2023 BMW X3 M Review and Test Drive
Business or pleasure, the X3 M lets you have both.
After a dismal red-eye flight, I arrived in Detroit to experience what I hoped would be a brighter mode of transport: driving a 2023 BMW X3 of the M variety.
According to BMW, M "is the most powerful letter in the world." In reality, the company started using the letter "M" to denote "motorsport": the M division of BMW also focused on the automaker's racing teams. The 1984 arrival of the M5 changed that. With that original M5, track-developed engineering became available in a street car. Since then, M has served as a symbol of BMW performance, even if it's now emblazoned on everything from a small coupe to a midsize SUV.
BMW X3 M Price Rises Fast With Options
The 2023 X3 M BMW provided to me had all the extras, including the Competition package, which equips the X3 M with more power and several exclusive upgrades.
In addition, the test vehicle came with the Driving Assistance Pro, Executive, and M Driver's packages; M Shadowline lights; wireless device charging; and a premium LeMans Blue paint color available through the BMW Individual custom-tailoring program.
BMW X3 M prices start from the mid-$70,000s, including the destination charge to ship it to your local dealership from the Spartanburg, South Carolina, factory that builds it. However, all the extras on my test vehicle brought the manufacturer's suggested retail price to $93,245, including the $995 destination fee.
I conducted this 2023 BMW X3 M review in southeast Michigan.
Styling Differences Between X3 and X3 M Add Form and Function
There are, of course, design distinctions between the X3 and X3 M. And there should be, given the significant markup between an entry-level, rear-wheel-drive X3 and a high-performance, all-wheel-drive X3 M. Notably, the X3 M features oversized air intakes necessary for engine cooling. But with a broader central cavity and deep side dimples, the SUV looks like half of its face is missing.
The X3 M also receives exclusive 20-inch wheels (21s with the Competition package), performance tires; quad-outlet tailpipes; carbon-fiber trim; and aerodynamic extras such as an M-specific front lip, rear spoiler, and body-colored side skirts. The exterior design is all-around muscular and aggressive, but not so much that it's off-putting.
BMW X3 M Interior Has Unexpectedly Inexpensive Fittings
The X3 M's interior exhibits as much performance as it does luxury. BMW features the iconic tricolor M stripes on the seat belts and in the contrast stitching of the steering wheel, and the M logos on the head restraints illuminate. There are various interior materials, including supple genuine leather, carbon-fiber decor, piano-black finishes, and, uh, cheap plastic.
Overall, the X3 M's cabin layout is a driver's delight, with everything angled toward the left front seat. Also, you can access frequently used features such as the audio system, phone connectivity, and safety systems in multiple ways, including the center console switchgear, steering-wheel-mounted buttons, iDrive Controller, voice commands, and gesture control.
The ergonomic BMW iDrive Controller is large and has a textured outer edge for added grip, but it also looks and feels low rent. Yes, it's the same dial used in other BMWs, but I'd prefer it to feel more substantial in a model pushing close to six figures. Instead, when I tapped my fingers on the dial, the reverberation played a hollow tune. To be fair, the cabin's piano-black and silver finishes echo the same sound, but at least they appear expensive.
The X3 M Interior Could Put the Squeeze on Taller People
BMW wrapped my test vehicle's sport seats in a mash-up of Merino leather and Alcantara simulated suede. They were comfortable, supportive, and eye-catching. The front- and rear-seat inserts displayed a color-contrasting quilt-like pattern, and it's too bad the decoration didn't appear elsewhere, like on the door panels. That would've elevated the cabin's appeal.
In addition to traditional adjustments, the power-adjustable front seats offer lumbar and thigh-support adjustments. In addition, a multi-zone climate-control system means rear passengers have their own hot and cold buttons to fight over. With the Executive package, every occupant except the person in the middle of the back seat can enjoy heated cushions.
Regarding roominess, rear legroom might be a squeeze if taller people occupy every seat. Front legroom is good at 40.3 inches but shrinks to 36.4 in the rear. With the front seat positioned all the way back, my 5-foot-2-inch frame only had breathing room, thanks to the sport seats' curved-back design.
