Ahead of the field
THE GOOD
  • Drives almost like a sport sedan
  • Actually fun to paddle shift
  • Customizable level of sportiness
THE BAD
  • Lane-keeping tech too sensitive
  • Much learning needed
  • Expensive
2020 BMW X3 M Competition Review

Even in today’s log-jammed market of luxury SUVs, the precision quality of the 2020 BMW X3 M Competition manages to stand out. The M doesn’t just stand for motorsport, it really means it. Of course, it also means a nearly $45,000 jump in price from the base X3 (or a $35,000 jump from the “basic” X3 M) and a throaty roar upon ignition that could make a Harley-Davidson rider blush.

It’s all part of the stand-out experience the sportiest X3 provides. Fortunately for prospective buyers, most of the rest of the X3 M Competition experience is also outstanding.

Power: 10/10

This is a beast. Pull the lever twice to lift the hood and expose the engine, M Power branding proudly displayed up its flank. This high-performance twin-turbo six-cylinder engine achieves 503 hp and a rocketeering 442 lb-ft of torque from 2,600 through 5,950 rpm. That’s a lot of output. Of course, the X3 M Competition weighs 2,499 kg, which is substantial. Yet the X3 M explodes from zero to 100 km/h in just 4.1 seconds.

Several automakers won’t pay the charge for the insanely expensive Highway 407 toll road spanning the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), passing the auto-generated bills on to us reviewers who opt to use it. Whether BMW does this or not, I simply can’t recall, however I’ll gladly pay for the acceleration experience alone. Keeping the X3 M Performance within the limits of the law means it’s unlikely you’ll touch the top gears in Sport Plus mode, but the g-forces it delivers up to 100 km/h – and beyond – are truly impressive.

Driving Feel: 9/10

That leonine engine is disciplined by an eight-speed transmission that’s among the few I’ve ever actually liked to paddle through. It grips like a cat.

Despite being a significant SUV, the M3 manages to retain the decent feel of a sport sedan. Okay, not as much as the 2019 BMW X2 M35i I reviewed last year, but this is still very much a driving enthusiast’s ride. Pushing it hard on a sharp turn, it did feel a bit tippy, but you can only fight physics for so long – especially when exceeding the speed limit. If you don’t often carry a lot of freight and passengers, perhaps test drive the X2 M35i too.

Fuel Economy: 6/10

Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) rates the X3 M Competition at 16.6 / 12.1 / 14.6 L/100 km city / highway / combined – unsurprising given the output. For comparison, the M-lite X3 M40i is listed at a combined 10.4 L/100 km of premium fuel. Mind you, if you’re concerned about fuel economy with a vehicle like this, you probably don’t want a vehicle like this.

User Friendliness: 7.5/10

Did I mention this is a specialized vehicle for the deeply enthusiastic driver? If you want get-in-and-go driving, this may not be your cup of tea. Just getting into drive or reverse demands some exploration. Get too aggressive with the shifter and you’re no longer in automatic mode. (You’ll recall the earlier note regarding the pleasures of paddling this thing between gears.)

On long stretches, you may want the lane-keeping assistance. It’s positioned as a comfort feature, but I dislike how sensitive and judgemental it is and found myself continually fighting with it before finally disabling it.

Lastly, the infotainment interface is its own logic puzzle. Luckily, the main screen is touch-sensitive and BMW still has its own series of hand signals, like hexes that help you keep eyes on the road. So, there are multiple paths to any command. If programming ever seems unnecessarily complicated compared to what you grew up with, remember how much more personalized cars have become.

Features: 10/10

Whether you find accessing it user-friendly or not, all the information you need is quickly at your fingertips. And pretty much every bauble and goodie you want is included. (The X3 M Competition includes all the features from the lesser expensive trims and then some.) This tester came with a couple of sweet upgrades.

The premium package – a $3,300 addition – is a good demonstration of the product planning and accounting teams sweating the details. For instance, side sunshades keep annoying glare and prying eyes out, while heated and ventilated front seats and heated rear seats coddle your tushie.

Comfort: 7.5/10

Let’s split hairs. You’re pampered in the X3 M, but this vehicle is too sporty to be called comfortable, even in comfort mode. The sport seats are gorgeous to behold but firm and, at least for me, challenging to adjust to the perfect position. As for the pampering, see above. Even in comfort mode, the ride is firm and full of feedback from the road.

Safety: 9/10

The previously mentioned Premium Package also comes with a park-assist system and a surround view monitor. If you list those among convenience features rather than safety features you have too much trust in your fellow drivers.

Enjoy the view. You’re well positioned to see everything on the road. So maybe think twice before choosing the Advanced Driver Assistance Package, a $1,500 hit, unless you like to pick and choose when you want to be fully engaged in the drive. Among other features, it supplies steering and lane control, letting the car do some of the work some of the time. When it detects lines painted on the pavement, it positions the X3 firmly between them.

Practicality: 7/10

There are generous amounts of space both front and back. If 813 L of cargo room isn’t enough, flatten the back seat for 1,775 L. If 1,775 L isn’t enough, consider subscribing to Marie Kondo’s monthly newsletters. Or you can always pile more goods atop the roof.

Do you need such a herculean ride to commute to work? Probably not. But if you’re a weekender whose companions have champagne tastes, you’re in luck.

Styling: 8.5/10

The designers have done a great job here. The lighting inside and out is as much of a show as it is a tool. The panoramic sunroof increases the already generous feeling of space. The exquisite detailing of the leather and wood trim is evident throughout the execution. The rich blue calipers visible between the spokes of the 21-inch M-branded wheels are a refreshing change from the predictable – and often clashing – red we see so much amid the luxury SUV category.

Value: 8/10

Make no mistake – the BMW X3 M Competition is expensive but it’s also comprehensive. If you were to count every feature, option and part, you’d spend buckets more to create a luxurious and sporty car. You can thank precision bulk purchasing that brings the price down somewhat without losing much singularity and distinction. Which makes for a good segue.

The Verdict

You can customize the level of sportiness you prefer and store them as shortcuts. Use the M setup to design your preferred quality of steering, dampers and engine curve, then save them all in a button. Twice. So, you can make two completely different cars a push of a button away. My advice would be to explore a lot with all your options before settling for any one.

Ahead of the field 2/19/2020 6:30:00 AM

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 3.0L
Engine Cylinders I6
Peak Horsepower 503 hp @ 6,250 rpm
Peak Torque 442 lb-ft @ 2,600–5,950 rpm
Fuel Economy 16.6/12.1/14.6 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space 813 / 1,775 L seats down