I had a chance to drive the 2017 BMW X3 xDrive30i when Fred was reviewing it, and I was not as impressed as he was. I had just been testing the Volvo XC60 T5 which I thought was a much better option for an entry level midsize SUV.

With my expectations wavering, it was time to see what the top of the range X3 was like. BMW should not be flinging its M badges on to any old model they sell.

It’s stands for something and that something is usually rather exciting.

The Range

You get three X3 models to pick from in New Zealand; the only diesel model the xDrive20d ($92,850), then there’s the xDrive30i ($99,850) and the M40i at $119,850. All are fitted with an 8-speed automatic gearbox.

The 20d comes with a 2-litre twin-scroll turbo diesel engine that gives you 140kW of power, and 400Nm of torque. The 30i comes with a 2-litre twin-scroll turbo 4-cylinder petrol motor, which pumps out 185kW and 350Nm of torque.

The only six-cylinder is the twin-turbo M40i putting out a respectable 265kW of power and 500Nm of torque.

Standard equipment on any X3 is reasonable. Even the base model gets keyless start, 19” alloys, ambient lighting with ‘welcome light carpet’, LED headlights, high beam assist, auto wipers, Driving Assistant Plus, adaptive cruise control, Parking Assistant, front and rear parking sensors, rear-view camera, dynamic stability control, Brake Assistant, Cornering Brake Control, Dynamics Traction Control, active headrests, Hill Descent Control, wireless phone charging, DAB tuner, SatNav, a 10” touch display, multifunction instrument display, 6-speaker audio system, Concierge Services, Real Time Traffic information, 3-zone AC, an electric tailgate, all windows one touch up/down, fine-wood oak trim, electric front seats with memory for the driver, and leather upholstery.

Other than the different engine, the xDrive30i doesn’t add too much more to that, other than 21“ alloys, adaptive LED headlights, Comfort Access System, run-flat tyres, a Heads-Up Display (HUD) and Parking Assistant Plus (including a 3D Surround View).

For your extra $20K, the top of the range M40i moves to 21” alloys, Adaptive M suspension, a Harmon Kardon surround sound system, LED fog lights, electric lumbar support adjust, M Aerodynamics package, M leather steering wheel, M Sport Brakes, and heated front seats. And you get that delicious turbo six-cylinder motor of course.

Our test car was fitted with over $11,200 in optional equipment, including Apple CarPlay, BMW display key, luggage-compartment separating net, Panoramic glass with electric sunroof, Seat backrest adjustment, rear seats, heated rear seats, active seat ventilation, heated steering wheel, towbar electrically folding (max. load 2,400kg) and tyre pressure indicator

These extras brought up our test car up to $131,050.

First Impressions

When I first saw the review vehicle I had been glad that BMW’s Corporate Communications had indicated that I would be testing an Alpine White M40i with black interior. I believe this vehicle was sold, which is why I got switched over to another identical spec M40i.  This one was in Phytonic Blue with a Canberra Beige interior. That blue – wow; it looked stunning in the sunlight, which made me thankful for the last minute change. The interior however I was not yet sure about. I much prefer darker interiors, but would see how I got on with this one.

Overall the X3 has seen some much needed exterior design changes. I could still remember the first X3 from 2003; It aged so fast and was not helped by the large amount of black plastic bumpers and side skirts. Thankfully the 2018 X3 has a nice strong shape, even more so on the M40i

The Inside

Unlike Fred who tested the base X3, I was less excited about this vehicle’s selected interior: Canberra Beige Vernasca leather. I will admit that it made the interior very bright and inviting, but it did not pull on my heart strings. The leather itself was soft and of a high quality on the seats, doors, and centre console. A few people liked it, but they were well in the minority.

Since we are talking seats, this brings me to my first gripe: the seats. The seats were good, but not great. What I mean by that is the base model X3 had almost the same seats as the M40i. This was not apparent at first, but it become more apparent the more I drove it. The M40i is a sports SUV, without sports seats. Additional side bolsters would have been a welcome addition, or an more sunken bucket-like seat. Nothing too impractical, just something that matched this SUV’s inner nature.

Sound from the Harmon Kardon audio system is superb, with clear treble and some excellent bass. Its clarity at low levels is something that always showcases high-end audio quality

As we had already tested the base model X3, there weren’t any changes on the inside. It has the same Idrive system and almost the same array of buttons across the dash. Check out  the 2017 BMW X3 xDrive30i for more in depth details on the interior options and features.

This model also had the huge panoramic sunroof, tilt/slide of course and fitted with a flip-up wind deflector. Not standard, this was part of the Vision and Sound package that cost $4,900. This also includes, Harman Kardon surround sound system, BMW Gesture Control and the BMW Display Key. If you don’t want the package you can get the Panorama glass sunroof on its own for $3,500. I think it’s well worth it, as did my 4 month-old daughter, who really liked looking out into the sky above.

