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2020 BMW X3 M Road Test and Review

Scott Oldham
by Scott Oldham
December 12, 2019
5 min. Reading Time
2020 BMW X3 M Competition Racetrack Front Three Quarter 1 ・  Photo by BMW

2020 BMW X3 M Competition Racetrack Front Three Quarter 1 ・ Photo by BMW

SUVs have become more important than ever to BMW’s bottom line, but that doesn’t mean the German automaker has forgotten its performance roots. In fact, big-horsepower SUVs that can corner as well as its sports sedans are becoming a popular part of BMW’s product portfolio. Its latest and greatest — and one of its hottest — is the new 2020 BMW X3 M.

The X3 M is the work of BMW’s legendary M division, the automaker's in-house tuner shop and the brains behind its iconic high-performance M3 and M5. Over the last few years, its engineers have been cranking up the performance of many other BMW models. The result is a growing line of high-performance cars and SUVs that includes the new X3 M as well as the M2 Competition, M8, and X5 M. These are hardcore M machines that offer significantly more power, speed, and handling than BMW’s mainstream models. The new 2020 BMW X3 M competes with the Audi SQ5, the Mercedes-Benz AMG GLC 63, the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio, and the Jaguar F-Pace SVR.

Most Powerful X3 Ever

Although it’s assembled in South Carolina on the same assembly line as the all other X3 models, the 2020 BMW X3 M is the quickest and most powerful X3 BMW has ever built. And much of its development took place on many of the world’s racetracks, including Germany’s legendary Nurburgring, which is considered to be the most dangerous on the planet.

Two models are offered: the X3 M and X3 M Competition, like our test vehicle. Both are powered by a fortified and specially developed version of BMW’s smooth all-aluminum 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder, which we’ve called one of the greatest turbocharged engines in the world. With its new upgraded pair of turbochargers, a modified direct injection system, and other enhancements, it’s also now one of the most powerful six-cylinder engines ever put into production. In the X3 M, it puts out 473 horsepower and 442 lb-ft of torque, and it’s cranked up to 503 hp in the X3 M Competition. That’s considerably more power than you get in the 382-hp X3 M40i, which is already no slouch, and only the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio and Jaguar F-Pace SVR offer more power in this class.

 Photo by BMW

Photo by BMW

Big-Buck MSRP

M’s engineers have also given the 2020 BMW X3 M an aggressively tuned suspension, massive M Sport brakes, and a special electronically controlled M Sport Differential, which greatly improves traction and agility. And this kind of high-performance hardware and speed don’t come cheap. This is by far the most expensive X3 you can buy, though it’s priced competitively with its rivals.

The base price of the 2020 BMW X3 M is $70,895, including a $995 destination charge. The more powerful X3 M Competition costs $7,000 more. An adjustable all-wheel drive system is standard on both models, and it allows the driver to change the distribution of power between the front and rear wheels at the touch of a button. The M xDrive 4WD Sport option sends even more power to the rear wheels, enabling controlled drifts and powerslides, and BMW says the vehicle's DSC Off mode has been optimized for track driving. Our X3 M Competition test vehicle was equipped with a few pricey options and packages that drove its sticker price up to $84,395.

 Photo by BMW

Photo by BMW

Very Quick, But Slower Than Some Rivals

M’s engineers also retuned the X3's eight-speed automatic transmission for quicker response and acceleration. There’s a Sport mode and manual control with well-placed paddle shifters mounted to its thick leather-wrapped steering wheel. The SUV's performance is also adjustable with a button on the shifter, with three levels of response. Gearchanges in Drivelogic Mode 1 are quick, but silky smooth, while Mode 2 increases their speed. Gear changes in the third mode are sharp and immediate.

The torque of the BMW’s inline six-cylinder peaks at just 2,600 rpm, so there’s a big rush of power off the line, and the engine carries its immense output all way to its 7,300-rpm redline. Use its standard launch control, and BMW says the X3 M hits 60 mph in 4.1 seconds, while the X3 M Competition needs just 4.0 seconds. That’s quick, and this SUV is a blast to drive with a heavy right foot. We also like the rumbly exhaust note from its M Sport exhaust system, which is also part of the Competition Package. But a couple of the X3 M’s rivals are quicker. Mercedes says its GLC AMG 63 hits 60 mph in 3.8 seconds, while the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio needs just 3.6 seconds.

