Pros and Cons on this 2020 SUV of the Year contender, the closest car we’ll get to an M3 wagon
- Properly quick and powerful
- Drifts like an M-car should
- Power-folding second row
- Stiff, jittery ride quality
- No off-road modes
- Jaguar does this better
We’re still a little upset that BMW doesn’t build an M3 wagon. The new X3M is as close as we’re likely to get; it’s sort of like an M3 wagon, just a couple feet off the ground. Plus, in the midst of our SUV-crazed market, the X3M is likely to outsell the M3 sedan by some margin, so it’d better be good.
It follows in the footsteps of the one-step-larger X5M, which BMW has been producing since 2009. The M division’s take on the standard X3 involves a new S58 503-hp twin-turbo inline-six (also bound for the next M3) and a performance-oriented version of BMW’s xDrive all-wheel-drive system.
The driving experience is the biggest draw of this Bavarian battlewagon. Testing director Kim Reynolds called it “amazingly fast,” and features editors Christian Seabaugh and Scott Evans both praised the X3M’s willingness and capability for power oversteer and tail-out antics. Editor-in-chief Ed Loh says it “drifts like a Formula D racer.”
Detroit editor Alisa Priddle loved the popping, snorting exhaust note played by the forced-induction inline-six. The only car that could compete with the X3M’s raucous soundtrack is its coupelike twin, the X4M. However, senior production editor Zach Gale pointed out that the BMW doesn’t sound or look as good as the Jaguar F-Pace SVR. Evans noted the same.
The X3M rates strongly in performance of intended function, with multiple editors already pegging the X3M as a compelling favorite for next year’s super-SUV comparison, the winner of which gets to compete in Best Driver’s Car. And the X3M is not only fast, but the word “fun” also showed up numerous times across our judges’ notes.
It didn’t fare quite as well between the fun sections of road. “The transmission is jerky, and throttle response—depending on the mode—is either too aggressive or too laggy,” Seabaugh said. “And its ride is on the rough side.”
The X3M’s suspension “really hates sharp jolts,” executive editor Mark Rechtin said, and Evans said it has “a lot more vertical motion than I expected; it definitely went for the kidneys on the roughest sections.” MotorTrend en Español managing editor Miguel Cortina noted that “the suspension has a really hard time controlling body movement up and down at speed.”
Despite its affinity for dancing through back roads, the X3M had no trouble when we took it away from pavement. It has no dedicated off-road drive modes, but it managed our frame-twisting articulation test just fine and never threatened to get bogged down or stuck in the sand. Evans even mentioned that the X3M “will definitely let you slide around in the dirt with ESC in Dynamic.” And BMW’s downhill crawl mode, with speeds set with the cruise control toggle, can be limited to as slow as 2 mph (3 km/h)—a bonus for those with steep driveways in a snowy winter.
That being said, choosing the right drive mode isn’t as straightforward as it should be. “BMW has made its M modes more complicated than before,” Seabaugh said, “and although I appreciate the customization on some level, there’s way too much going on here.”
Inside, Rechtin lauded the comfortable and supportive front seats. Priddle pointed out the high-quality stitching and swaths of red and black leather broken up by splashes of wood and carbon fiber, but she criticized the integration of the dash-mounted infotainment screen.
Priddle also mentioned “ample cargo space and thoughtful hooks in the back to keep bags from rolling around.” That comes in handy if you drive like Seabaugh and Evans, who like to slide the tail around. Priddle also noted the power-folding second-row seats, which unfortunately don’t fold entirely flat.
So the X3M is not without its flaws, but if this is where BMW’s M division is headed, we have a lot to look forward to. It’s the best M3 wagon we’ve ever driven.
|2020 BMW X3M Competition|
|Base Price/As Tested||$77,895/$83,845|
|Power (SAE net)||503 hp @ 5,950 rpm|
|Torque (SAE net)||442 lb-ft @ 2,600 rpm|
|Accel, 0-60 mph||4.0 sec|
|Quarter Mile||12.3 sec @ 117.3 mph|
|Braking, 60-0 mph||104 ft|
|Lateral Acceleration||0.95 g (avg)|
|MT Figure Eight||24.2 sec @ 0.86 g (avg)|
|EPA City/Hwy/Comb||14/19/16 mpg|