2018 BMW X3 M40i: Unsuspecting, Surprising and Shocking
The last BMW that you would ever expect somehow manages to showcase glimpses of brands classic virtues.
BMW is in an interesting place as a company. There is a massive shift in the brand’s philosophy of designing and building cars. Classic BMW cars featured well-built, no-nonsense interiors, simple, yet handsome styling, smooth engines and an emphasis on adept handling. A well-sorted BMW has always offered some of the finest steering feel around.
But, times are a-changin’, and BMW isn’t exempt from this. Their vehicles have traded simple, clean design for swooping lines and busy behinds. The interiors don’t seem quite as well-built, and they traded the no-nonsense bit (begrudgingly) for splashes of tech. Those smooth engines are still there, though all of them now feature direct-fuel injection and turbocharging. As for adept handling, it’s become a mixed bag, really. If the car isn’t adorned with 18 M badges, then it’s likely going to be a floaty, understeering mess. If your Bavarian chariot does have the grab bag of M thrown at it, then you may be in for a wild, and sometimes bumpy, ride. Oh, that legendary steering feel? That’s gone, too. Even the almighty BMW M3 has a poorly-calibrated electric power steering system.
Lest you think I hate the brand entirely, my caveat is this: I currently own two BMWs, from two different eras. One is naturally-aspirated, the other is more modern, featuring twin-turbocharging. Both feature lovely hydraulic power steering racks. Only one features any sort of M badging on it, and it’s mainly interior garnish.
Naturally, I don’t live in a world of doom, gloom and hopeless despair, so I can acknowledge that the BMW of today has learned a few lessons from previous mistakes. There are a few really great cars that shine through the model line up.
This one was unexpected.
The BMW X3 is another BMW that has swollen in size and gone soft. However, unlike an M3, I actually don’t mind this.
Comparing a 2004 X3 (it’s inception) to a 2018 X3 is almost comical. The original X3 used a modified E46 3-series chassis. It rode stiffly, for no obvious reason, and the interior was…practical…at the obvious expense of luxury or quality. It was basically a compromised E46 Touring on stilts. Clearly a first effort for the brand.
The X3 of today rides nicely, has a pretty nice interior, and features a variety of efficient, smooth turbocharged engines. It’s a much better balanced package over all.
However, having experienced the X3 on the road, the last place I ever expected to see one was on the race track. Naturally, you could imagine my bewilderment when I arrived at Willow Springs International Raceway and saw a 2018 BMW X3 M40i lined up and ready for hot laps. I actually laughed. It was absurd. A BMW X3 is a nice commuter SUV for taking the kids to soccer practice and, occasionally, filling up the trunk with lawn care equipment from Home Depot. A sports sedan it is not.
I watched the X3 run a few laps around Big Willow. It’s an intimidating track, with somewhat stained history, however, it looked nonplussed out there. Then the journalist wheeling the X3 came into the pits. I don’t think I’ve seen a wider smile. “It’s good,” he says before handing me the keys. If you say so.