 Photo by BMW

Photo by BMW

Firm Ride, Impressive Handling

The suspension of the X3 M Competition is tuned firm, but it isn’t overly aggressive for a high-performance SUV on 21-inch wheels. It’s also adjustable, along with the steering and throttle response, with stiffer Sport and Sport Plus settings. But the ride isn’t harsh, and the BMW delivers an impressive level of refinement, especially in Comfort mode.

The X3 M's chassis is extremely solid, stable, and well-balanced. There’s very little body roll, even in tight turns, and its steering is quick and offers just enough feel to keep us from complaining. Its brake pedal is always firm. BMW’s impressive M Sport braking system, which is easily identified by its massive blue calipers with the M logo, features oversized rotors with diagonal cooling air ducts. The SUV stops from high speeds without drama. The entire machine feels tightly wound and ready for action, and it feels even better the faster you go.

 Photo by BMW

Photo by BMW

Impressive Safety But Low Fuel Economy

The BMW X3 is also one of the safest SUVs in its class. It’s rated a Top Safety Pick+ by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the organization's highest honor, and the X3 M is equipped with many driver aids. Standard features include adaptive full LED lights, a forward collision warning, automatic low-speed emergency braking, daytime pedestrian protection, blind-spot monitoring with a rear cross-traffic alert, rear collision preparation, and a lane-departure warning. 

The X3 M’s extreme power and performance do come with a significant sacrifice in fuel efficiency, however. Although the SUV features a start/stop function, which shuts off the engine at idle to save fuel, its fuel economy ratings are just 14 mpg in the city and 19 mpg on the highway. In comparison, the Mercedes-Benz GLC AMG 63 is rated at 16 mpg city and 22 mpg on the highway, and the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio is rated 17 mpg city and 23 mpg highway.

 Photo by BMW

Photo by BMW

Feels Special Inside

Everything inside the 2020 BMW X3 M feels expensive and impeccably assembled. Nothing feels crude or cheap, and its Sport Seats, which aren’t too hard, feature considerable bolsters that are adjustable for wider drivers. Visibility is excellent thanks to thin A-pillars, and the standard tilting and telescopic steering wheel makes it easy to get comfortable. The overall interior design is clean and contemporary with knurled knobs, soft rich leather and suede upholstery, and a large 10.25-inch touchscreen for the intuitive infotainment system.

Standard features include a Harman Kardon audio system, navigation, keyless entry, power front seats, carbon fiber trim, a power liftgate, and front and rear parking sensors. Extra-cost options on our test car included a panoramic sunroof, a head-up display, front and rear heated seats, a heated steering wheel, wireless phone charging, and a Wi-Fi hotspot.

 Photo by BMW

Photo by BMW

Spacious Back Seat and Cargo Hold

There’s also plenty of storage space in the BMW’s interior. The new X3 M has a sizable center console bin, and its large door pockets have slots for water bottles. There’s also a small felt-lined bin to the left of the steering wheel down by the driver’s left knee, plus two sizable front-seat cupholders.

The X3's rear seat is also spacious. The latest version of the BMW X3 is longer and wider than its predecessor and rides on a 2.2-inch-longer wheelbase, which has increased its rear legroom significantly. The vehicle seats five comfortably for short drives, and our test car’s rear seat featured two air conditioning vents, climate controls, and a power port for devices. BMW would be smart to also add a couple of USB ports. The X3’s cargo hold is also large, with 28.7 cubic feet of space behind its rear seat, which is split 40/20/40 and folds flat easily to basically double the SUV’s cargo space. There’s also a ton of additional storage under the X3’s cargo floor, which isn’t common in this class.

 Photo by BMW

Photo by BMW

Final Thoughts

If you’ve been waiting for BMW to build an SUV version of the M3 with all-wheel drive, well, this is basically it. The new 2020 X3 M is that good. It’s a serious performance machine, a true driver’s car. Few SUVs are this fast, fun, and engaging. And our test car looks the part with its glossy black wheels and trim, four large black exhaust pipes, and carbon fiber trim. And yet, somehow, despite all of its performance, BMW has also managed to keep the X3 M refined, comfortable, luxurious, and family-friendly. (If you want a sleeker profile BMW also offers the X4 M and X4 M Competition, which are basically the same vehicle but with a fastback roofline that trades cargo space for style.)

For most enthusiast buyers, the X3 M40i is still the way to go. It’s plenty quick, it handles great, and it's much less expensive and much more fuel-efficient than the X3 M. However, if you desire a true high-performance luxury SUV, one with extreme levels of power and performance, the new 2020 BMW X3 M is one of our favorites.

 Photo by BMW

Photo by BMW


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