BMW X3 M Cargo Space Provides Plenty of Utility to Go With All the Sportiness
There is, however, sufficient space for schlepping, with plenty of cupholders, usable door pockets and bins, and even weird nooks like a teeny but deep slot I noticed within the center console. What was it meant to hold? Euros? Tollbooth tokens? I'm not sure, but it did capture random bits of trash pretty well.
Where you won't be digging through things is the rear cargo area. The X3 M offers 28.7 cubic-feet of cargo room behind the second-row seats and up to 62.7 cu-ft with them folded down. According to automotive publication Car and Driver, that's enough cargo space to fit as many as 20 carry-on-sized suitcases with the seatbacks folded.
Speaking of storage, BMW provides you with a hands-free power liftgate. A power liftgate is standard X3 fare, but I accidentally learned about the hands-free function on the X3 M. As I removed items from the rear, my foot movement triggered the liftgate to close. Of course, I wasn't expecting this, so I quickly ducked in surprise.
Go Ahead and Speak BMW iDrive Voice Commands in a Natural Way
The X3 M has much more exciting technology than a hands-free power liftgate. For starters, in the X3 M, both the digital instrument cluster and touchscreen measure 12.3 inches across. And the graphics are as impressive as the processing speeds.
BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant is standard and is a long-winded way of saying the voice in the box understands naturally spoken speech, even distinguishing between the driver and passenger. There's no need to hit the talk button, either. Use the programmed wake phrase of "Hey, BMW" (or create your own), and the X3 M will pleasantly greet you, asking how it can be of service. And it's stellar.
Being able to use voice activation without needing to memorize specific prompts eases the frustrations of commuting. Even with the windows down and traveling at 20 mph, I said, "Hey, BMW. Head-up display." Although my grammar was poor, the X3 M understood and up popped the HUD settings. Brilliant. I used the iDrive Controller to adjust the screen brightness within seconds. BMW is notorious for its exhaustive infotainment menus, but the digital assistant can spare you the scroll.
The only significant technical glitch I experienced was with the navigation system. At one point, I had the native BMW system and Google Maps via my smartphone providing directions. While BMW's cloud-based system gave the all-clear, Google kept trying to reroute me. I decided to follow BMW's directive. I chose poorly. The X3 M navigation system failed to acknowledge a road closure (one that didn't happen overnight) while Google Maps tried to redirect me. Eventually, I had to detour even though BMW's map insisted I continue straight ahead.
Seamless Safety Tech Combines With Impressive Crash-Test Ratings
The X3 M has a standard Active Driving Assistant system, which bundles:
- Forward-collision warning
- Automatic emergency braking
- Blind-spot monitoring
- Lane-departure warning
- Speed limit information system
In addition, the SUV includes front and rear Park Distance Control parking sensors, automatic high-beam headlights, and a rearview camera.
The optional Driving Assistance Pro package adds:
- Extended Traffic Jam Assist
- Steering and Lane Keeping Assist
- Lane Change Assist
- Emergency Stop Assist
- Evasion Aid
Beneath the touchscreen is the Intelligent Safety quick-access button, marked by a circled vehicle icon. When lit up green, all the advanced driving-assistance systems (ADAS) are active. The button glows orange if some are switched off. No color signifies no active safety systems. Drivers can program the ADAS settings, but they also change depending on the driving mode. For example, in the M Mode Track program, all the safety nannies are sent home.
I welcome the nannies, though. Thanks to them, an early morning 45-minute jaunt to Toledo, Ohio, felt like 20. I felt groggy initially, but with the Driving Assistant Pro systems turned on and in use, I almost missed my exit. That's how smooth, accurate, and trustworthy the tech is.
Keep in mind this is Level 2, hands-on, semi-autonomous driving technology. Let go of the steering wheel, and within six seconds, the green "go" color scheme of the instrument cluster will change to 15 seconds of caution yellow. Four seconds later, a flashing red "no" color theme displays before the nannies switch everything off and force you to take control.