Speaking of my daughter, I have been surprised by the sheer size of some baby seats available on the market – closer to space pods than the seats I remember being in. We have a Britax Boulevard Clicktight seat, which is great: so easy to move from car to car, and my daughter Aoife loves it too. As she is still an infant, the seat needs to be rear facing, and it needs to be tilted into its lowest position. This takes up a lot of room in then most cars and was just the same for the X3. The front seat had to be moved forward so much that anyone over 5 and a half foot would have found it cramped. So when traveling my wife sat in the back with Aoife. This is no fault to the X3, but just something to consider, as many think an SUV is bigger than a wagon. More practical yes, but only bigger in the taller sense of the word.

Unlike the previous X3 we testing which seemed to have some issues with the air conditioning, this X3 was working as expected and worked well and quickly cooling the car if it has been sitting in the sun with the sunroof shade left open.

On the inside, that HUD is one of the best in the business. It shows almost every piece of info that you need to know at a quick glance; speed, SatNav directions, and other vital stats. Fred who tested the previous X3 liked that the speedo turns red if you exceed the limit for the road you are on. Yes, it’s a good safety feature, but I found it annoying. You can turn it off, but It might have been more so that it was red, dark red which sometimes made it hard to see. Other times I just found it patronizing. Even 1km over it would go red, maybe a tolerance would have been nice to see.  

All X3s have wireless cellphone charging (if your phone is capable). As I have a Pixel, I was unable to take advantage of this feature. BMW is also the first manufacturer that allows you to use Apple CarPlay via Bluetooth, instead of having to plug your phone in via USB cable. Also, no use to me as I have an Android phone. I was disappointed not to see Android Auto as even an optional extra just like Apple CarPlay which is $500.

The boot on the new X3 has a very usable 550 litres of space with the seats up, and an excellent 1600 with them down. If you lift up the bottom of the boot (it’s held up with a gas strut, a nice touch) then you’ll find another good-sized cubby in there of unlisted size.

This was great for the trip away we had planned. It’s something we do each year, head over to Martinborough from Wellington for the Easter long weekend. This time was the first real trip away from home with our new baby, and I don’t mean the M40i.

Now that we are three, we seem to travel with the same amount of stuff for 6 adults. Baby seat in the back seat, porta cot, buggy, toys and heaps of clothes. And this is just for Aoife, my wife and I just had one bag each for the weekend. The X3 handled it well, the additional adjustment in the back seats helped a lot. Being able to adjust the seats upright, created a better box shape in the boot against the rear seats. We got everything in, and there was still room to clearly see out the back.

Just like the base model X3, there’s no spare in here; the M40i is fitted with run-flat tyres.

The Drive

Behind the wheel of the M40i you were made aware from its start up that this is not your average SUV. The once the ignition was pressed it was more akin to a sports car than an SUV, as the engine roars into life, with a high revving blip from the engine and bark from the exhaust. Without even being in any sports mode, this X3 started to itch the enthusiast driver in you.

Let’s get Eco mode out of the way. We can all be honest with each other here, this car is not about Eco mode, so let just do this and move on. Just like any other BMW, it’s a bit smoother, both ride and throttle control. And it also have the strange eco dials that display in L/100k as the RPM dail. Still weird and a bit distracting. Ok, so we have covered that, if not in great detail, but it’s done and we are moving on.

The default or Comfort mode for the M40i was noticeable firm, while still being very comfy. There was not a lot of noticeable roll in the chassis, and the throttle control had a good feel for the day to day driver. I could happily potter around in this mode all the time, as its overall experience was so reminiscent of a car than an SUV.

Sports mode, we are finally here: This is why you buy an M40i, and BMW did not disappoint when it comes to sporty M vehicles. Once in Sports mode, you instantly notice the change. The ride is a bit stiffer, throttle control is sharper and the exhaust note changes too. This is my favourite bit; the sound is always something that makes me giggle inside. The valves are open and it’s like BMW’s entire Motorsport heritage sings from the rear of the car. Even at 30kp/h, the exhaust sputters, pops and crackles, with me behind the wheel giggling each time. But we don’t care what it sounds like at 30km/h. Thankfully I was in the Wairarapa and had some open country roads nearby. It was time to see and hear what this beast could do.

At speed, the M40i is an amazing vehicle; cornering, handling, steering, braking. None of these things needs any special comments – they are all perfectly balanced. Where most big SUV’s might need more time to brake for a corner, the X3 gave you as much confidence as any performance car. When braking harder before entering a corner you were rewarded with beautiful downshift and gargles from the exhaust. And each time you came out of a corner, the sound was divine; the engine roar is so close to a 80’s group B rally car. Into the next corner, downshifting with the paddles, two lovely engine blips, hold the corner and power out. Simply amazing for a midsize family SUV.

