The 2018 BMW X3 is a proper step up over its predecessor, having more in common with a 5 Series than the X1. Here we look at the petrol and diesel performance leaders, particularly the overdue 4.8sec 0-100km/h M Performance debutant, called M40i.
The design, penned by Aussie Calvin Luk, may be typically understated and evolutionary – though in the metal it's better-proportioned, tauter and more aggressive than ever – but this new US-made X3 is exactly that. New.
In fact, the architecture, cabin layout and infotainment/driver assistance technologies are in large part trickled down from the new 5 Series and 7 Series passenger flagships. Far more so than from the smaller UKL-based X1.
From an Australian perspective the X3 is massively important. BMW's top-three sellers in our market are SUVs, and it's the segment where the car driven here competes, that's growing fastest of all.
Unusually, our international drive of the new X3 at its world rollout in Europe took place mere weeks ahead of the X3's fast-tracked Australian launch, set for early November in a sign of our market's importance when it comes to SUVs.
We already know the make-up of the launch range, which will comprise the xDrive 20d diesel ($68,900 before on-road costs), xDrive 30i petrol ($75,900) and xDrive 30d diesel ($83,900). All a few grand pricier than before.
But arguably the bigger news here is the planned addition of the first ever M Performance derivative of the X3, called the M40i, which brings a 265kW turbocharged inline-six petrol engine and a 4.8 second 0-100km/h time to the table.
This version won't arrive locally until the middle of 2018, we're afraid, but when it does it'll aim to pry buyers away from the Mercedes-AMG GLC43 and Audi SQ5 – both of which are big-sellers locally, and are priced at about $100k. Then there's also the Porsche Macan...
Given the close proximity of the local launch, we're going to focus on this hotted-up X3 M40i derivative, as well as the other range-topper, that stonking xDrive 30d mentioned earlier.
BMW X3 xDrive M40i
Powering the X3 M40i is a reworked version of the staple 3.0-litre TwinPower turbocharged inline six-cylinder petrol (with fully variable valve control and high-precision injection) from the M140i, uprated to produce 265kW of power from 5500rpm and 500Nm of torque between 1520 and 4800rpm.
Matched to an all-wheel drive system with fully variable torque distribution and an eight-speed torque-converter auto from ZF, the hotted-up SUV has a claimed 0-100km/h time of 4.8 seconds.
That's 0.6sec faster than what Audi claims for its new 260kW/500Nm petrol-powered SQ5 V6, and 0.1sec faster than the claim for Mercedes-AMG's 270kW/520Nm GLC43 V6.
Bragging rights secured, then. And in the premium market, bragging rights count for a lot.
It's a ripper of an engine too, sending a rather rude and menacing note at idle through the twin-pipes, and offering an array of pops, burbles and crackles under upshifts and on the overrun – provided you have the car's sportiest driving mode selected.
The rolling response is typically strong on account of that wide peak torque band, and the sound is rich on light throttle.
Slip the shifter leftwards to manual mode and operate via paddles, and you're rewarded by snappy shifts and a propensity to hold out towards the 7000rpm redline – though the auto is so intuitive when left to its own devices, that you'd do this only for the purposes of greater engagement.
The drivetrain complements the improved architecture, which uses higher grade steel, plus super-lightweight bits made of aluminium and magnesium, to cut weight by a claimed 55kg over the previous model.
The xDrive AWD system is also trickled down from the 7 Series, BMW claims. While it offers variable torque split between the axles, the M40i's setup has a greater rear-wheel bias, befitting its sporting pretensions.
Naturally, there are also various driving modes such as Eco, Comfort, Sport and Sport+, which fettle the throttle mapping, gearbox shift points and the damper setup, adding or taking away stiffness from the ride, which is influenced at all levels by the M Performance springs.
Of course, the tall X3 body means the handling is not on a level with the M140i hot hatch that uses similar mechanicals, though the body control felt pretty good through sweepers, and the electric-assisted steering takes on ample resistance at speed if you're in the right mode. It's remote, but less alien and wooly than the SQ5's.