As of publication, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has not yet assigned any ratings to this version of the X3.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety doesn't list the M variant as a separate model. The 2023 X3 models that have been tested earn a Top Safety Pick+ rating, the agency's highest safety score.
BMW X3 M Competition Specs
The point of the BMW X3 M is not how good a commuter car it is. The point is that "M" in its name. So, how does the top-of-the-line X3 perform? It's ridiculously powerful.
The X3 M has a turbocharged 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine producing 473 horsepower and 457 pound-feet of torque. Add the Competition package to the order form and the turbo six delivers 503 horsepower and 479 lb-ft. Truly the top-end of the lineup, the X3 M Competition has twice the oomph of the base X3, which musters no more than 248 horsepower and 258 lb-ft.
All that power, standard xDrive all-wheel drive, and an eight-speed M Sport automatic transmission make the X3 M undoubtedly fast. According to BMW, its zero-to-60 mph time is 3.9 seconds, and Competition spec shaves two-tenths off that number.
The automaker electronically limits the top speed to 155 mph, except my test vehicle had the optional M Driver's package. With that upgrade, the max speed is 177 mph, and you get a voucher for driver training at one of three U.S. BMW Performance Centers.
You're gonna need it.
What It's Like to Drive the BMW X3 M
The BMW X3 M is remarkably quick. Triple-digit speeds in double-digit time are as effortless as blinking, and those extra pound-feet provide punchy acceleration.
Don't let the automatic transmission fool you: The shifts are accurate and smooth. Use the gear selector or paddle shifters to go manual, which I tried and enjoyed. If you have small hands as I do, however, be aware that the paddle shifters are tucked so far behind the steering wheel that you might have to shift with your fingertips.
You can choose from several M Mode settings to calibrate the X3 M's behavior. Road and Sport are what you'll use for everyday driving. Track requires an extended press of the M Mode button on the steering wheel and is not for the streets. In fact, the onscreen disclaimer explicitly states, "Do not use on public roads."
Yes, you can still activate it. But you shouldn't, because it's not fun unless you can safely go wide-open throttle. Public roads have speed limits, stop signs, traffic lights, and pedestrians. And with the ADAS deactivated, you risk going sideways in the wrong place at the wrong time. Trust me: Road and Sport modes provide plenty of satisfying performance.
Road mode programs the engine for Efficiency, the chassis for Comfort, and the steering for Comfort. However, in the X3 M, comfort means tight, precise steering paired with a stiff suspension. You. Will. Feel. Every. Bump. And. Bruise. Of. The. Road. If you were expecting a cushy ride in Road mode, you will be sorely disappointed.
It won't be a quiet experience, either. On the highway, noise seeped into the cabin. I couldn't determine if it was coming from the windshield, tires, or something else. Driving on the notoriously ill-maintained Michigan roads didn't help.
Switch over to Sport mode, and the setup puts everything into Sport tuning, including xDrive. Sport mode also turns off the dynamic stability control, replacing it with M Dynamic Mode. But that's the least of your concerns. Where Road mode makes smooth surfaces feel slightly uncomfortable, Sport makes any uneven byways almost unbearable. What's the good news? Reverting to Road from Sport feels like driving on a cloud.
Lastly, high-performance vehicles aren't known to be gas misers. The 2023 X3 M fuel economy ratings are an EPA-estimated 15/20/17 mpg city/highway/combined. But after more than 230 miles of mixed driving and sporadic drive mode changes, I averaged 20.2 mpg. Who knew this fast SUV would outperform on fuel efficiency, too.
Brilliant for the Right Kind of Buyer
To enjoy the BMW X3 M, you should not compare it with the standard X3 or any other compact luxury SUV. Instead, compare it with a sports car, because it acts and sounds like one.
BMW M buyers are not looking for comfort; they're looking to conquer. Corners, lap times, on- and off-ramps, winding roads in the middle of nowhere — all are for the taking. In that respect, the 2023 BMW X3 M checks the boxes while being functional enough to carry physical boxes. Quite a few, in fact. Luxury is standard. Performance is phenomenal. Technology is near perfect. Practicality is a bonus. Ride comfort is, eh, subpar.