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luxury automakers are seeking out every niche they can find, and the latest niche is the high-performance small suv. bmw is joining the party with its new 2020 x3 m. this new m vehicle sets a high bar for what a small suv is capable of.
how does it drive?
hurtle isn't a verb you'd typically use in conjunction with an suv. but with the x3 m competition, that's exactly what you do with it down any road of your choosing. speeds easily go from fast to alarming, and curves in the road are simply left in your wake. the brakes are completely trustworthy and offer impressive feel no matter how fast you're going. the adaptive suspension has been retuned for this sort of thing, but it's clear the engineers had a bit of a laugh when they labeled the least punishing of the settings "comfort."
there's simply no off switch for the x3 m competition, only increasingly intense versions of on. to be fair, there is some compliance in the suspension, but it's a rare moment when you get to experience it. most of the time you'll feel every imperfection on the road. and after a while, your neck muscles will feel some strain from keeping your head upright as you bound along over even decent-looking roads. this suv is not for casual drivers.
but that's entirely the point with an m division vehicle, right? especially one that's the competition version. all of the x3 m's power is distributed through an eight-speed automatic, all-wheel drive and an m active differential. traction is seemingly endless at anything less than ten-tenths driving. the x3 m will even do the occasional powerslide if you want.
even though you have easy-to-use shift paddles at your disposal, the quick-shifting transmission does just fine on its own. we also appreciate the way you can individually adjust the vehicle's various performance settings. there are separate settings for the suspension, steering effort, engine response, and transmission shifting logic. and all of your personal setting preferences can be saved and quickly brought up by pushing one of the two bright red preset buttons on the steering wheel.
there's also the now de rigueur exhaust button for the competition specific muffler. from the outside, the exhaust sounds much more like an older, non-turbocharged bmw six-cylinder engine. that exhaust can drone a bit on the highway, so it's great to have the option to quiet everything down.
what's the interior like?
the standard x3 is already a fairly nice place to be, and the x3 m competition adds suitably sporty touches to match the exterior styling. the rear seats are essentially the same ones fitted to other x3s, but front-seat passengers get to enjoy specific full-leather m sport seats with deeper bolstering and perforated leather for improved breathability. there's even an illuminated m logo at the base of the headrest for competition models, something that's optional on the standard x3 m. further interior options are available through the bmw individual line.
in front of the driver is a thick steering wheel that will be familiar to many bmw owners. but this one has two red preset buttons labeled m1 and m2 that allow quick access to preselected driving modes. there's also an x3 m-specific digital gauge cluster, but it's not the same one available in the new x5 or 3 series. we're happy to see it has more traditional round dials, even if they are virtual.
the gear selector is also special to the x3 m competition, and it's the same one from the monstrous bmw m5. atop that lever is a rocker switch for selecting various transmission settings. alongside the lever are the buttons for selectable modes for suspension, engine response and steering weight. the m also comes with a healthy amount of piano-black plastic trim around the center console as well as silver carbon fiber accenting the dashboard.
how practical is it?
as much as the performance has changed, it hasn't come at the expense of cargo space, which remains an impressive 28.7 cubic feet of capacity. the x3 m competition still gets 40/20/40-split folding rear seats, and the cargo area has handy sliding tie-downs for your stuff (which will inevitably get tossed around once you start driving). there's useful small-item storage as well, with bins deep enough to keep things in place during spirited driving.
what else should i know?
under the hood sits a nearly all-new 3.0-liter inline-six cylinder engine with twin turbochargers. and in this competition spec, it takes the standard x3 m's 473 horsepower and digs up an additional 30 horses for a faintly ridiculous 503 hp. you can find all that power at 6,250 rpm all the way to its 7,200 rpm redline. torque has not increased in the competition model and is rated at the 442 lb-ft you find in the x3 m, though you can have access to all of it across a wider engine range: 2,600 to 5,950 rpm, to be exact.
this x3 is likely not the only bmw we're going to see using this engine (it's known internally as the s58) in the future, so it's been designed and engineered from the get-go for some fairly extreme duty. the engine block uses what's called a closed-deck design to ensure extremely high levels of rigidity and the ability to handle more power in future applications. all of the big internal parts, such as the pistons and the crankshaft, are forged for added strength. the cooling and oil supply systems have been tried and tested in some of bmw's racing efforts, with a lot of work going into the oil pan to ensure the engine never runs out of oil even if you find yourself on, say, the n¨rburgring. hey, it could happen ...
the chassis and suspension are also upgraded. the m gets redesigned underhood bracing, a new strut tower bar and additional bracing that's been baked into the firewall itself. and if you needed more proof this isn't some casual hop-up, the rear suspension's lower control arms have also been redesigned, as have the front and rear stabilizer bars, all of which are specific to the competition model. there's also a myriad of redesigned bushings and swivel joints to improve steering feel as well as a more aggressive alignment for this model.
what does it compete with?
if you're not familiar with this category, it might seem unbelievable to hear this 503-horsepower suv actually has competition. the mercedes-benz amg glc 63 s matches the power of the bmw but offers a more stylish interior. and though it's not yet been officially announced, a porsche macan turbo should be out before the end of 2019 and should be priced and powered competitively.