When I first tested the new X3, I was not as excited about it as Fred. That’s because I had been testing the XC60 from Volvo. That’s a really great vehicle and bang for buck the best buy for entry level mid-size SUVs in my opinion. But Sports SUV’s – true performance SUV’s – are few and far between. Porsche have owned that market for a while now, but I think they need to watch out as BMW have a serious contender with the M40i

I drove the BMW X5 M on the track at Hampton Downs, and was amazed at how that was able to keep pace with M3’s M4’s and M5’s. This X3 is not a balls-out M vehicle, but it’s not far from it. For the cost, you’re getting a hell of a lot of vehicle for the money.

The thing about sports SUV’s is that they are generally just an SUV with lot of power to compensate for the extra weight. Not the M40i; even though it’s a big vehicle, it handled more like a car than an SUV. It was only really let down by the seats I mentioned earlier. While the SUV was not sliding all over the place, the driver and passenger sometimes did. Sports or M Performance seats would have been the icing on the cake for the M40i.

Fuel economy was a surprise, at first it seemed high but overall it did well, even with our extensive performance testing. BMW claims a combined rating of 8.9litres/100km, my average was 11.5. It’s a bit of a jump alright, but I had a lot of fun driving the X3 and really expected it to be higher based on our tests.

The Competition – Performance Midsize Luxury SUV

More and more options are becoming available as the New Zealand market share for SUVs continues to surge.

Brand/Model Engine Power/Torque Fuel, L/100km Seats Boot Space, Litres Price Highest to Lowest
Porsche Macan S 3.0L V6 turbo petrol 260kW / 450Nm 9.0 5 500 $132,700
Jaguar F-Pace S 3.0L V6 Supercharged petrol 280kW / 450Nm 8.9 5 508 $130,000
Audi SQ5 Sportback 3.0L TFSI BiTDi 260kW / 500Nm 5.4 5 540 $121,900
BMW X3 M40i 3.0L V6 Petrol twin-scroll turbo 265kW / 500Nm 8.9 5 460 $119,850
Mercedes-Benz AMG GLC 43 3.0L V6 Petrol twin turbo 270kW / 520Nm 8.8 5 500 $118,800
Jaguar XJ Luxury 3.0L V6 turbo diesel 300kW / 700Nm 5.7 5 478 $155,000

The pros and cons

Pros Cons
  • Luxury interior
  • Good standard spec
  • Performance ride from an SUV
  • Great handling
  • Big boot
  • Good looking
  • Sounds amazing
  • No sports or performance seats
  • No Android Auto
  • Tight with some rear facing baby seat

What we think

I really enjoyed this car: loved how it looked, loved how it sounds and loved how it drove. And the one thing that it did that I did not expect, was that it didn’t feel like an SUV to drive. It felt more performance car than souped up SUV. Mix in that soundtrack and you have a pretty impressive and rather practical package.

The days of the M performance cars being solely available as coupes or sedans looks like they are coming to an end.

Rating – Chevron rating (4.5 out of 5)

drivelife car review chevrons four and half

2018 BMW X3 M40i

Vehicle Type Midsize AWD 5-door SUV
Starting Price $119,850
Price as Tested $131,050
Engine 3-litre, six-cylinder petrol, turbocharged
Power, Torque 265Kw/500Nm
Transmission 8-Speed Automatic
0-100km/h, seconds 4.8
Spare Wheel Run-flat tyres
Kerb Weight, Kg 1,850
Length x Width x Height, mm 4716x1897x1676
Cargo Capacity, litres 550/1600
Fuel capacity, litres 65
Fuel Efficiency Advertised Spec – combined – 8.9L / 100km

Real World Test – combined – 11.5L / 100km

Low Usage: 0-6 / Medium Usage 6-12 / High Usage 12+

Towing Capacity 750kg unbraked

2400 kg braked

Turning circle, metres n/a

Small: 6-10m / Medium 10-12m / Large 12m+

Warranty 5 years

3 years free servicing

5 years Roadside Assist

ANCAP Safety Ratings 5 Star


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John Galvin (JSG)
It started at a young age with bedroom posters, the Countach of course. This slowly grew into a super car die-cast model collection, fifty five 1:18 models at the last count. At which point it had almost taken full control, the incurable Mad Car Disease ran deep though my veins all the way to the bone. And things for my loved ones just got worse as the cars where now being bought at 1:1 scale, after a BMW, HSV, and couple of Audi's, the disease reached my brain, pushing me over the edge and down the rabbits hole into the world of the bedroom poster.


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