There seems no limit to our appetite for SUVs in Australia.
Not even ones that deliver huge performance at a huge price. Which means BMW’s latest offerings, the X3 M and X4 M, are going to find more than a few homes in Australia.
In fact, the X3 M is expected to become the biggest-selling M ‘car’ of them all, here and overseas. But does it deserve to be?
What is it?
M is the tuning arm of BMW, fulfilling the same role AMG does for arch-rival Mercedes-Benz. Fundamentally, that job is to take the standard model and turn it into something with a significantly more sporting focus. That usually involves more power and a different suspension and steering tune.
In this case it’s the X3 mid-size SUV that’s been given the once-over, along with its non-identical twin, the X4. The X3 is the wagon and the X4 is the hatchback.
Why is it important?
The X3 is the biggest selling BMW model in Australia, so it makes sense the X3 M is going to do the same job among the sports derivatives, outselling even such famous offerings as the M3 sedan and M4 coupe.
Along with the X4 it debuts a new generation 3.0-litre turbo-petrol engine that will also see service in the next M3 and M4, which don’t get here until 2020.
The X3 M and X4 M also deliver BMW head-to-head rivals for the Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 wagon and coupe, along with many other high-cost, high-performance SUVs.
The X3 M will set you back $157,900 and the X4 M $164,900.
Each is a substantial step up from the mainstream models they are based on. You can get into an X3 for as little as $62,900 and an X4 for $76,900. At least they are cheaper than the GLC 63 ($172,000), although at this stratospheric level that doesn’t count for a lot.
BMW Australia offers a three year/unlimited kilometre warranty, while servicing can be pre-paid for five years and 80,000km.
If you think that warranty is underdone, you’re right. While mainstream manufacturers have pushed up to five years, the luxury brands lag behind.
What do the BMW X3 M and X4 M get?
Australian X3 and X4 Ms come in the higher ‘competition’ specification. That means they arrive here with a bit of extra horsepower, bigger 21-inch wheels and some styling touches.
The new 375kW/600Nm engine drives all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission and a rear-wheel drive oriented all-wheel drive system.
Standard safety equipment includes six airbags, tyre pressure monitoring, adaptive LED headlights and autonomous emergency braking that will bring the vehicle to a stop – unlike some lesser BMWs where you pay extra for that feature.
There’s also active cruise control and a swag of other driver assistants that add up to deliver this car semi-autonomous capability. Basically, it can drive down a straight road by itself for about 30 seconds before demanding you put your hands back on the steering wheel.
Significant standard comfort equipment includes a panoramic sunroof, sat-nav, a power tailgate, tri-zone climate control, a 16-speaker Harmon/Kardon sound system, a head up display and wireless phone charging.
What do we like?
Gotta be honest, not that much.
The X3 M retains the generous space of the base model, but that hardly justifies the spend of up to an extra $100,000.
Both Ms present well inside but… see above.
On a winding road the X3 M can be enjoyable to drive. But only if the surface is smooth and the multi-mode suspension and steering are set to ‘Comfort’ (the other settings being Sport and Sport+).
What we don’t like
Traditionally, the problem with high-performance SUVs is they are too tall and heavy to deliver the sort of driving enjoyment lower slung and lighter traditional cars deliver.
Recently, the Porsche Macan and the GLC 63 have gone some way to proving that does not always apply. They are both 2.0-tonne SUVs that will put a smile on your face.
But not the BMWs. The new engine feels muted under the claimed 1970kg kerb weight of either model, the suspension is harsh over any bump, even in Comfort mode and especially in the back seat. The steering requires effort in Comfort and is gut-bustingly heavy in the Sport modes.
And to add insult, you’ll pay $625 for three years’ permission to access Apple CarPlay on your iPhone. Yes, you read that right. Android Auto isn’t offered at all.
Buy it or not?
The X3 M and X4 M simply don’t deliver the high-quality driving experience the BMW M badge stands for and their expensive pricing promises.
The only rider is this drive took place overseas, so maybe the experience will be better on local roads. It certainly needs to be.
But as it stands, there are better X3 and X4s at cheaper prices and better performance SUVs from other brands at around the same price.