- Available for £45,000 (X3 M), £44,000 (X4 M)
- 3.0-litre V6 petrol twin turbo, all-wheel drive
- Sub-4-second 0-62mph time
- Excellent body control and grip
- You might need a cushion in Sport mode
- Slighty uninvolving, but straight-six fans should love the engine
There’s nothing like a good old arms race to spice up a model range. The stated purpose of BMW’s 2018-on G01 X3 M and X4 M was to provide more practical and – importantly for a big chunk of the market – higher seat position versions of the M3 saloon and M4 coupe. Their creation also allowed BMW to challenge cars like the Audi SQ5, Mercedes-AMG GLC 43 coupe and Porsche Macan Turbo in the HPC (hot practical car) segment which we’ve just invented - or SAV if you prefer BMW’s official Sports Activity Vehicle handle.
For the sake of not driving you mad with lots of X3/4 references in this buying guide we’ll assume you know that the X3 was the mid-sized SUV and that the X4 was the same car, more or less, but with a more slopey rear roofline and reduced practicality. From here on in we’ll mainly be collating them under the X3 name.
The base version X3 had been given a thorough wash and brush up for the 2017 third-generation G01 model. Made in many parts of the world, none of which were Germany, the G01 had a modified high-strength steel platform, tweaks to its double-wishbone front/multi-link rear suspension, and the intelligent torque vectoring system that had been on the X5 since 2013. At that point, the M40i M Performance was the hot X3 variant. Its 355hp from the twin-turbocharged 3.0 straight six was enough for a 0-62mph time of 4.8 seconds.
In 2019, new F97/F98 versions of the X3/X4 were announced. The ‘regular’ 473hp M model wasn’t made available in the UK but that didn’t matter because we got the S58-engined M Competition instead which had a forged crank and pistons, lightweight 3D-printed cylinder head and turbos boosting at up to 2.3 bar to deliver a daft-sounding 503hp and 443lb ft across a canyon-wide rev range. Paired up with a ZF eight-speed gearbox from the M5 and M xDrive which, in cahoots with Dynamic Stability Control and the Active M Differential, directed only part of the engine’s torque to the front axle when the back wheels were struggling to transmit it. It was as near to rear-wheel drive as BMW could make it. That, plus big-boy traction, added up to super-grippy and surprisingly deft handling plus a 0-62mph time of 4.1 seconds that could often be improved upon by even amateur drivers – all pretty impressive for an SUV weighing over two tonnes.
It was a serious-spec vehicle in other ways too. You got 21-inch wheels, adaptive M suspension, Merino leather heated seats, LED ‘icon’ headlights, Pro Media (iDrive 6), double glazing, options for head-up display and Harman Kardon audio, and a ton more besides. Who would have thought all this would happen to the humble X3 when it came out in 2003? Not BMW by the looks of it, because although the X3 came out well before the GLC and Macan, Mercedes and Porsche beat BMW to the performance punch in this particular market.
In 2021 both the X3 and X4 M Competitions received the standard model’s inside and out styling updates. Power stayed the same, fuel consumption was slightly worse at 26.2mpg versus 26.9mpg, but there was a 34lb ft torque hike to 479lb ft which reduced the 0-62mph time to 3.8 seconds. Prices for these reflashed cars started at about £86.5k, which was £9k up on the £77.5k UK retail price of an X3 M Comp in 2019 (the X4s were another £2k on top of that), and spec for spec that £77.5k was around £20k more than the X3 M40i. So the RRPs on these have never been low, but some very good leasing deals when the cars were new got people into them back then. Now, in mid-2023, you can buy an early mid-mileage (60-70k) X3 M Comp for around £45,000, or an X4 M Comp for £44,000. Are they worth it?
SPECIFICATION | BMW X3/4 M COMPETITION (2019-on)
Engine: 2,993cc straight six 24v twin-turbocharged petrol
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 503@5,950-7,200rpm
Torque (lb ft): 443@2,600-5,950rpm
0-62mph (secs): 4.1
Top speed (mph): 155
Weight (kg): 2,045
MPG (official combined): 26.9
CO2 (g/km): 239
Wheels (in): 9 x 21 (f), 10 x 21 (r)
Tyres: 255/40 (f), 265/40 (r)
On sale: 2019 - 2023
Price new (2019): £77,500
Price now: from £45,000 (X3), £44,000 (X4)
Note for reference: car weight and power data is hard to pin down with absolute certainty. For consistency, we use the same source for all our guides. We hope the data we use is right more often than it’s wrong. Our advice is to treat it as relative rather than definitive.
