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The BMW X3 M40i should calm the performance SUV criticism



While performance-oriented SUVs have become the norm in recent years in place of the traditional sedans or hatches, their existence hasn’t been universally welcomed.

“Fast” and “SUV” do not work

The argument remains; Why produce a rampant off-roader with some off-the-ter capability, but strip that down to almost nothing with street-focused performance tires and enough power to worry cars designed from the start to be uncompromising driving machines?

ALSO READ: BMW updates X3 with more aggression and substance

Factor in the high ride height and hovering dynamics, the whole purpose of a fast SUV on paper warrants little merit compared to a traditional sports sedan or hatch capable of more thrills and driving pleasure.

An unwanted M?

Due to these virtues, the recently facelifted BMW X3 M40i should not exist. Like his higher-ranking brother, the X3 M competitionThe M40i is all about performance but wrapped in an SUV body and serving as an alternative to the equivalent M340i.

The much-vaunted Munich M emblem on an SUV is in principle nothing new, but remains a drop of bitterness for many die-hard fans, especially since it now comes in four distinctive variants.

No grid controversy here.

In the case of the X3, the M40i falls into the M Performance range, which offers more power and underbody revisions, while being intertwined with the M Sport package, which brings visual improvements and minor adjustments underneath.

Combined, the configuration is too tempting to avoid for those who don’t want to be seen in a run-of-the-mill 20d or 30d but aren’t able to stretch their accounts to the competition, as BMW doesn’t offer the conventional X3 M in South Africa.

BMW X3 M40i road test South Africa
The Brooklyn Gray Metallic color option contrasts nicely with the black taillights and 21-inch alloy wheels.

As much as the ‘performance SUV debate’ is on the horizon, given that SUVs are what buyers want, the locally built X3 M40i is therefore a worthy consideration should the M340i fail to meet the requirements.

With the M40i already amassing production numbers of 300,000 units four years ago since replacing the 3 Series at the Rosslyn factory, the recent arrival of the M40i provided clarity to a number of questions left unanswered at last year’s local unveiling.

M reserved

As much as BMW continues to pocket extensive flak for its latest designs, even more so after the revelations of the new 7er and the updated X7the X3 has remained comparatively ordinary and even modest in the M40i guise.

BMW X3 M40i road test South Africa
Two-tone 21-inch alloy wheels and blue brake calipers hint at the potential of the M40i.

Including variants of the X3, the M40i adds the blue M Sport brake calipers and the otherwise optional M Sport package to mix things in, along with a gloss black diffuser, black grille louvers and a black lower air intake.

The subtlety stops there, however, as optional two-tone 21-inch Jet Black alloy wheels and optional Brooklyn Gray Metallic paintwork suggest this is anything but a standard X3, even before attention shifts to the M- Emblems, the M40i emblem, relocated tailgate and air intakes integrated into the wheel arches.

Inside in place

Just as ordinary is the interior, which does not get the new curved display, but the old live cockpit professional system consisting of the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and the 10.25-inch iDrive infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The refreshed but still five-year-old interior, the greatest testament to the X3 M40i era, has an enticing cocoon-like feel, but still makes do with cheap plastics in some areas that are too reminiscent of vintage BMWs.

BMW X3 M40i road test South Africa
The interior doesn’t get the new curved display but remains a stylish and functional place to hang out.

It remains neatly presented, however, with the generous helping of silver and black piano key inlays offsetting the grippy leather-wrapped M Sport steering wheel, short shifter and easy-to-fathom infotainment system controlled via either the screen or the simpler rotary wheel.

Optionally, the X3 M40i gets a heads-up display, the BMW M colors on the seat belts, a subtle sounding Harman Kardon sound system and the heated M sports seats in Vernasca leather with blue contrasting stitching.

The suite change from M Sport to M Performance doesn’t come at the expense of practicality, with more than enough legroom, headroom untouched by the optional panoramic sunroof, and a trunk that can swallow between 550 and 1,660 liters of luggage.

M-fast

Not surprisingly, the X3 M40i literally comes alive when you select Drive and unleash the fury of the uprated 3.0-litre B58 turbocharged inline-six engine.

While torque is still limited to 500Nm, a power injection of 20kW has been included for a total of 285kW, which BMW says will catapult the X3 M40i from 0 to 100km/h in 4.5 seconds and on to a limited top speed of 250km/h.

BMW X3 M40i road test South Africa
Badge purists have bemoaned this being taped to an SUV.

Despite the initial turbo lag and curb weight of 1,870 kg, the M40i is no slouch. Immediately off the blocks it feels responsive and happy to give in to urgency while also attacking those within with a glorious straight-six soundtrack.

Switching from Comfort to Sport and then to Sport+ mode unleashes the brutal side of the X3 M40i. In the latter setting, the noise becomes otherworldly, the throttle more like stepping on a bomb, and the acceleration downright violent yet thrillingly addictive.

BMW X3 M40i road test South Africa
The eight-speed Steptronic transmission is quick and effortless, while the rotary dial makes scrolling through the infotainment system a breeze.

A complete reversal from launch, where earlier takes showed the opposite of their designations, the M40i’s grunt is chucked well in all four corners by the eight-speed Steptronic transmission.

Though geared toward the Sport Ratio setup, it goes about its business effortlessly in “Everyday” mode, but wakes up to quick and jerky shifts in the latter modes.

BMW X3 M40i road test South Africa
M sports seats offer support, comfort and can be heated.

As part of the X3 M40i’s transformation, BMW made the M sport differential and M variable steering standard, but not the M adaptive suspension, which has to be selected from the options list.

The result is a taut ride that gets naturally crunchy on less well-maintained surfaces – but doesn’t shake a spine on the better variety – a sharp and confidence-inspiring steering feel, but an all-too-familiar SUV body roll when attempting to corner vigorously.

BMW X3 M40i road test South Africa
Despite the optional panoramic sunroof, rear headroom and legroom are plentiful

The M Sport brakes hidden behind the aforementioned blue brake calipers are razor-sharp and anything but designed for efficiency, the X3 M40i recorded a commendable indicated best consumption of 9.9 L/100 km after its stay.

Conclusion

As much as its existence violates the blueprint of SUV representation, the BMW X3 M40i convinces as a real fast SUV that can be satisfied with a “normal” X3 for everyday use.

BMW X3 M40i road test South Africa
The M40i is part of the BMW M Performance range, which is positioned below the full-fledged M models.

However, at R1,459,046 before options it’s incredibly expensive and for all its capabilities it not only meets opposition from its traditional rivals Mercedes-AMG (GLC 43) and Audi (SQ5) but also within its own ranks in the form of the xDrive30d as well the best-selling xDrive20d.

The BMW X3 M40i should calm the performance SUV criticism

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