Here’s the thing, though: it’s still weird to hear sports car noises emanating from a compact SUV. It just doesn’t compute. That the M40i and its 355-horsepower twin-turbo inline-6 gets from zero to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds really fries the circuit boards.
SUVs are clearly the way of the future, but so much about the X3 M40i seems conflicted, like it’s trying to be something it’s not. At no point with the X3 did I find myself NOT longing to drive a 340i M Sport instead. Preferably a wagon one, not that such a thing exists.
Now, before running outside to yell at that cloud, let’s just step back and admit that the X3 M40i is nevertheless an impressive compact luxury SUV. It can stand tall against the Porsche Macan and Mercedes-AMG GLC 43 on the sporting front, while boasting the space, quality and tech goodies to attract those who’d rather not niggle the neighbors.
As this is the M40i in question, versus the 248-hp four-cylinder xDrive30i, let’s tackle the sporting bit. Unlike the new 5 Series, this X3 genuinely feels like a BMW, possessing that quintessential verve, poise and overall feel we’ve all come to expect. You don’t need that roundel on the steering wheel to know what you’re driving. The electric-assisted rack it’s attached to remains a letdown as it’s disappointingly devoid of feel, but at least the throttle eagerly responds to your beck and call. That’s the case even when puttering around town in Comfort mode – in Sport, its response is borderline intoxicating.
Here comes the conflicted bit, though. As taut and poised as the M40i might be on a twisting back road, it comes with a surprisingly firm ride that could easily get tiresome if you spend most of your time tooling around a city with poorly patched pavement. Yes, even with the adaptive dampers in Comfort mode. Perhaps it’s rose-tinted glasses, but I don’t recall the 3 Series M Sport having a jarring ride.
Now, on smoother highways, the ride issues subside and the Autobahn-bred X3 settled in quite nicely to road trip duty during a day trip from Portland to Astoria on the Oregon Coast. The seats wrap you in a firm hug and, as always, provide hours of ceaseless comfort. The manual thigh extension – another BMW staple – is also appreciated as is the far reach of the telescoping steering wheel.
Everything inside is exactly as it should be, including the revised iDrive controller that operates the latest BMW interface introduced in the 7 Series. The addition of redundant touch functionality really makes a difference for certain functions, especially Apple CarPlay. There’s also Gesture Control, but I didn’t use it. It’s a silly parlor trick.
In terms of space, it’s not exactly a CR-V in the back but the firm seats are at a nice, comfortable height off the floor. Cargo space is also quite generous with a comparatively upright and squared roofline. There’s 28.7 cubic feet with the seats up and 62.7 with them raised, which is perfectly average for the segment as we discovered when comparing the Infiniti QX50 to its rivals. Small item storage up front has also been improved, including the addition of a wireless smartphone charging pad.
So family-friendly it could be. It can also be sufficiently sporty and even surprisingly efficient as I managed 24.3 mpg in combined driving, besting the EPA. And although I’m not too keen on the exterior’s bulbous, snout-like face, I appreciate that BMW has maintained its no-fuss interior aesthetic. There’s less of a show on display than in a Mercedes GLC or Volvo XC60, but the quality speaks for itself.
As a compact luxury crossover, then, the 2018 BMW X3 is fully competitive, and with the M40i, you get a 355-hp inline-6 that’s absolutely divine. I wouldn’t begrudge someone choosing the M40i based on the engine alone – it’s the one I’d want – and the rest of the performance package definitely makes this small SUV handle far better, go far quicker and be far louder than the norm. It really doesn’t matter that a car could do all these things better if people looking for luxury and performance don’t want a car. Crossovers are hot, and this one’s hotter than average.