BMW X3M Competition: First Drive Review

This sleek BMW SUV hits 60 mph as fast as a supercar and roars with 503 HP.

(Stinson Carter)

We were lined up at a stop sign, staring down a blacktop straightaway that teenagers of 1960s South Carolina christened as “Drag Race Road.” My wife’s father was sitting beside me in a new and fully loaded X3M Competition, and we were ready to knock the dust off that old nickname.

He was once a teenager chasing thrills on this road in a ’68 Plymouth Roadrunner, and the moment he saw this svelte but sinister Bimmer in his driveway, he knew it was where we had to take it.  

I looked around before hitting the gas. We had California plates, and we were deep in the land of law enforcement who live to say, “You’re not from around here, are ya?”


I planted my foot on the accelerator and the engine went off like it was lit with a fuse, our stomachs jumped towards the back seats, and pine trees and ranch houses whipped by while the world stood still in the cockpit.  

“GAAAAAD-DAWWWG!” he said, shaking his head in a moment of raw emotion he generally reserves for football games. 

“Zero to sixty in three seconds,” I said. Because it’s exactly the kind of thing you want to say to your father-in-law. 


Reviewing cars around Christmas comes with in-law situations built in. Especially something as in-your-face as the X3M Competition. On the way home from our high-speed bonding session, my father-in-law wanted to drive by his friends’ house to show off our ride. They stood in the driveway, a pair of veteran Southern attorneys acting like kids checking out a shiny new bike on Christmas afternoon. 

Around the coastal South Carolina town where my wife grew up, and in her sleepy neighborhood with Christmas lights in every window and oak trees slumping with Spanish moss, I looked like an Uber driver from hell.


Various relatives sat shotgun to see how well their Christmas dinner had settled while I experimented with Sport Mode and destroyed the peace of the season with 503 screaming German horses. (I was tempted to try Track Mode, but the warning about ‘no public roads’ kept me from it.) The ride is fairly stiff on all drive modes, pure sport-tuned suspension, by no means a cabin cruiser. 

When you switch into Sport Mode, the HUD on the windshield automatically changes into a gear display with a large-font overlay, which only heightens the general sense that you’re living in a video game. I love the way the shifter works; it was the first time I’d driven an automatic that feels as fluid from Reverse to Drive as a manual-shift car.


And the camera view on the massive display is so clear, and the angle so complete, that I used it solely to navigate some tricky reversals. The bright red start button on the console feels like race car placement, and when you push it, the X3M Competition is seriously loud. I don’t mean a little throat to it–-I mean wake up the babies and scare the neighbors loud.

Design and Interior

The interior of the X3M Competition is designed for the teenager in you: It’s a German techno festival of M-ness––red M-mode toggles peaking over the steering wheel, carbon fiber trim, blue M-series piping on the seatbelt, badges in the headrest… there’s no forgetting that you sprung for the upgrades here.   

The Brooklyn Grey color, that milky sharkskin grey that’s all the rage now, is quite pretty. And the panoramic roof is as glorious as they come. The 21-inch wheels with their blue brake calipers, the dual exhausts… again like the interior, no forgetting this thing’s an M.


And coming in at over $80,000 for the one I tested, it would be hard to forget. That does include the $7,000 Competition Package, which gives you 30 extra horsepower over the base M for faster acceleration, as well as that loud exhaust and all the M-branding details.

Final Thoughts

Of all the vehicles in the BMW lineup, I have spent more hours behind the wheel of X3s than any of them. My family went through a couple back-to-back X3 leases, so I’ve had the chance to drive them since their earliest generations.

I’ve taken one up and down the steep hills of downtown Seattle, I’ve taken one across the border to Vancouver, and I’ve taken one into the Rocky Mountains. I like the power, I like the height, I miss a little cargo space, but the performance feels about as good as it gets in a smallish SUV that a normal person would buy. The X3M Competition takes it out of “normal” into the delightful overkill realm.


What I took away from my time with this X3M is the pure, raw thrill. I used any excuse possible to drive it, and while driving it, I took every opportunity to slow down, just so I could speed up again.

I’ve never willingly run so many errands in my life. And any time I got a chance to lay on the gas and get those boosters spinning… it always got my heart pumping. And I can even attest that for a few minutes on “Drag Race Road,” it turned my father-in-law into a teenager again.  

He’s in the market for a new car, and the X3M is now a top contender. I tried to be the voice of reason, as I usually do if we’re talking actual money and not a press loan.

“You don’t need the seven-thousand-dollar competition package,” I said. 

He looked at me like I’d just told him to eat his vegetables, and his answer gave me all the clarity I’ll ever need on the fundamental purpose of the X3M:

“The hell you don’t!”