Test Drive: 2019 BMW X3 M40i

BMW creates a sport sedan in SUV clothing.

2019 BMW X3 M40i

BMW takes the art of the SUV to another level with the X3 M40i

By Nick Kurczewski, Contributor, Car-ED.com | August 2018

BMW engineers the ideal vehicle for when your heart yearns for a sports car, but reality demands the practicality of a SUV.

What is this vehicle?

The 2019 BMW X3 M40i is a luxury sport-utility that has the soul of a sports car. As the range-topping model in the X3 range, the M40i represents the best of BMW power and performance, combined with the cargo-toting and passenger-hauling capability of a SUV. While it’s easy to fall for for 355-horsepower turbocharged six-cylinder engine and silky-smooth 8-speed automatic, it’s the M40i’s dynamic balance that truly sets it apart from not only rival SUVs, but even some of BMW’s popular sport sedans.

This could be the SUV to seduce some of BMW’s most diehard fans. Given it’s starting price of $55,645, the M40i isn’t short on gadgets, comfort features, and technology. But unlike so many of today’s luxury cars and SUVs – including a few BMW products – unlocking the available performance doesn’t make you feel like you’re writing computer code before every drive. Leave this BMW in Comfort mode, one of four available drive settings, of course, and be done with it. The inline-six delivers immediate power, the handling is sure-footed all the time (and at some serious speeds), while the ride remains level and comfortable, not matter the situation.

Are we a bit smitten by this BMW? You bet we are!

Who is this vehicle for?

The X3 M40i is going to hold special appeal for BMW loyalists who might have resisted the temptation to put an SUV in their driveway. We know, sport-utilities are here to stay, but there’s no denying that many of them lack the handling finesse and driving composure found in a traditional sedan. The higher ride height of a SUV might be great for seeing down the road ahead of you, but it can wreak havoc for engineers tasked with giving the vehicle nimble handling and sharp reflexes.

Credit BMW with finding the sweet spot between maximizing cargo room, and unlocking true corner-carving dynamics in the M40i. We tested this BMW for more than a week, adding nearly 1,000 miles onto the odometer during a lengthy road-trip. The M40i, whether cruising sedately on the highway, or revving hard through twisty country roads, never put on wheel wrong. It was comfortable after more than 10 hours behind the wheel and, most importantly for someone spending this much money on a luxury vehicle, it looked great while getting the job done.

It helped that our test vehicle was finished in optional Phytonic Blue exterior paint, with matching blue-painted brake calipers peeking out from behind the 20-inch alloy wheels. This is a seriously handsome looking vehicle, without being over-the-top or ostentatious.

Why is this vehicle important to you, the buyer?

More than any other luxury brand (sorry Mercedes-Benz and Audi), BMW has the reputation for building vehicles that put driving excitement at the forefront. Of course, this hasn’t always been the case, as some recent sport-tuned models have the reputation for being much too complex (and way too expensive). Now we can’t exactly label the M40i a bargain, considering our fully-loaded test vehicle carried a final price of more than $60,000. But that’s only the entry-fee you’d pay for a car like the M3 sport sedan, not to mention the more than $100,000 you’d need to hand over for the mighty 600-horsepower M5.

Granted, we’re not sure a M40i buyer is going to cross-shop sport sedans at any given BMW dealership. Yet, if they do, this BMW SUV could prove the best choice when it comes to usable power, passenger comfort, and having every mod-con loaded into one fun-to-drive sport-ute. Cargo room behind the second-row seats measures in at 28.7 cubic feet of space. Fold the rear seats down, and you have an impressive 62.7 cubic feet of room.

Speaking of room, the legroom for rear occupants is substantial and, even with the panoramic sunroof fitted to our tester, headroom was in ample supply for everyone aboard.

Interesting facts about this vehicle!

  • In standard format, the X3 xDrive30i is powered by a 248-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder engine, coupled to either rear- or all-wheel drive, and fitted with an 8-speed automatic transmission. The M40i keeps the AWD and automatic, while adding that delicious 355-horsepower turbocharged 3.0-liter six-cylinder, which provides the X3 with exceptionally strong acceleration.
  • Fuel economy doesn’t get lost in the equation. The X3 M40i delivers 20 mpg in city driving and 27 mpg on the highway. During our long driving adventure with this BMW, we routinely nudged the highway figure slightly beyond this EPA-certified number. That’s impressive, since this is a SUV you want to drive hard, and fast.
  • The M40i is more than a bigger engine. Also included is a M Sport suspension setup, M Sport brakes, tri-zone climate control, sport seats for front occupants, LED headlights, satellite radio, and the aforementioned panoramic sunroof.

