The 2018 BMW X3 M40i proves worthy of the M badge

The 2018 BMW X3 M40i is the first SUV to wear the M badge.
The 2018 BMW X3 M40i. –BMW

The 2018 BMW X3 M40i sits at the top of the X3 lineup. Reserved for its most performance-oriented variants, putting an M badge onto an SUV is a big deal. It comes with high expectations, and the X3 meets those expectations — and then some.

While the standard engine in the X3 is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 248 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, the M40i gets a 3.0-liter turbocharged six-cylinder with 355 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque. That’s no small power jump, and it makes this SUV a heck of a lot of fun to drive, going from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 4.6 seconds.

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Press on the accelerator, and the X3 wastes no time responding with aggressive acceleration whether you’re simply pulling away from a stoplight or having fun getting up to highway speeds. Need a little extra power for passing? The X3 M40i happily complies.

This is every bit a performance SUV. There’s a smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission that does its job quietly in the background. You can do the work yourself if you prefer with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, but the shift-mapping is so well done, you’ll likely want to let the vehicle handle that job.

Adding to the performance aesthetic is an exhaust note that will put a smile on your face just by pressing the start button. Its loud burble gets even louder under hard acceleration and provides an ever-present performance thrum to the X3 M40i drive experience.

Rounding out that experience is a sporty ride with handling to match. Our test car included adaptive M suspension that kept the ride smooth and composed even over rougher road surfaces. It takes a good-sized pothole for the X3 to take notice, and even then, it’s only for the briefest of moments. The ride fits the X3’s luxury status by ensuring passengers are comfortable even when the road surface is less than ideal.

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Handling walks the line between sporty and relaxed, hitting just the right spot in the middle. Steering is tight and responsive, so little effort is required to keep the X3 pointed in the direction you want to go. It’s never soft, though. Small corrections are all it takes, which makes the prospect of taking a tight curve or winding country road incredibly appealing.

The interior of the X3 M40i is a beautiful place to spend some time. There are 14-way power-adjustable front seats with four-way power lumbar, rich leather seating surfaces, leather trims on the sport steering wheel and dashboard, and ambient lighting for those nighttime drives. Rear-seat passengers are not forgotten with ample room for three adults on supportive seats that are optionally heated for cold winter mornings.

Our test model came with a base price of $54,300 with several option packages that upped the luxury and the price. The Driving Assistance Package for $900 added blind-spot detection and lane-departure warning. The Premium Package, which runs $2,950, added a heated steering wheel, heated front and rear seats, navigation, and heads-up display.

There was also the Executive Package with parking assistant plus, active-park distance control, surround-view camera, and gesture control for $2,550. Then there’s the one option that makes everyone scratch their head: If you want Apple CarPlay, which many consider a must-have feature for seamless smartphone compatibility, then you have to fork over $300 for the privilege.

Final price on our test model came to $65,920.

Crossovers and SUVs are today’s go-to cars, and they’re generally not as sporty to drive as sedans. That doesn’t mean people don’t want sporty SUVs, more that it’s just hard to find one that does the job well. The 2018 BMW X3 M40i proudly wears its M badge. It delivers the utility of a SUV with the sportiness of a sedan that’s sure to get your heart racing.

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Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the 2018 BMW X3 M40i was the first BMW to get an M badge. Additionally, this story previously stated that the M40i has a V6 engine, instead of an inline six-cylinder. Both updates have been made. Boston.com regrets the errors.