The 2021 BMW X3 M only appears to have the mild manners of Bruce Banner, but underneath its luxury façade is a raging twin-turbo engine and amazing capabilities akin to those of the Incredible Hulk. Based on the civil BMW X3 compact crossover, the M version—as well as the sloped-back X4 M—is a certified beast that boasts up to 503 horsepower and quicker acceleration than lightweight sports cars such as the Porsche 718 Cayman and the Toyota Supra. A Competition package completes the BMW’s monster mutation with track-focused upgrades that make it charge even harder, corner even better, and stop even shorter. Its useful back seat and sizable cargo area are simply pleasant reminders of its versatility. Shrug off its overly stiff ride and mind-numbing number of drive-mode settings and the 2021 X3 M is an extreme, incredible machine.
What’s New for 2021?
For 2021, the X3 M adds newly standard features and some fresh options. Most notably, its infotainment system now includes Android Auto, which had been conspicuously missing. Likewise, a Wi-Fi hotspot and a one-year subscription to SiriusXM satellite radio with 360L are now standard; a matte wood finish is a new interior option. BMW also changes the Competition designation from a model to a package.
Pricing and Which One to Buy
With one model to choose from and a starting price that’s already above $70k, we want the extra 30 ponies and enhanced equipment that comes with the Competition package. It adds a gloss-black grille and mirror caps and nets a standard sport exhaust system and black 21-inch wheels (versus 20s on the regular M). Its interior upgrades include distinct “M” badging, more supportive front seats, and richer Merino leather. Among the myriad options, we’d also select the Executive and M Driver’s packages. The former adds copious luxuries such as a head-up display, a heated steering wheel, gesture controls, a panoramic sunroof, self-parking assist, and wireless smartphone charging. The latter unlocks a higher top speed (177 mph versus 155) and one day of professional driving lessons.
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
This crossover’s twin-turbo 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder is as smooth as it is powerful. The BMW mill has been massaged by the M performance division to make between 473 and 503 horsepower and a steady 442 pound-feet of torque. The extra ponies are reserved for the Competition model, which also adds a standard sport exhaust system and 21-inch wheels. Every X3 M comes with an eight-speed automatic transmission and an all-wheel-drive system that can send 100 percent of the engine’s torque to the back wheels when needed. The 2020 X3 M Competition we tested was absurdly quick and shockingly agile for what it is. It rips to 60 mph in 3.3 seconds, closes the gap between 50 and 70 mpg in 3.1 ticks, and completes the quarter-mile in 11.6 seconds at 119 mph. For context, a 2016 M3 Competition sedan is significantly slower than the SUV in the first and last measures. The X3 M also stops from 70 mph in the same 146 feet as that sedan and circles our skidpad with an impressive 0.97 g of grip. While the crazy crossover is too hardcore for most people to appreciate every day, its standard adaptive dampers provide a gentle enough ride in the softest setting. And its thick-rimmed steering wheel transmits a respectable amount of feedback, with the steering never stopping us from enjoying the lower limits of its impressive capabilities.
Fuel Economy and Real-World MPG
The EPA estimates that the 2021 X3 M and X3 M with Competition package will earn 14 mpg in the city and 19 mpg on the highway. Those figures fall significantly short of rivals such as the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio (with 17 and 23 mpg, respectively) and the Mercedes-AMG GLC63 SUV (16 and 22 mpg). However, the Bimmer performed better in the real world. On our 75-mph highway fuel-economy route—part of our extensive testing regimen—the X3 M exceeded the government’s highway rating by 7 mpg (26 mpg total). For comparison, we observed 20 mpg in the GLC63 SUV and 21 in the Stelvio QF, both of which missed their EPA highway ratings by 2 mpg.
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
The X3 M shares its interior design and dimensions with the regular X3. However, the sportier version enjoys more standard luxury features and an assortment of exclusive details. The latter mainly consists of “M” badging, red drive-mode buttons on the steering wheel, and aggressively bolstered front seats. The Competition package brings front chairs with even more bolstering. Throughout the cabin, attractive materials show off BMW’s adherence to upscale aesthetics. Along with this crossover’s standard leather upholstery and selectable interior accents, BMW has provided a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster, 14-way power front seats, customizable ambient interior lighting, and heated front-seat cushions. Still not swanky enough? Buyers can opt for finer leather and a host of premium options, including a head-up display, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, a panoramic sunroof, and side window shades in the rear. There’s plenty of passenger space for all, as well as a generous amount of cargo room. We managed to fit seven carry-on suitcases behind the X3’s rear seat and 20 with the seatbacks folded. Buyers of the mechanically similar X4 M will give up some of that space to that model’s dramatically sloped rear end.
Infotainment and Connectivity
Every X3 M comes with a 10.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system with myriad control methods. In addition to the touch capability of the screen, BMW provides a physical volume knob on the center stack and various controls on the steering wheel. There’s also a rotary controller on the center console surrounded by shortcut buttons. Popular standard features include a 16-speaker Harman/Kardon stereo, built-in navigation, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, a Wi-Fi hotspot, and charging ports throughout the cabin. Those who want even more bells and whistles can add gesture controls and wireless charging via the comprehensive Executive package.
Safety and Driver-Assistance Features
The 2021 X3 M hasn’t been crash-tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), but the last version that was evaluated by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) was named a Top Safety Pick+. The compact luxury crossover has an entire suite of standard driver-assistance technology as well as a handful of optional equipment such as self-parking assist. Key safety features include:
- Standard blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert
- Standard lane-departure warning
- Available adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go technology
Warranty and Maintenance Coverage
BMW provides a competitive limited warranty and average powertrain protection plan compared with its luxury rivals. While the company’s complimentary maintenance plan is shorter than Jaguar’s, it’s significantly better than what others offer in this class.
- Limited warranty covers 4 years or 50,000 miles
- Powertrain warranty covers 4 years or 50,000 miles
- Complimentary maintenance is covered for 3 years or 36,000 miles
More Features and Specs