What Impressed Us / Top Likes:

  • Since we’ve talked so much about the power and handling, let’s start inside, where you’ll find an elegant dashboard fitted with top-quality trim. In the M40i, the upper part of the dashboard is fitted with what appears to be hand-stitched leather. Okay, it’s a fake, but despite being plastic, it looks (and even feels) great.  The iDrive infotainment system is generally intuitive to use and has clear command functions. BMW did go a little overboard with the available gesture controls for items such as stereo volume. It’s cute to twirl your finger and crank up the volume for friends but, in day-to-day driving, you’ll probably stick with the manual control knob.
  • Okay, let’s get back to that engine! BMW has a long history of creating some excellent engines, with a particular specialty for smooth inline-six-cylinder units. The one in the M40i is a gem, and it’s perfectly matched by the 8-speed automatic transmission. Punch the gas pedal and this SUV launches forward without any hesitation – it also sounds pretty cool while doing so.
  • It’s worth noting that the 2018 BMW X3 earned the highest possible safety rating – Top Safety Pick+ – by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The group’s test regime is even more stringent than government crash tests, so you’re not only getting a rapid SUV with the X3 M40i, you’re also getting an exceedingly safe one, too.
  • The X3 also has a handy hidden storage area, beneath the rear cargo floor. We doubt this is going to seal the deal with any BMW shoppers, but it’s another nice plus point that comes with choosing a SUV. The 40/20/40 folding rear seatback also adds extra utility when you have to carry long or bulky objects, but don’t want to lose all rear passenger room.

Items to Make Better (Least Favorite Things):

  • We’ve already mentioned it, but the gesture controls feel a little gimmicky. It’s an entertaining party trick and, on a couple occasions, when the music needed to be turned down quickly, it proved reasonably useful. But is twirling your finger really that much simpler (or safer) then turning a control knob? Probably not.
  • Options bump the price substantially. Our test vehicle, with its optional blue paint, larger wheels, and other assorted add-ons ended up hovering right around $65,000. Again, that’s for a fully-loaded example, so you do get what you pay for with the M40i.
  • We’re trying to find some fault with the powertrain, but this is pretty much a flawless engine and transmission combo. Sure, the turbocharged four-cylinder in the base X3 gets better fuel mileage. Except it’s nowhere near as fun and addictive as the turbo six-cylinder in the M40i.

Segment and Competitors:

The luxury SUV field is full of choices, so even the X3 M40i has quite a fight on its hands when it comes to standing out from the crowd.

  • Audi Q3 Premium Plus
  • Volvo XC60 R-Design
  • Mercedes-Benz AMG GLC43
  • Acura MDX
  • Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport
  • Audi SQ5
  • Porsche Macan
  • Jaguar I-Pace

Unique Specifications:

The M40i sits at the top of the X3 range. While the entry-level X3 starts around $41,000, the M40i costs approximately $13,000 extra. That’s a pretty big step, even in the world of luxury SUVs. What you get is a more finely honed vehicle, complete with M Sport-tuned engine, brakes, and suspension. The whole is even greater than the parts, the M40i is suave and sporty, with all-weather confidence provided by standard all-wheel drive. According to BMW, the M40i accelerates from 0-60 mph in only 4.6 seconds – which is faster than many outright sports cars.

Wheel sizes range from 19- upward to 21-inches in diameter, though the latter will cost you an additional $1,900. Upscale leather trim with contrasting stitching adds another $1,700 to the price, though the three available interior wood trims, and two in aluminum, won’t cost extra, no matter which you choose. You’ll definitely want to budget the $500 for the available Driver Assistance Package, which includes safety features like blind spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert, frontal collision warning, and lane departure warning.

Pricing and Availability:

The 2019 BMW X3 M40i is on sale now, with a starting price $55,645 (including $995 destination fee).

2018-08-31T17:42:56-04:00Aug 2018|Car Reviews|