ENGINE & GEARBOX
Soon after BMW’s 2,993cc S58 3.0 litre straight six popped up in the X3 M Comp it went into the 2021MY G80/81 M3 and M4. General opinion was that the S58 sounded better than the S55 engine in the previous F80/82 M3/4s, although engine noise was supplemented by the audio system. The Comp-standard four-tailpipe M Sport exhaust with its various noise-intensity settings was annoying to some but it had a purr in quieter modes that was reminiscent of the old N53, BMW’s last naturally aspirated straight six which went the way of all flesh in 2013. Non-UK X3 M Comps were a lot more poppy and bangy on the overrun than UK cars which were fitted with the mandatory particulate filter as well as four catalytic converters. Eight-cylinder rivals from AMG or sixes from Alfa Romeo were arguably more characterful but the incongruity of the BMW unit in this sit-up application brought a strange appeal.
Despite the factory claim of a maximum torque plateau running from 2,600rpm to nearly 6,000rpm, the X3 M Comp’s twin-monoscroll turboed S58 engine gave the car a feeling of weakish torque in the low rpm range, creating a ‘laggier’ sensation than seemed to be the case in the BMW X3 M40i with the 2,998cc B58 engine. You could easily get that impression because the transition from below 4,000rpm to 4,000rpm and above, zinging on to 7,000rpm, certainly did feel more marked with the S58. However, it was important to remember that the M40i was around 85kg lighter than the X3 M Comp, a car that was set up to rev harder, albeit slightly pointlessly above 6,000rpm. It all seemed a bit weird in an SUV/SAV. Some owners quite liked the relative softness of the Comp’s low-rpm power because they thought it made the car feel more docile in town, which some might say defeats the object of owning an M car, but on the plus side it made the X3 M perfectly useable as a tow car.
The eight-speed M Steptronic gearbox was happy to play the game with smooth, bish-bosh ratio changes in manual mode. It could be a little slow-witted in responding to the throttle from a coast to a near-stop however. Mode buttons alongside each paddle allowed for the selection of M Sport driving modes. Top speed was limited to 155mph but it could be unlocked to 177mph, which would have been quite a sight on the autobahn.
As mentioned earlier the Comp’s official fuel consumption was 26mpg but owners driving in the approved manner have been reporting 20mpg with tyres wearing out after just 6,000 miles. One owner quoted 13.9mpg but admitted to warming it up for quite a while on cold days. There have been reports of problems with drive shafts and diffs on M3s and M4s but we didn’t see any mention of these in connection with X cars. Anecdotally we did hear of very occasional issues with faulty conrods but again we couldn’t find anything definite confirming or denying that. The X3 M is maintained on the familiar ‘condition based’ (CBS) system. BMW offers a Pay Monthly Service Plan which for the X3 M Comp was at £41.99 a month as of May ’23.
The X3 M Comp’s adaptive suspension was steel. That was a pity in the eyes of some testers who thought it would have been better with air. Still, the car featured model-unique torque arms, wishbones, swivel bearings and anti-roll bars. Camber was increased to enhance stability in corners, and there was underbody bracing plus a strut brace under the bonnet.
You’d expect the 21-inch wheels and 40-profile tyres (Conti Sport Contact 6 as standard, Michelin P4S tyres are recommended by owners) to compromise the ride slightly on UK roads, and you’d be right. You’d never call it plush even in Comfort mode, but the extra height of the SUV body did give you the benefit of enhanced down-the-road visibility and the control conferred by the electronics did a good job of mitigating the top-heavy feel associated with this genre. The body control was actually near-miraculous for this type of vehicle. It stayed flat even through sharp B-road direction switches and the tyres bit hard into the deck when exiting corners at a rate that would be unseemly even in something far more overtly sporting than this.
The Comfort setting was pretty much what you’d want all the time on British roads. Above that you could have a rugged Sport mode, or Sport+ mode which was tooth-looseningly stiff on motorways let alone B-roads. Those two modes gave you much stiffer steering too. The M Servotronic electric power steering was faster than the M40i’s and accurate to the point of being a bit twitchy feeling. Daring and/or skilled helmsfolk reckoned that, with the right commitment, they could get it to oversteer. The all-singing all-dancing AWD system previously seen in the M5 system wasn’t quite as twiddleable in the X3 – there was no two-wheel drift mode – but M Dynamic Mode slackened off the DSC input and engaged the M xDrive’s Sport setting, bringing the back end more into it.
Owners who went down from the 21s to 20-inch wheels with 265/45 fronts and 275/45 rears reported a positive transformation in the car’s overall feel. £1,200 or thereabouts will get you a set of MSS springs, again well favoured by the X3 M community. Brakes were taken from the M760i and worked well enough as long as you didn’t overdo it on a track. Carbon ceramic brakes were deemed to be too expensive to put on a car at this price level and were never offered even as an option.
