View camera system that lets you see every direction around your car. It’s a huge leap from standard 360 bird’s eye view cameras. This system makes it feel like you have your own personal drone hovering around the car. There’s also gesture controls for operating music and phone functions, though we didn’t find it to be particularly reliable or useful.
Our test car was not equipped with the optional Harman Kardon surround sound system. Despite that, though, it’s still a surprisingly pleasant sounding system. It’s very clear and has decent bass response, about as good as you can expect without a dedicated subwoofer.
The interior is a huge step up for BMW. The use of high quality materials and excellent fit and finish is a pleasant surprise from the company. Traditionally, Mercedes and Audi have boasted superior interiors; yet, as evidenced here with the X3, BMW are rapidly making up ground. The seats are firm but supportive and I must stress again how quiet the car is.
The exterior styling is quite beautiful. The combination of the LED lighting and smoked chrome accents really set the X3 M40i apart. It has great proportions and has a really sporty stance as well. The optional 20” wheels really sell the look.
All in all, the X3 M40i is an impressive package. It manages to keep up with the competition in terms of luxury and refinement, all while returning to BMW’s roots of performance and handling. This is a pleasant step back to the days of driver involvement. The drivetrain calibration is instinctual and second nature, just like a BMW should. It really is The Ultimate Driving Machine.
Photography by James Chrosniak @thathalfjapaneseguy
Excellent Drivetrain Calibration
Feels Like a BMW
Little Standard Equipment
Specs: Engine: 3.0L DOHC 24-Valve Turbocharged I6 Drivetrain: AWD
Power: 355hp @ 5,500 rpm Torque: 369 lb-ft @ 1,520 rpm Transmission: 8-Speed Automatic
Fuel Economy (City/Highway/Comb.): 20/27/23 MPG Wheelbase: 112.8 in Curb Weight: 4,230 lbs (50.8% / 49.2%) Base Price: $41,000 Price as Tested: $65,045 (incl. dest.)