Review: The 2022 BMW X3 M40i Proves the M Division Is Inescapable
Luxury is now indelibly linked to sportiness if you want to rise above BMW’s base models
Driving purists and brand diehards have long lamented BMW’s move away from its “ultimate driving machine” focus towards a fuzzier interpretation of its ethos, one seen as being diluted by softer sedans and even more detached sport-utility vehicles.
While it’s definitely the case that, in broad strokes, the German automaker’s badge is no longer a firm guarantee of an engaging experience, the fact remains that moving from base to top-tier trim in the BMW showroom — as with several of its rivals — inevitably pushes buyers towards harsher, stiffer and more explosively powerful models.
The 2022 BMW X3 is a perfect example of this particular marketing strategy, with the relatively docile sDrive30i serving as the lead-off hitter and the track-oriented X3 M perched in the clean-up position on the roster. Sitting in between is the X3 M40i, which attempts to balance between daily commuting reality and high-performance fantasy.
The line between these two worlds has become increasingly blurry against a backdrop of roaring turbocharged engines and massive mechanical grip, which had me wondering: how does the recently refreshed X3 M40i broker its passage from the unrestrained avarice of BMW’s design team to the everyday requirements of flesh-and-blood drivers?
Just Under Over-the-Top
Despite its lower-level M persona, the BMW X3 M40i’s performance bonafides are not at all in doubt. Mash the gas for a drama-free straight line scoot to 60 mph in less than four and a half seconds, supercar territory just 15 years ago but now easily accessible to anyone in this family-friendly SUV. Credit goes to its 382 horsepower turbocharged six-cylinder engine, whose 3.0 liters of displacement are for 2022 aided and abetted by a 48-volt mild-hybrid system that provides a small assist when surging off the line. Fuel mileage is also no doubt helped by the presence of the bigger battery, as the 24 mpg I saw in over a thousand miles of combined driving was a welcome surprise.
I’ve no doubt that BMW is underreporting the output of what has become one of its most appealing motors, as its unstoppable forward progress feels well beyond the capabilities of its reported 369 lb-ft of torque. The X3 features an excellent eight-speed automatic transmission, and credit too goes to its standard all-wheel drive system. The latter proved exceptionally surefooted on an extended winter sojourn through ice and snow, finding grip at highway speeds regardless of how laggardly local plow operators approached their duties.
In addition to foul-weather wizardry, the X3 M40i’s four-wheel grip was also ace when changing the SUV’s direction. Combined with its available M Sport electronically controlled rear differential, as well as its adaptive suspension system (accessible through its various Sport, Sport+ and of course custom-tuned drive modes), BMW’s compact SUV managed to conceal its size, at least from apex to apex, when asked to enthusiastically improvise its way down a two-lane mountain road.
There are some aspects of the M40i’s respectably potent personage that might give pause. Although agile, there’s very little link between the driver, the steering and the road beneath the X3’s wheels, a bluntness which is to be expected given its considerable bulk and heft. More of an issue is the stiffness that its aggressive suspension setup imparts when rolling over rougher pavement. In its Comfort setting the extra bounce is mostly attenuated, but the BMW is still more raucous than refined, at least compared to less athletic luxury sport-utilities.
Boasting a revised visage, larger available infotainment screen, bulkier rear bumper and reorganized center stack, the BMW X3 M40i’s non-mechanical updates are largely cosmetic. This is a win for customers, as its lush cabin and well-designed controls and infotainment interface provide an excellent environment within which to while away the miles. Cargo space is generous for its class, rear passengers have plenty of room to relax and on smooth roads the interior remains quiet even in the middle of a raging blizzard.
The five-seat X3 M40i provides deluxe accommodations as both a long-distance mile-eater and an around-town conveyance. Much of its most graceful accoutrements, however, are only found once you’ve left the entry-level behind, which means softly knocking on the door marked “M” if you’re seeking out the most stylish and supportive seats, the best brakes, the largest sunroof, the most advanced driver aides and of course the immersive pair of 12.3-inch LCD screens for the iDrive system and the gauge cluster.
All Buffed Up
It’s clear that the X3 formula is a winning one. As a general package, BMW’s compact hauler is easy to recommend, and even with its $57,800 starting price the M40i model delivers just as much value as one is going to find in the premium segment compared to its equally priced competitors.
I can’t help but wonder, however, why I have to accept the harshness of a hot-to-trot chassis in order to access the high-end gear that I really want in a day-to-day family machine. Why does climbing the luxury ladder these days require that I also sign up for a sportier experience? Why can’t I simply pay more for plush, as in days gone by?
With most BMW models, it’s now impossible to bypass the M division entirely, as marketing has baked expectations of sport into the middle tier of its model lineup. The X3 M40i avoids the over-the-top, crash-bang suspension of its burlier X3 M sibling, which also replaces the engine under the hood with a rocket-propelled grenade, but it still asks that a compromise be made when it comes to overall composure, favoring a spirited profile that seems out of step with how most of its owners will actually use it. Overall, it’s a trade-off I can live with — I just wish there were a way customers could snag a better-than-base X3 that has done fewer reps at the gym.
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