Open gallery Close by Matt Saunders 16 June 2019 Follow @TheDarkStormy1 Share
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The BMW X3 M Competition is at once quite a rare and special thing, and also about as common as new performance cars come at the moment; it depends on how you’re minded to think about it.
It’s an all-new BMW M car, and as such something to get pretty excited about, since it’s not every year we get one; but it’s also a mid-sized performance SUV – and in that sense one of an increasing number of cars amongst which we seem to be writing about a new arrival every few weeks.
Some rival turbocharged performance engines give a bigger hit of mid-range thrust, others a more dramatic, characterful climax to the rev range – but none have such predictable pedal response and remarkable drivability.Matt SaundersRoad test editor
Nonetheless, this is the first full-fat performance version of the BMW X3 mid-sized SUV that the M Division has ever made, and it’s appearing at the same time as its BMW X4 M Competition sister car – the latter on offer to those who prefer their four-wheel drive go-faster utility cars with a plunging roofline and a bit less… well, you know, utility. What a world.
As the BMW X5 M and BMW X6 M have already proven, of course, the BMW M Division doesn’t make hot SUVs quite like so many other purveyors of a performance-car breed that, thanks to the tastes of a great many modern car buyers, has become absolutely vital to fortunes of the companies making them. It took a while to get used to the idea of an outfit like BMW M making hot SUVs at all. But with the launch of the new X3 M and X4 M SUV-cum-coupe, both of which will arrive in the UK this September in higher-powered ‘Competition’ trim only, BMW’s in-house tuner will finish 2019 with as many jacked-up ‘utility vehicles’ in its showroom range as saloons, coupes and convertibles combined.
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And while many will surely snipe at the firm for cashing in even further on its credibility with true enthusiasts here, to give the Motorsport Division due credit, it has executed both the X3 M and X4 M with an observance of its own mechanical conventions and classic character type that gives them both clear authenticity as M cars. With powerful straight-six petrol engines, fully retuned and re-specified steel coil suspension systems, uprated braking and upgraded steering systems and actively locking rear differentials, these cars have plenty in common with the saloons and coupes with which BMW M has built its reputation over the past forty years.
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That’s why when new M Division boss Markus Flasch says they were intended simply to be a higher-riding, more practical alternatives to the BMW M3 saloon and BMW M4 coupe, you can believe that he means exactly what he says.
Does the X3 M Competition perform like a true sports SUV?
Most fast 4x4s are champions of multiplicity of role and versatility of functional flavour, but the BMW X3 M Competition isn’t quite like that. It doesn’t have the Porsche Macan’s transformative air suspension system or the loping stride of a Jaguar F-Pace SVR – and that may very well make it a divisive choice with some, but for others perhaps one of few cars of its ilk that can be considered a true driver’s car.
Aside from what we’ve already mentioned, the car’s powertrain has two notable ingredients to catch the eye: the highly configurable four-wheel drive from the current BMW M5 super saloon, and BMW M’s brand-new ‘S58’ high-performance straight-six engine.
The new straight six isn’t a redeveloped version of the outgoing M3’s ‘S55’, but rather the BMW M Division’s overhaul of the ‘B58’ straight six that came into the firm’s mainstream model range in 2015. Even so, it only shares 10% of its componentry with that mainstream motor. Developing more power and torque than any other six-cylinder petrol engine that BMW has yet produced (a peak 503bhp, and 443lb ft of torque across a much broader band of revs than the old ‘S55’ ever managed), it’s bound for the next M3 and M4 in 2020, and quite possibly other compact M cars after that.
Using a forged crankshaft, forged pistons, a lightweight cylinder head with 3D printed parts, an indirect intercooler and twin monoscroll turbochargers boosting at up to 2.3bar, the engine is widely tipped to be ready to make considerably more power and torque than it currently does when the need arises – and without the need for technologies such as water injection, as used by the last BMW M4 GTS.