Tested: BMW X3 M Competition is fast, fun and practical too
PRETORIA - The world's appetite for SUVs won't diminish any time soon so it makes sense that manufacturers keep churning them out, from small to medium sized crossovers to intimidating behemoths with sky-high price tags.
True, Covid-19 may have decimated the world's economy and put a hard brake on vehicle manufacturing but that hasn't stopped them from ticking over because as they say, this too shall pass.
And while many people may have re-evaluated their priorities during this time, the people at the top end of the earning scale, I reckon, will continue to browse in search of motoring nirvana.
The options are almost endless and you can be sure that the BMW X3 M Competition will be there, even though technically it's classified as a mid-sized SUV or as BMW likes to call it, a Sports Activity Vehicle.
It's taken a while for the Bavarian manufacturer to turn their M attention to the X3 and it looks like taking their time has paid off handsomely, especially for South African fans because we're only getting the X3M in its top spec trimming.
A friend had an earlier generation X3 and apart from the obvious difference in size, the advancements in terms of the various engine options and technology has been astounding.
As an M badged car you wouldn't expect anything less mind you, because under the bonnet is where all the fun lies.
I like the fact the BMW continues to make a straight six in the face of so many V6 engines out there and this one certainly doesn't disappoint.
The newly designed twin-turbo 3.0 litre gladly pushes out 375kW and 600Nm and will do so all day if you have the budget to keep feeding it fuel.
That power is coupled to BMW's brilliant eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox driving all four wheels via the M-optimised AWD system.
Apart from the styling and all the niceties of the X3 M and in fact almost all BMW vehicles, it's the gearboxes that makes them special to drive. Floor it in any of the drive modes and there's virtually no indication that the cogs are changing apart from the movement on the rev counter and speedometer that keep on moving upwards.
BMW claims you'll get to 100km/h in 4.1 seconds but colleagues at The Citizen measured 4.7 seconds while testing at Gerotek and its governed to a top speed is 285km/h, thank goodness for that. Not that I doubt it given the mid-range gearing once you've got going, but driving an SUV at that speed no matter the aerodynamics, is damn scary.
Styling in the "Sunstone Metallic" car we had on test is pleasantly understated belying what it's actually capable of.
You'll notice the M side mirrors are the real deal as are the numerous front air inlets, and the dual pipes at the back while a couple of strategically placed X3 M badges, grille finished in gloss black and large 21-inch alloys complete the package.
Inside it's rather spacious not to mention luxurious with enough room for five adults to sit comfortably and a 530 litre boot to stow away their luggage.
Standard equipment is a not insubstantial list and includes electric adjusted heated front seats, parking sensors all round with a rear view camera, keyless entry, lane departure warning, automated perpendicular parking, three-zone climate control, head-up display, rear side-window blinds, quality two tone leather trim, wireless charging tray, a 600 watt Harman Kardon audio system with 16 speakers and BMW's Professional Navigation system with a 10.25-inch colour touchscreen.
As is normal with BMW there are a number of nifty options if you have the budget.
Driving fun with the X3 M begins as soon as you push the start button and realise that its default exhaust setting is on loud which gives you a clue what they had in mind when they designed the car.
You get the standard settings of comfort, sport and sport plus and you can customise the settings with the two red buttons "M1" and "M2" to suit different driving styles.
Once everything's nicely warmed up the X3 M has no qualms about getting down and dirty and obliges with a throaty roar from its tailpipes. There's some turbo lag, which has purists in a bit of a tizz, but once the rev counter hits 2500RPM it's game on with very smooth power delivery especially in the upper rev range.
Hard cornering is made almost foolproof because of the M xDrive AWD system and adaptive dampers that keep things well in control.
It's drivetrain is rear wheel biased and power is only sent to the front if things threaten to get out of hand and even on back roads that's unlikely to happen to the average owner aided generously with low profile 255/40R21 in front and 265/40R21 on the back.
Despite its weight at just over two tons and relatively high centre of gravity it changes direction with minimum fuss or body roll and will gladly power into a bend or sharp curve without squealing tyres or any major protest.
As you would expect there's a long list of safety features to keep you cocooned if things should go awry unlike your wallet when it comes to keeping it fuelled.
BMW claims an average of 10.6l/100km, which I think all sales people say when you ask about any car's consumption, but we managed an almost respectable 15.3l/100km given that delightful exhaust rumble, easy accelerating engine and Sport mode.
However, at R1 641 162 it's safe to say that the owner isn't strapped for cash so in this case consumption is moot. Throw in a few nice to have extras and it easily touches R1.8 million.
So, it's an expensive purchase any way you look at it, but not out of sync with the competition and as a fun to drive, spacious, fast and comfortable family vehicle, the BMW X3 M Competition is one of the most accomplished in the segment.
Included in the price is a two year unlimited mileage warranty and a five-year 100 000km maintenance plan.