The ride is generally pretty compliant, with the odd hint of sharpness over road joins or cobbles thanks to the 20-inch wheels on Pirelli run-flats. That said, it felt a little smoother and less jarring than the X1 and 2 Series Active Tourer on their low-profile tyres.
Other specifics to the M40i version of the X3 include larger air inlets, the muscular M Sport body kit, and M Sport brakes. It stops, goes and handles as well as a medium SUV not called the Porsche Macan can be reasonably expected to.
Another area of improvement to the X3 is inside. The new model has an extra 54mm of wheelbase over the old car, helping legroom. Even with a panoramic glass roof there's sufficient legroom and headroom for two adults of up to 2m in height.
The relatively flat back bench reclines – though doesn't slide – and is trimmed in high grade leather, and has amenities such as rear vents with temperature control, a rear 12V (would be nice to have a USB) and LED reading lights.
The back row also folds 40:20:40 and flips via levers near the bases or from inside the cargo area. You also get a kick-operated electric tailgate that reveals the unchanged boot space over the old car – 550 litres, up to 1600 litres.
Up front the fascia is straight out of the 5 Series, with higher quality switches and surfaces than before, and cool touches such as M Sport kick-plates and stamped silver highlights.
Atop the dash of our tester was a 10-inch screen with iDrive 6, which can be operated via the rotary dial, gesture control, voice control or touchscreen. There's also 12-inch digital instruments from the 5 Series, and a massive (70 per cent bigger) head-up display with a ton of details and data, trickled down from the 7 Series.
While understated as ever, BMW has added some welcome bling, while the quality and tactility – notably the M Sport steering wheel with damped metallic paddles – are first-rate. It's up there with the Audi for overall satisfaction, in our opinion.
Standard fit is BMW's Driving Assistant tech with adaptive cruise control with Stop&Go, cross-traffic warning front and rear, various lane assist tech and blind-spot monitoring. Basic level two stuff, which works as seamlessly as it does in the G30 5 Series.
Another cool touch is the Connected + technology suite, which has been expanded to allow a driver to program a route in their smartphone app, which then sends all this automatically to the car's navigation system upon start-up.
BMW X3 xDrive 30d off-road
We also sampled the vehicle that'll top the X3 range in Australia from November, the 30d. A small component of this drive was on a twisting piece of blacktop, where we were able to put the stonking six-pot diesel engine through its paces.
The numbers are impressive – 195kW of power and a train-pulling 620Nm of torque, giving it a 0-100km/h time of only 5.8sec and a claimed fuel economy on the combined cycle of 6L/100km – substantially better than the M40i's.
The engine goes like the clappers, with mid-range response and pulling power to rival the M Performance flagship. Indeed, we'd look seriously at the 30d as one obvious successor to Audi's axed diesel SQ5, which was priced from about $90,600 when it launched here in 2014.
This engine is matched to the same ZF 8AT and an xDrive AWD system with variable torque split, as well as an off-road-focused hill-descent control system – a kind of off-road cruise control where you adjust the car's speed via the cruise control and keep your feet off the brake and throttle pedals.
Despite rolling on 20s, the X3 navigated a low-grade rocky trail easily enough, and proved particularly impressive downhill where its HDC system was seamless and free from grinding and 'graunching'.
Few X3 owners will ever go off-road, surely – but it's good to know one can. More usefully, the xDrive system's rapid on-demand torque redistribution will be good for snow runs and the like.
While we don't know the final spec of the M40i, we do know what the 30d will get. Niceties include 20-inch wheels, adaptive LED headlights with auto high-beam, higher-grade leather trim, proximity key and all of the active driver assist and infotainment tech flagged earlier as being on the M Performance version.
That said, the 620Nm xDrive 30d derivative makes a pretty solid argument for itself too, in terms of engine performance and value. The BMW X3 has long been a middle-tier player, but not this time...