BMW giving its X Series crossovers the M treatment has been, to say the least, a prickly topic for the purists. M cars have always represented absolute top-of-the-line sportiness and exciting driving dynamics. The X cars, on the other hand, are tall and hefty. Hardly a match made in heaven.
The X/M mash-up vehicles we've seen so far haven't exactly dispelled the idea that these are two worlds that shouldn't mix. The M-but-not-really-M models, like the X3 M40i, have always come across as marketing gimmicks, whereas the X5 M and X6 M — though impressively capable for SUVs — haven't really felt quite like true M cars.
That could all be about to change, though. Compared to the X5, the X3 has always been the more obvious basis for an M car, being more nimble, more compact and carrying around 500 lb less bulk than its more substantial sibling. It's a fact that can't have been lost on BMW's product development team, as the Bavarians have just announced the first ever X3 M. Unsurprisingly, it will be joined by an X4 M and a corresponding pair of M Competition models.
All models will be equipped with the S58 engine, a three-liter straight-six that we'll almost certainly be seeing again in the next generation M3. It's a big step up from anything we've seen in an X3 before; while the X3 M40i has 355 hp and 365 lb-ft of torque, the X3/X4 M will have 480 hp and 442 lb-ft of torque. The Competition variants will come with a different bi-turbo unit, adding an extra 30 hp to those already impressive numbers.
Turning that power into movement is an eight-speed M Steptronic transmission with Drivelogic, paired up with the M xDrive all-wheel-drive system from the M5. The Active M Differential distributes power across all four wheels as required for better traction, stability and agility — useful for a car that's supposed to be able to handle going off-road — but BMW still promises a rear-wheel bias, which should result in a sportier driving feel. On the subject of sporty driving feel, both vehicles should be able to hit 60 mph in a hair over 4 seconds, or as fast as the considerably more powerful X5 M.
As expected, the X3/X4 M also comes with all the M trimmings, like M compound brakes, M sport exhaust, M light-alloy wheels, M-specific suspension, an optional M Carbon exterior package, M seat belts, M— well, if you can put M in front of it, chances are the X3/X4 M has it. Most excitingly, of course, are the two M-exclusive paint jobs: Toronto Red metallic and Donington Grey metallic. That got your blood pumping, didn't it?
Pumped up SUVs aren't going to be for everybody, true, but for anybody who has their heart set on a crossover, the X3/X4 M looks like it's going to be the most exciting of BMW's options. We'll get confirmation when it's released to the public later this year.