Crossover & Midsize

BMW Put Its Most Powerful 6-Cylinder in a Crossover

Though some of its cars aren’t worth the price of entry, BMW definitely knows how to make great engines. Some of the highest-output ones end up in the German automaker’s M vehicles. And not just in passenger cars, like the M5. The company’s SUVs and crossovers also have M variants, with the performance to back up the badge. In fact, its most powerful six-cylinder engine is in a crossover: the BMW X3 M Competition.

2020 BMW X3 M Competition specs and features

Gray 2020 BMW X3 M Competition crossover parked on a racetrack
2020 BMW X3 M Competition | BMW

Although BMW offers engines ranging from four-cylinders to V8s and V12s, the six-cylinder has always been a brand staple. And the standard X3 crossover does offer a six-cylinder, in the X3 M40i. But that’s ‘just’ the M Performance trim, with a 3.0-liter turbocharged six-cylinder making 382 hp and 365 lb-ft.

The 2020 BMW X3 M Competition's 3.0-liter twin-turbo six-cylinder engine
2020 BMW X3 M Competition engine | BMW

In contrast, the 2020 BMW X3 M’s 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged six-cylinder puts out 473 hp and 442 lb-ft. The Competition bumps that up to 503 hp, thanks to more boost and a sports exhaust. It’s actually partially based on the M40i’s engine, though only 10% of the parts are shared, Car reports.

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Besides the extra turbo and higher redline, the X3 M also has 2 intercooler and engine radiators, and an engine oil cooler. With the 8-speed automatic and ‘M-tuned’ all-wheel drive, the BMW X3 M Competition goes 0-60 in 3.3 seconds, Car and Driver reports. The current-gen M3 Competition is actually slower to 60 and falls behind in the ¼-mile. And the X3 weighs 4600 pounds, and has 8” of ground clearance, Motor Trend reports. Little wonder, Automobile reports, the next M3 and M4 are getting this engine.

In addition to the engine, the BMW X3 M has a limited-slip rear differential and upgraded brakes with cross-drilled rotors, Roadshow reports. It also has retuned suspension, with stiffer springs, carbon-fiber strut tower brace, and upgraded adaptive dampers, Car and Driver reports. The Competition trim, on top of the 30 extra hp, adds stiffer anti-roll bars and bolstered M sport seats.

2020 BMW X3 M Competition interior, with tan-trimmed leather sport seats
2020 BMW X3 M Competition interior | BMW

Of course, the BMW X3 M Competition is a luxury crossover. It has a 10.3” touchscreen, heated front seats, Apple CarPlay, built-in navigation, and a 16-speaker Harman/Kardon audio system. Standard driver-assistance features included the forward-collision warning, blind-spot monitoring, and lane-departure warning.

What’s it like to drive?

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On the one hand, the BMW X3 M Competition’s tall ride height works somewhat against it. It will never be quite as agile as a lower, lighter sedan. That being said, it’s definitely more of a sports car than the X5 M or X6 M.

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The suspension and chassis upgrades, MT reports, mean the crossover corners with essentially no body roll. The brakes can handle repeated racetrack laps. It even, MT reports, can tackle some light off-roading, thanks to its ground clearance, AWD, and hill-descent control. It’s just a fun car to drive. It doesn’t hurt that the exhaust crackles and pops when you shift or lift off the throttle.

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You can freely adjust the AWD settings, as well as the stability control, traction control, steering, transmission, and suspension settings. Once you’ve got it all set up, you can recall those settings by programming them into the M1 and M2 buttons. There’s no RWD mode, as the AWD M5 offers. But tweak the stability control a bit, and the BMW X3 M will drift.

Downsides? The suspension may make the X3 M eager to carve up a curvy road, but even in Comfort Mode, the ride is somewhat stiff. Especially with the Competition trim’s larger standard wheels. Plus, though the steering is nicely weighted, it lacks feeling. And some may find the front sport seats uncomfortable on long drives. Though the interior overall is full of high-quality materials.

BMW X3 M Competition pricing and alternatives

The 2020 BMW X3 M starts at $69,900. The Competition trim adds $7000 on top of that. In contrast, the X3 M40i starts at $55,900. As a luxury 5-seat performance crossover, the X3 M has a lot to offer. But for that price, there are some alternatives potentially worth considering.

2020 Porsche Macan GTS
2020 Porsche Macan GTS | Porsche

The $72,100 Porsche Macan GTS doesn’t make as much power. Its 2.9-liter twin-turbocharged V6 produces 375 hp and 383 lb-ft. But, while it may be about a second slower to 60 mph, the Macan is arguably the better sports car, MT reports. Its standard air springs and adaptive dampers mean it handles well but doesn’t ride harshly Car and Driver reports. There’s more steering feel, too. However, the BMW X3 M has more interior and cargo space, and a few more standard features.

2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio in Rosso Competizione
2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio | Alfa Romeo

Another alternative is the $80,500 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio. Its 2.9-liter twin-turbocharged V6 makes 505 hp and 443 lb-ft, slightly more than the X3 M. Its adaptive suspension is more compliant than the BMW’s, Car and Driver reports. And it also has more steering feel. However, in addition to being more expensive, the Stelvio, particularly the Quadrifoglio trim, has struggled with reliability issues.

2020 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk parked near mountains
2020 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk | Jeep

Finally, The Smoking Tire’s Matt Farah compared the BMW X3 M Competition to the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk. It is the most expensive alternative, with a base price of $87,645. But its 6.2-liter supercharged V8 makes 707 hp and 645 lb-ft. And it can tow up to 7200 pounds. Though its interior is a bit cheap compared to the others. Not to mention the Hellcat-derived V8’s fuel consumption.

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