After George Lucas watched a rough cut of Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace, the director infamously said, “I may have gone too far in a few places.” This, I fear, is what BMW has done with the 2022 X3 M Competition. Much like The Phantom Menace, this BMW has all the building blocks to be great, but falls short in its delivery.
(Full Disclosure: BMW loaned me a brand-new 2022 X3 M Competition with a full tank of gas to drive for a week. Everyone say thank you in unison!)
If you’re buying a BMW X3 M Competition, you’re going to want to know exactly what that package brings to the table.A base X3 comes with a 248-hp 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder engine and rear-wheel drive starting at $45,400. If you step up to the X3 M40i, you’ll get a 382-hp 3.0-liter turbo straight-six for $59,950. Bump that number up to $72,900 for the X3 M, with 473 hp and 457 lb-ft of torque from a twin-turbo 3.0-liter six. From there, pony up $7,000 and you get the Competition package. All-in, my tester came out to $87,345.
When you step up to the M Competition, that delicious S58 engine gets boosted to 503 horsepower and 479 lb-ft of torque. That’ll drop the manufacturer-claimed 0-60 time from 4.1 seconds for the X3 M to 3.9 seconds for the Competition model, and raise the top speed from 155 mph to 177. The X3 M Competition also gets a retuned transmission and upgraded turbos.
The BMW X3 is a rather good crossover. My mother has one. My girlfriend’s family has two. I’m well acquainted with the platform and what it has to offer. Beneath all of the M add-ons, there is a good family vehicle here, and if you can excuse a brutal ride and even more brutal seats, the X3 M Competition might just work for you. I, however, couldn’t get it to work for me.
During my 600-mile trip with the X3 M Comp, I covered just about every sort of driving condition a normal person would encounter: highways, urban gridlock, and suburban errand-running. At no point did the X3 M Competition feel at home. On a smooth highway, the ride is incredibly bouncy. The 255-section front tires found any excuse to tramline. If you like your suspension harder than college-level calculus, this is the crossover for you. The Competition chassis tuning will serve its purpose when the going gets twisty. But if you have an X3, the going probably isn’t super twisty that often. That means you’ve got all of the drawbacks of incredibly firm suspension with few opportunities to enjoy the benefits. It’s a sacrifice I wouldn’t be willing to make, personally.
Anyone who wants a midsize luxury crossover for typical family-car duty would absolutely be better served by a base X3. If you want X3 comfort with a bunch more power, you can hop up to the X3 M40i. If I had three wishes, one of them would be for BMW to put the Competition engine into a normal X3.
The interior is typical BMW – very high quality materials laid out very logically. It isn’t drastically different from the regular X3. Sure, there are a few added pieces of carbon fiber trim, BMW M stitching and a bright red starter button. Is it a bit cooler? Certainly, but like most BMW M cars, the X3 M’s interior isn’t terribly different from the vehicle it’s based on.
My biggest gripe inside the car has to do with some absolute nonsense: the front seats. They’re unique to the Competition package, and while they may look good and provide tons of lateral support, I wouldn’t go near them ever again.
At no point could I ever get comfortable in the X3 M Competition’s seats. The bolstering by your thighs is so extreme, it forces your right leg inwards, no longer aligned with the gas pedal. It created a horrible pinching sensation in my hip that I would not wish on any person. If everything else in the X3 M Competition was fine, the seats would have been enough to keep me out of this vehicle.
I know the X3 M Competition is no normal BMW. I know it’s supposed to be the sportiest X3 you can buy, and BMW built it this way on purpose. That’s my issue: I don’t think this type of car needs to be built.No one in their right mind needs 503 horsepower and bone-crushing suspension in an X3 — and that’s coming from me, a person who feels the 702-hp Ram TRX should have even more power. It’s a shame, too, because the BMW’s 3.0-liter twin-turbo straight six is lovely. But it overstays its welcome in the X3 M Comp.
At no point does the engine shut up, even when you put it in 8th gear and turn the valved exhaust to its quietest mode. If that’s what you like in a car, go with God. To me, that’s the last thing I’d want in a family five-seat crossover.
I realize I don’t speak for everyone. BMW sells just about every high-performance special-edition vehicle it can make. The X3 M Competition clearly appeals to someone — the buyer who wants a hardcore BMW sports sedan, but needs (or prefers) a crossover. Still, during my entire time with this vehicle, I couldn’t help but think it all would have been a lot better with normal seats and normal suspension. It would have done just as good a job at what I tasked the X3 M Competition with, while being more bearable in the process.
With the X3 M Competition, BMW seems to have forgotten why people buy X3s. It’s a compact SUV, an urban runabout, meant to be comfortable and practical with maybe just a tinge of BMW sportiness baked in. It’s not supposed to be a hard-edged sports car wannabe with a nausea-inducing suspension and needlessly over-bolstered seats.
In an effort to go all-out on performance, BMW compromised the X3, and it suffers because of it. If I wanted stiff suspension and a peaky engine, there are numerous models in BMW’s lineup that fit that bill. The X3 just doesn’t. BMW clearly went too far in the performance direction, at the expense of everything else.
When George Lucas wrote Episode I, he was clearly thinking about what he assumed people liked about Star Wars: the force, the lightsabers, the weird guys with cloaks, and – this was the fatal mistake – the geopolitics. He focused completely on those things while forgetting the need for a coherent story.What we got was a hodgepodge of weird ideas, bright lights, lightsaber noises and battles too big to mean anything. Lucas lost the plot.
It’s the same with the X3 M Competition. BMW lost sight of what an X3 is supposed to be. The spine-shattering suspension, the seats that bolster you to death, the tires with so little sidewall they transmit every pebble directly to your brain stem, the engine that sounded so out-of-character with this vehicle that passengers asked me if it was broken — any of these elements, on their own, could have worked. Put them together in an X3, and you get one very strange ride.
I wouldn’t tell you not to buy a BMW X3 M Competition, just like I wouldn’t tell you not to watch The Phantom Menace. I’ll just give you one simple warning: it’s probably not going to be what you’re expecting.