Home / car buyer / BMW X3 M40i xDrive: A Terrific Drive

BMW X3 M40i xDrive: A Terrific Drive

This straight-six X3 is superb

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Things we like

  • Great ride and handling balance
  • Full-bodied straight-six punch
  • Spacious and fully-featured cabin
  • Lots of trim and colour choice

Not so much

  • Lofty purchase price
  • Getting close to replacement
  • Oversensitive reverse AEB

First unveiled in 2017, the ‘G01’ X3 emerged as a much larger vehicle than its predecessor.

More closely aligned with 5 than 3 Series in the current iteration, BMW’s medium SUV is big – it’s also an excellent deployment of the brand’s longitudinal-engined rear-drive cluster architecture.

A superb ride and broad choice of engines only improved with the arrival of the facelifted version in late 2021, with BMW now offering petrol, diesel, plug-in hybrid, and even fully-electric variants of the X3.

For all the choice BMW offers in Australia, though – from whisper-quiet iX3 to visceral X3 M – there’s no better rounded pick than this silky six-pot M40i.

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How much is it, and what do you get?

The South African-built X3 M40i begins at $126,800 before on-road costs, which is an awful lot more than the $81,700 sDrive20i entry grade.

Although that may seem like poor value, it’s offset somewhat by a 12.3-inch touchscreen, matching-sized digital driver’s display and head-up display on the tech side of things, while ‘Vernasca’ leather upholstery is available in black, Oyster or Cognac at no extra cost.

Power-adjustable front seats feature three-stage heating as standard, and the X3 M40i ships with a powerful 16-speaker Harman Kardon sound system as standard.

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Other goodies such as LED head- and tail-lights, front and rear parking sensors, tri-zone climate control, ‘style 718’ 21-inch alloy wheels and adaptive dampers also feature.

You also get – and I’m sticking my neck out here – the best mass-produced engine currently on sale right now. BMW’s 3.0-litre twin-scroll turbocharged ‘B58’ unit has everything you could want from a six-cylinder petrol.

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Smoothness and refinement when you need it and a sultry growl as you open up the taps. There’s little out there like it.

The M Sport Plus pack ($2615) fitted to this example brings sports seats with adjustable lumbar and under-thigh supports. It’s essentially a must-have, though other options are pretty limited.

Only the Executive package ($1923) with its remote engine start and gesture control was omitted from our car and, frankly, we didn’t miss it.

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How do rivals compare on value?

You get everything you need in the BMW X3 M40i but other brands give more for less.

Lexus, for example, has an even more impressive spec sheet for the price with its NX gaining cooled seats and finer leather upholstery.

Chop nearly $40K from the X3’s price and you’ll find yourself in a new challenger, Mazda CX-60 PHEV, with a competitive straight-six petrol engine and even more equipment. Ride quality, tech usability and cabin materials suffer in the Japanese option, though.

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Mazda CX-60

You can also get an Audi SQ5 vs Jaguar F-Pace for $15K less than the equivalent BMW, though it’s powered by a diesel V6 rather than petrol.

If you boil value down to spec sheets and equipment, the X3 quickly becomes a poor buy. Luckily for BMW, appeal in the premium sphere runs deeper than options and equipment; it’s about how a car makes you feel and that blue-and-white roundel is one of the most special there is.

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Audi SQ5 TDI

Interior comfort, space and storage

The front seats are set remarkably high considering BMW’s typically sporty intentions, but this aids vision over the X3’s long bonnet.

You feel owed a little more respect in this driver’s seat thanks to its commanding position, even though it’s unlikely fellow road users will see eye-to-eye with you…

This particular combination of Sapphire black ($1593) paint and Cognac leather is classy, too, the dark tan upholstery making the cabin pop beneath the full-length panoramic sunroof. The windows are all very vertical, further enhancing the sense of space within.

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With a rear bench set even higher than the front, BMW’s medium SUV is very much a five-person proposition.

Even considering the transmission tunnel, three will easily fit across the comfortably contoured rear bench with headroom and legroom to spare. A third climate control zone and two vents means temperature control is easy back here, too.

Another neat trick – especially for those who like to ski – is the X3’s 40:20:40 split rear bench, which makes it ultra comfortable for a family snow trip, allowing two fully-fledged rear seats with boards or skis passed through.

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The boot itself is massive (big enough to sleep in, as I found in Germany) measuring 550L with all seats up and 1600L with them folded nearly flat, so stashing a large bicycle with both wheels on is easy.

Aside from space, the X3’s boot is full of useful features such as four tie-down points on sliding metal rails that are perfect for securing heavy or bulky cargo. Under the false floor is a little more hidden storage (though no spare tyre) and a netted area to the left is handy for stopping smaller items from sliding around.

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Dig a little deeper and there are some shortcomings in the X3’s interior.

For example, the plastics below the beltline inside feel more $50K Volkswagen than $130K BMW and the steering wheel is too chunky. The build quality is sturdy, though.

Generous cup holders, door bins, and a clever wireless phone charging pad round out the practical touches, while the combination of a rotary controller, physical buttons for important functions and a responsive central touchscreen make interfacing with both BMW’s native software and faultless wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration easy.

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What is it like to drive?

Extremely comfortable driving position set and ready, the X3 is an absolute pleasure on the road right from the moment you experience the ergonomic excellence of the start procedure.

