Nobody could have predicted their success. Combining a high centre of gravity with a powerful engine is a recipe for disaster in anyone’s book but performance SUVs have gone on to prove that this formula can work. There was a time when the sole purpose of the first, humble, SUV’s existence was to accommodate its occupants in comfort and take them from point A to point B with minimal fuss. Now, it’s all about taking them everywhere as quickly as possible with their ‘utility’ aspects being shunned in the name of speed — indeed many of the latest on offer would be more at home at the Green Hell rather than the greens of the countryside. If your neighbours haven’t been venturing off the beaten path with you in their trusty family hauler lately it’s probably because they’re at the drag strip instead. Here, you’ll likely find dads with their teeth clenched and foot floored setting quarter mile records in models such as the Jaguar F-Pace S, Audi SQ5 and Mercedes-AMG GLC43. BMW, no stranger to this class of car, has reacted by fortifying its third-generation X3 with the ‘halfway-house’ grade of fast cars in the form of M Performance. The resultant M40i might not be a full-blown M-car, but, you could have fooled me...

 

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Photos: Stefan Lindeque

The acceleration will leave you wide-eyed. The response when you nail the throttle is instantaneous. This is the first M Performance variant of the X3 and it sure will worry the likes of the F-Pace S, SQ5 and AMG GLC43 as it benefits from lots of M-performance goodies. This range-topper uses the familiar 3.0-litre turbocharged straight-six to deliver a whopping 355bhp and 500Nm of torque. Is a full M version even necessary? Well, that one will be coming soon but in the meantime this mid-sized premium SUV (sorry, “Sports Activity Vehicle”) will keep enthusiasts very happy what with a standard-fit xDrive all-wheel drive which now has a more pronounced rear bias than on the other model versions, slick eight-speed Sport Steptronic auto and its ability to hit 100kph from rest in just 4.8 seconds.

The fact it has a top speed of 250kph shouldn’t be smirked at either but this isn’t all about straight-line pace; it can corner with aplomb too.

The fact it has a top speed of 250kph shouldn’t be smirked at either but this isn’t all about straight-line pace; it can corner with aplomb too. The suspension has been toughened up to be able to handle the higher lateral g-forces and it packs stronger M Performance brakes (with blue callipers) to help rein in all those horses. With a longer wheelbase than the second-gen X3 (54mm), this has led to a subtle shift in weight distribution, which is put at a claimed 50:50 front-to-rear and it is 55kg lighter. The Sports exhaust doesn’t sound half bad but louder than this is the enhanced exterior which has an M Performance lower body kit, enlarged front air intakes, a boot spoiler and a set of large 20in wheels wrapped with low-profile tyres. It looks the part that’s for certain. Even though the steering feels a tad too heavy in Sport Plus, it doesn’t detract from what this essentially is — and that is a brilliant machine that goes like a proper M-car but which can also be sedate enough for town duties (there is a Comfort mode for when you don’t feel like attacking every single corner and wish for a more relaxed driving experience). The multi-stage adaptive dampers iron out all of the road imperfections to ensure the ride is always smooth. Indeed, the whole family will enjoy this one especially as the interior offers impressive amounts of space, tech and luxury. It feels ever so roomy too thanks to the huge panoramic glass moonroof bathing the cabin with light while the boot’s very spacious at 550 litres, and comes with an automatic tailgate. Everything is where it should be and that includes the revised iDrive controller that operates the latest BMW interface which is ever so intuitive along with a 10.25in touchscreen that is crystal clear. It even has Apple CarPlay and Gesture Control. Comfort and safety features have been improved with an Active Protection pre-collision detection system, standard sport seats, automatic three-zone climate control, and reclining rear seats. It has a plethora of semi-automated driving features including lane keeping assist, steering assist, and active cruise con-trol meaning it’s pretty smart too.

 

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Photos: Stefan Lindeque

Photos: Stefan Lindeque

The X3 has found a new level of power and performance in this M40i guise. It isn’t just a thrilling machine, it is luxurious and practical too. That upcoming X3 M is going to have to be brilliant to better it.

 

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