OPINION | The BMW X3 M40i might be the best SUV for executives looking to downsize

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2021 BMW X3 M40i
2021 BMW X3 M40i
  • 285kW and 500Nm 3.0-litre straight-six petrol engine is one of the best you can buy right now.
  • Surprisingly light on fuel and comes with several driving modes to help you get the best out of it.
  • Luxurious levels of standard equipment in M40i trim, but you can make it bespoke with several options.
  • For motoring news, go to Wheels24

If you purchased a premium, large SUV around four or five years ago, such as a BMW X5, and you're currently in the market to change that vehicle for something new of similar size, perhaps another X5, you might have realised that pricing has stepped up significantly.

In fact, in the premium car segment, prices have gone up so much that you might pay twice as much for a new vehicle as you did for it half a decade ago. Regardless of whether you can afford to spend millions and millions of rands for a replacement vehicle, it might make more sense for you to scale back, if possible, if you're looking to preserve some of your wealth for the future.

Our recent test drive of the facelifted 2021 BMW X3 M40i showed us that the baby brother to the X5 offers just as much luxury, technology and head-turning ability, not to mention brute force. Although it's still an expensive car at around R1,4 million, the new X3 M40i serves as proof that you can have one of the best driving experiences in the world, with loads of space for the family, without having to spend money on a V8, or a full-blown M car.

2021 BMW X3 M40i
2021 BMW X3 M40i

Here are three reasons why the new X3 M40i is a genuine contender for executives who are looking to scale back but not miss out on performance or pedigree:

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2021 BMW X3 M40i
2021 BMW X3 M40i

1. It's a stunning thing to look at

BMW's latest styling changes have made X3 look even better to our eyes. The kidney grilles don't offend people in terms of their size, the wheels aren't ridiculously large (ours were 21-inch), and the overall silhouette of the vehicle is very pleasing and timeless. Yes, it looks modern thanks to crisp LED lights and sharp metal creases, but it's not too over the top, and it will undoubtedly age gracefully.

Even inside the car, it's a fantastic piece of design that will appeal to any that loves premium materials. Even some of the more rigid black plastics at the bottom of the doors felt decent quality in this car. Of course, as it is a press car, it was laden with options, but not too much in interior trim pieces. We appreciated that it's not trying to look too racy and over the top in terms of carbon trims and aluminium trims. We think it looks much nicer than the full-fat X3M because it still attracts attention, but it doesn't scream and shout 'race me' at every traffic light. 

2021 BMW X3 M40i
2021 BMW X3 M40i
2021 BMW X3 M40i
2021 BMW X3 M40i
2021 BMW X3 M40i
2021 BMW X3 M40i

2. Loaded with features and then some

The new X3 models come with BMW's latest operating system for multimedia. Our M40i supported wireless Apple CarPlay, and we could keep our phone battery topped up at all times while using the car's nifty wireless charging pad. We also used the vehicle's voice control to set and change climate control temperatures. With Siri, when CarPlay was active, we could even respond to WhatsApp messages using natural language voice processing. Most vehicles that support CarPlay will support WhatsApp voice control, but this was the first time in my experience where the car could accurately hear and decipher each of my words.

In terms of standard kit, the X3 M40 is well appointed with the must-haves, such as electric windows, power steering, a raft of driver assistance systems and safety systems and a fast-reacting all-wheel-drive system. Our car came with a lovely panoramic glass roof, but we're unsure if it's standard in this model as the previous evaluator removed the vehicle's spec sheet. The sliding roof allows lots of light into the cabin, making it a joyful place to spend time with the family. The car's sporty seats proved comfortable for short journeys, but the base of the driver's seat did feel like it could be too firm for long trips. We yearned for nothing in the X3 M40i, and we think you will be impressed by its level of features. Consider it this way, this range-topping X3 M40i with high-end features will cost the same as an entry-level X5.

2021 BMW X3 M40i
2021 BMW X3 M40i
2021 BMW X3 M40i
2021 BMW X3 M40i

3. Performance to please the purist

I guess the most memorable part of the whole X3 M40i test drive experience was that it drove like a proper sporty BMW. Its 3.0-litre straight-six turbo engine does duty in so many of BMW's vehicles, but it's is tuned to perfection here. There's almost no turbo lag, and it revs beyond 7000rpm, as though it were some naturally-aspirated sports car. We were amazed by how the vehicle was able to gather its skirt and overtake. It offers better tractability than the previous X3M that we tested. We remember the M version coming into its torque zone much higher up in the rev range, which is excellent in sedan or coupe but not in a two-ton SUV. 

Combined with its slick-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission and xDrive all-wheel-drive, you'll be able to sprint from 0 to 100km/h in just 4.5 seconds and on to an electronically limited top speed of 250km/h. We managed to leave behind so many hot hatch chancers between the lights as they would keep pestering us (and one Grand Cherokee SRT 8), for that matter. Seriously though, for a road-going family SUV with luggage space for a weekend away, you can't get better than this. The blend of performance, noise, feel through the steering and driver's seat, and its overall setup and balance make it such a pleasure to pilot that once you've driven it, you might not want to drive another sedan ever again.

2021 BMW X3 M40i
2021 BMW X3 M40i

Overall summary

We mentioned that the X3 M40i might be an ideal replacement for X5 drivers, and similar, to consider as a cost-effective solution. You can still enjoy the thundering performance you're used to in this car without having to fork out lots of money. For instance, an X5 M50i with a V8 engine will set you back around R1,8 million, and while it's 'only' R400 000 more than the X3 M40i, the V8 will use much more fuel and minimal performance benefit. Sure, you'll get slightly more space in an X5, but the X3 is also quite generous in terms of area. 

We enjoyed the wide-opening doors that made it easy to get the kids in and out, and it was elementary to move child seats in and out of the car and just live with it as a daily driver. When BMW's fleet guys came to fetch the vehicle from the Wheels24 test car garage, I noticed we'd been averaging 10 litres per 100 kilometres, which was fantastic considering we used its performance when it was safe to do so. BMW says it will sip as little as 8.9 litres per 100 kilometres, and we don't doubt that. Seriously, if you're looking for a premium car that will suit your executive lifestyle, there's no need to stretch to an X5 anymore because the X3 has everything you will need, particularly in the M40i guise.

All BMW X3 models come with a five-year or 100 000km BMW Motorplan. The X3 M40i currently sells for R1 415 042.

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