The round starter, drive mode selection and auto stop-start buttons are all gathered around the gear selector – it’s the little things. It feels big on the road, though; you notice every bit of the X3’s 1897mm width and 1676mm height for both better and worse. The M40i thankfully isn’t challenging to place thanks to great vision out and 360-degree cameras.

With the X3 in its default Comfort mode, it pussyfoots around urban and suburban areas. Although the sizable 21-inch alloy wheels shod in 245/40 front and 275/35 rear Bridgestone Alenzas occasionally pick up some sharp edges, the otherwise comfortable chassis deals with bumps smoothly.

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An overwhelming sense of body control is present at all speeds in Comfort and switching the dampers into Sport modes turns the X3 M40i into a wieldy backroad companion.

Sure, it rolls, but that feeling of weight settling onto the outside front tyre gives you the confidence to squeeze the throttle as the rear-biased xDrive shoots the X3 out with surprising neutrality. Keeping the SUV in check on low-grip surfaces is a well-tuned stability control system that limits unnecessary slip.

If you’ve never experienced the even more impressive ‘G20’ 3 Series wagon you won’t know what you’re missing when buying an X3 – and it isn’t much. In reality, it’s about 10-15 per cent accuracy when approaching and at the limit of adhesion plus a little less body roll.

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Of course, there are criticisms for the X3 M40i. Its steering feel for one is rubbery and uncommunicative even if its quick ratio does feel sporty. The Sport Plus damper mode is too firm for Australian back roads, too.

Almost any shortcoming is offset by those six gorgeous cylinders out front; the B58 is truly one of the greatest mass-production engines ever. A growl on start-up gives way to a quiet pull away in Comfort mode after the revs have settled.

Combining it with an expertly tuned eight-speed ZF automatic transmission means the X3 M40i seems to have the same level of grunt no matter where or what you’re doing. It’s effortless.

No doubt the 285kW helps – that’s mostly what gets this 1910kg SUV to 100km/h in 4.8 seconds – faster than a Ferrari Testarossa – but the 500Nm torque figure that’s spread from 1800-5000rpm is what makes this X3 such a gem.

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How much fuel does it use?

As you might expect, the high cylinder count and hefty kerb weight do make for a fairly thirsty experience.

We recorded 10.2L/100km over seven days and 9.2L/100km in a test that usually brings us close to the official ADR ratings. For reference, the X3 M40i is rated at 8.9L/100km on the combined fuel consumption cycle.

The M40i’s result is better than we’ve seen in a previous test when we pitted a diminutive xDrive 30i against an Audi Q5 and SQ5 Sportback Grace Aussie Shores – that car returned 12.7L/100km, showing a greater cylinder count isn’t necessarily worse for consumption.

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How safe is it?

The BMW X3 received a five-star ANCAP rating in 2017, which will expire in December.

BMW has fitted generous levels of safety equipment to Australian X3s since launch and the current car continues this trend.

Forwards and reverse auto emergency braking (which can be a little intrusive as we found when backing into spots with low-hanging trees), adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go function, lane-trace assist, front and rear cross-traffic alert, and a 360-degree camera are fitted to this M40i.

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Warranty and running costs

A short warranty was long a reason to overlook the X3 but since November 2022 BMW has backed all of its new car sales with a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty.

Servicing is due on a conditional basis – the M40i will tell you when it’s time for a check-up via the infotainment system – with pre-paid packs available.

Five years or 80,00km of basic maintenance (excludes brake pads, clutch, and wipers) costs a reasonable $2400 for all X3 variants.

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In 2024, BMW is readying the release of the fourth-gen X3.

Built from the outset as the first vehicle to use the brand’s ‘Neue Klasse’ architecture with sweeping advancements in digitisation and materials, it’ll be a hugely different beast from the conventional SUV tested here.

And, for those after swift and elegant family transport without wanting to be guinea pigs on the cutting edge, the spacious, comfortable and capable G01 X3 M40i is easy to recommend.

Rivals offer more value on paper but once in sync with the straight-six engine and poised chassis, the X3 M40i feels worth every bit of its asking price.

BMW X3 M40i
Price (drive-away) $126,800 ($132,200 as-tested with premium paint, M Sport Plus)
Engine 6cyl, 3.0-litre, DOHC, turbo-petrol, direct-injected
Drive All-wheel (xDrive)
Power 285kW (@5800-6500 rpm)
Torque 500Nm (@1800-5000 rpm)
Gearbox 8spd automatic
L/W/H/W–B 4713/1897/1676/2864mm
Track (F/R) 1604/1594mm
Weight (tare) 1910kg
Boot 550-1600L
Fuel/tank 95 RON/65L
Economy (combined ADR81/02) 8.9L/100km
Suspension Front: Double-joint tension strut axle in aluminium construction adaptive damper. Rear: Five-link axle in lightweight steel construction, adaptive damper
Steering Electric power-assisted steering
Front brakes Four-piston, fixed-caliper disc brakes, ventilated
Rear brakes Two-piston, floating-caliper disc brakes, ventilated
Tyres Bridgestone Alenza
Tyre size (F | R) 245/40R21 | 275/35R21
ANCAP rating 5 stars (2017)
0-100km/h 4.8 seconds (claimed)


John LAW