The era where mid-grade luxury SUVs can tangle with American muscle cars is upon us. Take, for example, the $58,795 BMW X3 M40i, which sits between the X3 xDrive30i and the X3 M. It’s propelled by a 382-horsepower turbocharged inline-six that rockets this SUV to 60 mph in 4.1 seconds. As impressive as that stand-alone number is, the fact that it flirts with lighter and more powerful V-8–equipped Ford Mustangs and Chevrolet Camaros is bonkers. Those Detroit-bred icons will nudge ahead of the X3’s 12.8-second and 107-mph quarter-mile pass, but they can’t fit 24 carry-on-size boxes in their cargo hold while doing so.
Behind the X3’s new-for-2022 headlights and larger kidney grille, BMW’s ubiquitous and robust B58 3.0-liter gives a 27-hp bump over the inline-six BMW used before the 2020 model year. The engine’s ability to transform from smooth operation to a lag-free wallop of torque never fails to impress. Nor does the ZF eight-speed automatic, which has a relaxed demeanor under normal operation that mutates into an ability to snap off rapid-fire gearchanges when it’s time for business. The powertrain has been augmented by a newly added 48-volt hybrid system that fills lulls of the engine’s powerband, but if it weren’t for the buttery auto stop/start operation, its presence beneath the hood would go undetected.
Even with the electric motor and its accompanying battery, the X3 M40i weighs in at a svelte 4378 pounds, just 70 more than the previous M40i. Being from the junior reach of BMW’s M performance tuning outfit, the X3 M40i comes standard with M Sport disc brakes measuring 13.7 inches up front and 13.6 inches in the rear. Our test car rolled on the optional ($600) 20-inch Bridgestone Alenza 001 RFT summer tires, which helped it stop from 70 mph in a tidy 158 feet. Also standard on the M40i are BMW’s Adaptive M dampers, which keep the body largely in check as the Bridgestones cling to the skidpad at 0.88 g while the optional electronically controlled limited-slip differential maximizes available traction on the rear axle.
Although the M40i puts on a dynamic showcase at the track, it comes at great cost in daily use. BMW has yet to tune electrically assisted power steering to our liking—it’s as if a Porsche or Cadillac product has never graced its benchmark fleet. The steering rack’s hyperactive response to inputs from the thick M Sport steering wheel requires frequent midcorner corrections, and there’s just no sense of what the front wheels are doing. And we’d love to tour the glassy road BMW employs to sign off on the adaptive damper tuning, because in the real world, the dampers’ two modes may as well be labeled Spine Compression and Rigor Mortis.
The interior has undergone subtle changes for the mid-cycle refresh, including a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and a touchscreen infotainment display. With an as-tested price of $64,990, our lightly optioned X3 M40i lacked high-tech niceties such as adaptive cruise, wireless charging, and 360-degree-view camera system. The front seats don’t offer the comfort of those in the Genesis GV70, nor does the interior overall have the same level of opulence as the Korean luxury brand.
While the M40i shines as a performance machine, it’s too narrowly focused. Other manufacturers have sorted out how to make their sporty SUVs drive smaller than their profile suggests without compromising regular use, but the M40i falls short of the mark. The X3 may only be one launch-control start away from embarrassing an unsuspecting muscle car, but it’s a few lines of code away from greatness.