Car reviews - BMW - X3 - M40i
Creamy inline six-cylinder performance, characterful exhaust note, keen transmission calibration, ride and handling balance, premium interior
Room for improvement
Clunky idle-stop, prone to occasional understeer and body roll, transmission isn’t always intuitive, X3 M looms but might not be the better buy
BMW serves up a very tasty entree with its hard-charging X3 M40i mid-size SUV
5 Dec 2018
IT ONLY took 15 years, but BMW M has finally got its hands on the X3 mid-size SUV, although this is probably not the variant most expected. Indeed, the M40i is an ‘M Performance’ model and not the full-fat X3 M we were all hoping for. Not to worry, though, because soon it will be a reality.
In the meantime, the M40i challenges for X3 supremacy. With a proven turbocharged six-cylinder engine and solid dynamic foundations to work with, it makes a convincing case against the X3 M, which will inevitably attract a hefty premium. Read on for our full thoughts on BMW’s newcomer.
Price and equipment
Priced from $99,529 before on-road costs, the M40i undercuts nearly all of the performance-focused SUVs in the premium segment. Our test car is finished in Glacier Silver metallic paintwork, which is a $1950 option. As such, the price as tested is $101,479.
Standard equipment includes 21-inch alloy wheels wrapped in a mixed set of run-flat tyres (245/40 front, 275/35 rear), M Sport brakes with blue-painted callipers, an M Sport rear differential, an M Sport exhaust system, dusk-sensing adaptive LED headlights with cornering lights, LED daytime running lights, front foglights and tail-lights; auto-folding side mirrors with heating, rain-sensing windshield wipers, roof rails, a hands-free power-operated tailgate, and high-gloss black and Cerium Grey trim.
Inside, it features a 10.25-inch touchscreen iDrive6 infotainment system, voice control, satellite navigation with real-time traffic, DAB+ digital radio, Bluetooth connectivity, USB ports, 12V power outlets, a 16-speaker Harman/Kardon sound system, a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, a windshield-projected head-up display, three-zone climate control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, an electric park brake with auto-hold functionality, keyless entry and start, ambient lighting, power-operated front sports seats with heating, lumbar support and driver-side memory functionality.
It also gains a sports steering wheel with paddle-shifters, Vernasca and Sensatec leather upholstery, high-gloss black and Aluminium Rhombicle trim with Pearl Chrome finishers, and an anthracite roofliner feature.
It’s easy to feel right at home when you open the door and sit on one of the M40i’s five seats for the first time. Luxury is clearly the name of the game here, and it does not disappoint. Comfort abounds alongside a commanding driving position.
Needless to say, it’s all very nice. Case in point: The Sensatec artificial leather that adorns the upper dashboard and door shoulders, and the Vernasca leather upholstery that is found elsewhere, which reinforce the M40i’s premium ambitions.
Hard plastics are found on the lower door trims, but classy high-gloss black trim and Pearl Chrome finishers do their best to restore the ambience alongside sporty Aluminium Rhombicle highlights.
The M40i’s windshield-projected colour head-up display is a great inclusion, thanks to its large size and high resolution. Similarly, the 10.25-inch touchscreen is sharp and powered by BMW’s easy-to-use iDrive6 infotainment system. The LED ambient lighting is super cool, too. Tick, tick, tick.
However, while the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster is also a nice touch, the brand’s insistence on dial outlines limits the unit’s functionality, although this has been addressed in its latest models, which are not restricted in their breadth.
Measuring in at 4716mm long, 1897mm wide and 1676mm high with a 2864mm wheelbase, the M40i provides 550L of cargo capacity with its 40/20/40 split-fold rear bench upright, or a healthy 1600L when it is stowed.
With its flat floor and a square aperture that allows bigger items to be loaded easily, the boot is well-executed in either configuration. A rail system, a 12V power outlet and cargo nets further emphasise its versatility.
Meanwhile, rear occupants are catered for with solid legroom and headroom behind our driving position, although shoulder-room can be a little tight when sitting three adults abreast. The front seats are no different due to their accommodating lumbar support and bolster adjustment.
Engine and transmission
Motivated by a 3.0-litre turbocharged inline six-cylinder petrol engine, the M40i produces 265kW of power at 6500rpm and 500Nm of torque from 1520 to 4800rpm. It sends drive to all four wheels via BMW’s permanent xDrive system with variable torque vectoring, while a ZF-sourced eight-speed torque-convertor automatic transmission is responsible for swapping gears.
As a result, the 1768kg M40i can sprint from standstill to 100km/h in 4.8 seconds while on the way to its electronically limited top speed of 250km/h. Flatten the accelerator and a fleeting moment of turbo lag is followed by a violent rush of Sir Isaac’s best, pulling occupants into the back of their seats. Other than its initial hiccup, this unit has so much to give, seemingly at any engine speed.
