To earn the right to wear the M badge, a BMW must agree to be fiddled with by engineers the mission of whom is to draw out all of its sporty essence. More than fiddled with, actually: engine, chassis, suspension, steering and brakes are all fair game.
M designers, meanwhile, sculpt the outer shell and spray special badging about to ensure the proper messaging on the road. Since 2009, BMW’s X5 and X6 SUVs have been thus fiddled with. 10 years later, it was the turn of the X3 and X4. Just recently I had occasion to drive an X3 M Competition (MSRP: $93,600, or $99,650 as equipped).
Here are 10 things absolutely positively worth knowing about the 2020 BMW X3 M Competition.
See also our Review of the 2020 BMW X3 M
#1 It comes in two terrific flavours
Not content with launching just the X3 M, the German automaker decided to complement it with the X3 M Competition – exactly in the manner of Mercedes-AMG, a company never shy about cranking out S variants of its performance models. The differences between the two X3 Ms have to do with the mechanics and the looks…
#2 It stands out without being (too) obnoxious about it
The “base” M thus is given a black front grille roughly the dimensions of a Tour de France-winning cyclist’s lungs, because you need a lot of oxygen to feed this beast. The same goes for the Competition (let’s call it the MC for short), but that variant gets shinier framing, which also extends to the side mirrors, louvers and spoiler (an optional kit that makes use of carbon fibre-reinforced plastic).
The M signature is also discernible via the prominent body-coloured fenders, just so you can never ever mistake this for an Outback, for instance. The four-tube exhaust is also unique in each of the two X3 M versions.
#3 It’s like the GLC 63 S, but not
If you compare the MC with one of its direct rivals, the Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S, you find generally similar dimensions that nonetheless diverge in some ways. While BMW’s compact SUV is longer (4730 mm vs 4680 mm) and taller (1667 vs 1625), it’s also narrower (1897 vs 2096) and has a shorter wheelbase (2864 vs 2873). As each of the models can accommodate five occupants, up to you to test them out and which is most welcoming to heads, elbows and hips, etc.
#4 It’s an evolved creature
After the solid early success of the X5, the very first SUV produced by BMW, the automaker rolled out an X3 concept at the 2003 Detroit auto show. By the next year the company’s Magna Steyr plant in Austria was cranking out the first generation of the model.
Generation Two arrived in 2010; by 2016 it had the boldness to assimilate an M Sport steering wheel. The third generation debuted in June 2017 and incorporated a growing number of M Sport accessories. Finally, early last spring at the Geneva Motor Show, BMW presented the M and M Competition versions of the X3 and X4.
#5 It’s proud of its pedigree
There are more badges on the X3 MC than cowboy hats at the Calgary Stampede! On the seat backs, on the door thresholds, in the dials, on the steering wheel, on the hood, on the gear shifter, etc. etc., all of them powdered with aluminum or carbon fibre accents.
At night, the adjustable ambient lighting makes it hard to know where to direct your gaze next. The sport seats are part of the show as well, decked as they are in Merino leather (Vernasca in the M), or available two-tone leather with Alcantara elements.
#6 It has a big heart
The 3.0L twin-turbo 6-cylinder (codename: S58) develops 503 hp, by total coincidence identical to what you get with the Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S, though that mortal enemy of the Beemer uses a 4.0L V8 to deliver that cavalry. The MC thus gives you 30 more horses than the regular M (473 hp), though torque is identical at 442 lb-ft.
This is also happens to be the most-powerful 6-cylinder ever devised by BMW. The MC can, as a result, speed from a stop to 100 km/h in a touch over 4 seconds (4.1 and 4.2 seconds). The Steptronic ZF transmission, fully auto or manual using the steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, helps deliver this monstrous capability with a 7,200 RPM red line.
# 7 You want instrumentation? It has instrumentation
Like the vehicle itself, the dashboard is actually compact in size. But that doesn’t mean BMW skimped on buttons, switches and dials, oh no! On the contrary, despite the presence of a space-eating 10.25-inch central screen, the number of intriguing commands is grounds for endless fascination. Like, for instance, the one that alters the sounds produced by the engine. Leave it alone and the decibel levels are relatively reasonable. But press on it and you might think you’ve been plonked down in the middle of a lion cage at feeding time.
#8 Its brakes work
The enormous ventilated brakes (395 mm in front, 370 in back) are activated by 4-piston calipers. Which means you don’t exactly have to stand up to apply your weight on the brakes to feel the blue jaws (M-badged, of course) bite down like those of a famished Cyclops to bring to a stop the superb 21-inch wheels (the “ordinary” M is shod with 20-inchers).
#9 It offers short-cuts to its tech
As behooves a performance model, the M-flavoured X3 can be parameterized every which way. You can, for example, construct the head-up display of your dreams – very useful for that moment when, through your giddy haze at the wheel, you think you spot in the distance a sign indicating the presence of photo-radar and you want to know, like right now, exactly what speed you’re going without diverting your gaze down to your instrument panel. This is relevant because the maximum top-speed of the MC is electronically set at 250 km/h (285 km/h if you have the M Driver package).
Also, in order to ensure that this German marvel truly synchs with the driver’s personality, BMW placed on the steering wheel two small red buttons to push if you’re either in Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde frame of mind.
You start by configuring the X3 to your tastes using the central screen, following steps like these:
Jettisoning Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) or not
Meaning, are your driving skills limited, grand or imagined?
Assigning a flavour to give the M xDrive
You can choose normal or “sporty” four-wheel drive (but the choice is already made if you have deactivated the DSC).
Setting the parameters for the engine, chassis and steering
You can settle on Comfort, Sport or Sport+ for all of these.
Once you’ve created the magic formula for a sober, family-in-tow drive, you set the memory of that configuration under M1. Then repeat the process, creating another formula (M2) for when you want to have your crank turned when at the wheel. And voilà, Jekyll or Hyde, at the push of a button.
#10 It can help with moving your nephew
Why place all of this performance moxie inside the shell of a compact utility vehicle? “Our typical client wants performance but also practicality”, is how co-owner of BMW Canbec in Quebec Martin Taillander sums it up.
Practical is right. By lowering the 40/20/40-split second row of seats, I was able to fit a table on its back into the cargo hold, which can take in up to 1,600 litres of stuff. You could almost open up a side-business moving nephews into their next apartments!