As you’d expect the X3 Comp’s front-end treatment was a chunk more aggressive than that of the M40i, and as a bonus (some might say) it also dodged BMW’s new-fangled big-grille design language. There was a wavy rooftop spoiler to boot.
It was an SUV, sure, but in a colour like Donington Grey the M Comp was a handsome and nicely understated thing. Some early cars had quality control-related issues with paint. The door mirrors had a redundant-looking extra support arm whose only job appeared to be to create some more wind noise.
Road boom and tyre noise could be quite high a lot of the time in the UK. Shoving in acoustic foam wherever it would safely go, like behind the boot side covers, helped dampen things down a bit. Cabin rattles are not unknown, not that surprising given the firmness of the suspension. If your car is afflicted by them they’re likely to get worse, not better
The big pano roof wasn’t standard in the UK. It was a great option, washing light through the whole cabin.
The X3 M Comp was a two-row five-seater that would actually seat five, not four plus a circus performer. The sports seats were very comfortable, assisted by adjustable headrests and zizzed up by illuminating M panels. You could specify heating/ventilation for all the seats. The driving position was spot on.
Although the dash/instrumentation setup was digital the main round clocks hadn’t been overtaken by the later BMW screenfest, a good thing for many. It was all supremely functional and user-friendly but the centre screen could get scratched quite easily. There was an M steering wheel, as seen in the M5 and M8. Not everyone was a fan of the gearshifter design and some weren’t too impressed by the X3 M Comp’s interior build quality. Taking the option of a carbon fibre interior pack mainly served to highlight the contrast between the carbon bits and the cabin plastics, which came off poorly in that comparison.
The boot was deep and boxy. Its 550 litres carrying capacity was the same as the SQ5 Audi or the GLC 63S, and there was a useful 40-20-40 split rear seat configuration to boost the space. As you’d expect, visibility from inside the cabin was much better in the 3 than the 4.
’21-on refresh models had Live Cockpit Professional including Connected Drive with two 12.3in display screens offering, among many other things, the ‘M View’ with displays pinched from the M8. Harmon Kardon audio became standard. It was based on BMW’s Operating System 7 which incorporated remote software upgrades and the option of two Driving Assistant packages with 3D environment visualisation.
Like an M3 but don’t fancy driving one along the beaten-up country road to your house? The X3 M Competition could be just the ticket. Not because its plush suspension will cosset you over the biggest lumps - quite the reverse - but because it has more ground clearance than an M3. In many if not most other respects you’re getting much of the M3 experience plus the sort of practicality an M3 owner could only dream of. An X5 might seem a more sensible option if you really needed absolutely wads of space but then you wouldn’t get the X3’s wieldiness, and in all honesty the smaller car should give you all the practicality you need. We could find very little evidence of common problems with the X3 M Comp, so that’s more good news.
You should try to secure a decently long test drive before taking the plunge, however. Some drivers coming to the X3 M Competition after cars like the turbo Macan or Cayenne did find the BMW to be a refreshing alternative. Coming to one from a Stelvio Quadrifoglio or GLC 63 S Merc could engender different emotions, including one of missing out on, well, emotion. The BMW won’t beat either of those two on engine character but it won’t be far off them in terms of the abilty to storm around corners at unfeasibly high speeds, on smooth roads at least.
Grip and body control are tremendous even if the actual driving experience is oddly anodyne and the ride in the sportier modes will have you swerving hard to avoid anything like a pothole. Having said that, if you leave it in Comfort mode and adopt the right mindset it will be perfectly liveable-with even in bumpy old Britain. Those who have had both the X3 M and RS3s or S4s have said that their Audis rode harder. The BMW was actually very refined and quiet at a steady cruise.
Full disclosure: the 355hp X3 M40i might well provide everything you need from a fast SAV, with a less urgent power delivery style and more easygoing torque than the X3 M Comp, and lower prices starting from below £30k for high-milers (100k) or £35k for midrange-milers (50k). X4 M40is will be slightly cheaper again. If you needed more power the M40i was easily flash-tuned using something like a BootMod 3. Again in the interests of fairness, it’s not hard to find people who have gone from an M40i to an M Comp and who have had zero regrets about doing so.
What sort of coin will be shaken out of your pockets for a used X3/4 M Comp? The most affordable example on PH Classifieds at the time of writing was this 42,000-mile 2019 example in white with black leather for £45,500. A couple of thousand more would you could in this grey ’20 car with only 15,000 miles at £47,549.
At the top end of the market was this ’22 specimen in striking Atlantis Blue. With 7,000 miles recorded it was priced at £72,490 in May ’23. This was the only X4 M Comp on PH Classifieds as we went to press, a 2019 car with just 13,000 miles on the clock for a smidge over £49k.
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