Four driving modes – Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus – allow the driver to tweak throttle response, transmission shift patterns, xDrive torque distribution and the exhaust note while on the move. Eco Pro, as its name suggests, misses the point here, so do yourself a favour and move on. Comfort is the default option for regular commuting and serves this purpose really well.
Sport and Sport Plus noticeably up the ante, making every powertrain and drivetrain component feel that much sharper. While the former is a handy stepping stone, the latter is where enthusiasts will gravitate towards. The full character of the M40i’s exhaust system is unlocked, providing pops and crackles on the overrun and an angry shout with every gear change. Yes, please.
If you want even more performance, push the gear selector across to Sport, which makes the eight-speeder super aggressive. Ratios are held onto much deeper into the rev range, but this calibration can be resistant to downshifting when cruising speed is achieved. Either way, the ZF unit is once again brilliant, smoothly swapping gears and being receptive to spontaneous kickdowns.
Claimed fuel consumption on the combined cycle test is 8.9 litres per 100 kilometres, while carbon dioxide emissions have been tested at 204 grams per kilometre, partly thanks to idle-stop. During our week with the M40i, we are averaging 11.8L/100km over 450km of driving skewed towards city commutes over highway stints. Naturally, this figure was inflated by a heavy right foot.
While the idle-stop system plays a critical role in optimising fuel efficiency, this implementation is not a well-integrated one. This, of course, is unusual for BMW, which usually does it better than many of its rivals. While the engine does not shut off until the M40i is at a standstill, the wheels are noticeably in motion in the seconds prior. This leads to clunky acceleration during rolling starts.
Ride and handling
The M40i rides on a BMW M-tuned suspension setup consisting of double-joint spring-strut front and five-link rear axles with adaptive dampers, while its electric power steering is speed-sensitive and has a variable ratio.
M, M Performance and M Sport variants are renowned for their firm rides, but BMW seems to be turning the tide with the M40i. Granted it can feel firmer than desired over less-forgiving potholes and speed bumps, it actually rides really, really well in the majority of situations.
Naturally, smooth stretches of tarmac see it perform like a dream, but even unsealed and uneven roads do little to undermine this sense of plushness. It rebounds quickly but remains composed, almost never feeling compromised in its effort.
If ride comfort is so good, there must be a trade-off with handling, right? Not quite. The M40i mixes it with the best in class around the twisty stuff. Body control is great, although a hint of bodyroll is encountered when tackling tighter corners at higher speeds.
Grip from the xDrive system is also plentiful, but its bias towards the rear axle quickly becomes apparent in the Sport and Sport Plus driving modes, which allow for a bit of slip. Either way, it never feels out of control, quickly stepping back into line if it’s overstepped its mark.
The M40i’s chassis is very communicative, offering a better indication of what the front wheels are up to than its regular X3 siblings do. With the Comfort driving mode engaged, the steering is rather light by BMW’s standards, but Sport and Sport Plus do reintroduce the heft that we appreciate.
While there is no doubting that the M40i’s steering is quick and direct, contributing to its all-round effort, it is prone to some understeer. It pays to start turning in early as later inputs tend to run wide, requiring correction mid-corner. It’s not the worst outcome, but it does hurt the overall dynamics.
Safety and servicing
The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) awarded the X3’s xDrive20d and xDrive30i variants a five-star safety rating in November 2017. At the time of this assessment, the M40i had not been released yet. The pair scored 93, 94 and 70 per cent in the adult, child and pedestrian protecting categories respectively. Safety assist testing returned a score of 58 per cent.
Advanced driver-assist systems in the M40i extend to autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keep and steering assist, blind-spot monitoring, cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control with stop and go functionality, a manual speed limiter, traffic sign recognition, high-beam assist, surround-view cameras, park assist, front and rear parking sensors, and hill-descent control.
Other standard safety equipment includes six airbags (dual front, side and curtain), anti-skid brakes (ABS), and the usual electronic traction and stability control systems.
As with all BMW models, the X3 comes with a three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty that includes three years of roadside assistance. Service intervals are every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first. Capped-price servicing is available, with a basic package covering five years/80,000km costing $1495.
The X3 M40i has us properly confused. We’ve always longed for an X3 M, and even though it’s soon to be a reality, we’re not sure we want it anymore, because its M Performance sibling is just that damn good. Besides, it’s a given that the full-blooded model will forgo the remaining ride comfort for superior handling, and let’s not forget that it’ll also be a hell of a lot dearer.
So, what gives? Has BMW peaked a year too early? Is the M40i the best X3 money can buy? Time will tell, but we can’t wait to get our hands on the X3 M after driving this tasty entree. Before it arrives, though, buyers in the market for a performance-focused premium mid-size SUV are in for a treat, because the M40i will probably suit all of their needs and more. Not too bad, then.
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