EXPERT REVIEW

2022 BMW X3 M Competition Review: Competing for Bragging Rights

bmw-x3-m-competition-2022-01-blue-exterior-front-angle-suv 2022 BMW X3 M Competition | Cars.com photo by Christian Lantry
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Road Test Editor Brian Normile is a reviewer, dog owner and Liverpool FC fan. His first car was a 1997 Toyota 4Runner. Email Brian Normile

The verdict: The 2022 BMW X3 M Competition is a competent performance vehicle that has a hard time cutting loose.

Versus the competition: The X3 M Competition SUV isn’t as fun as some of its competitors, including the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio and a whole host of performance cars, plus it lacks the utility and sheer brute force of larger performance SUVs.

BMW’s X3 is a popular compact luxury SUV, and the M and M Competition variants that appeared for the 2020 model year offer shoppers most of the performance of an M3 sedan with the added utility of an SUV. That said, utility isn’t too high on BMW’s list of priorities; it insists on calling the X3 a “Sports Activity Vehicle.”

For 2022, the 503-horsepower X3 M Competition gets 479 pounds-feet of torque, up from 442 pounds-feet in the 2021 model. It also gets a larger grille design and more aggressive exterior styling, plus additional standard tech features.

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There are quite a few performance SUVs on the market these days, but few fit in the luxury compact SUV class: In addition to the X3 M, there’s the aforementioned Alfa, while the Mercedes-AMG GLC63 likely won’t reappear until sometime after the 2023 GLC arrives in dealerships. The Audi SQ5 isn’t as outright bonkers as the other European performance SUVs, and other entries are larger — sometimes much larger, like the Dodge Durango SRT 392 and SRT Hellcat or the Cadillac Escalade V.

BMW has no plans to bring the M3 Touring wagon to the U.S. any time soon, so if you’re looking for a BMW that can haul ass and a fair amount of cargo, the X3 M — or the more hardcore M Competition — are your best options. Are they worth it?

Drives a Conversation

The X3 M Competition is impressively quick; BMW estimates its 0-60 mph time at 3.7 seconds. Power comes on in a rush, with an eager-to-downshift eight-speed automatic transmission that seamlessly finds the ideal gear for aggressive acceleration without ticking through the gears in between. The exhaust note has a healthy, menacing burble, with appropriate crackling and popping on downshifts. (For drivers who prefer a more refined auditory experience, the exhaust is adaptive and can be quieter.)

Ride quality is also impressive even with the Competition’s 21-inch wheels and more aggressive settings dialed into the standard adaptive suspension. The X3 M Competition I drove was unbothered by road imperfections and always felt poised to tackle the next corner. There was also next to no body roll, which is both impressive and a little off-putting in an SUV; something as big and tall as this, with a higher seating position, feels like it should be tipping and pitching a bit around corners.

The rest of the BMW’s driving experience is more frustrating. The brakes are great in situations requiring aggressive stops, but the pedal is sensitive and the (necessarily) powerful brakes have a lot of bite, which can make smooth daily driving difficult. The steering in this BMW also left a lot to be desired, with a numbness that might be fine in a regular SUV but isn’t when “M Competition” appears in the name. This has been a common refrain in our reviews of recent BMWs, and while they can feel better in truly aggressive driving — like on an autocross course — those moments are best left to closed courses.

Configurability has been a central part of M cars for a while now, and that continues in the X3 M Competition. There are two bright red M buttons on the steering wheel for preset drive modes, another M Mode button on the center console and a button for the adaptive exhaust. There’s also a setup button that pulls up a menu in which you can further pick and choose your preferred powertrain, steering, suspension and all-wheel-drive settings — the latter with a mode that provides a pronounced and enjoyable rear-wheel-drive bias. It was almost too much configurability at first, but over time, I found combinations that worked for my preferences.

Unfortunately, the entire experience feels more buttoned up and conservative than a 503-hp SUV with staggered-width wheels and tires has any right to be. It’s missing the unhinged playfulness of the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio and its giant four-leaf clover badging and colossal shift paddles, not to mention the Alfa’s more communicative steering and handling chops. There are things the BMW does much better than that SUV, like technology and build quality, but from a pure driving perspective, I’d choose the Alfa every time.

The X3 M Competition is still one of the most capable SUVs you can buy, but if you start considering non-SUVs, its capabilities diminish — especially if performance driving is your focus. With so many high-performance cars available in the $70,000-$90,000 range — including BMW’s own M3 and M4 – choosing an X3 M Competition for purely performance reasons feels like a mistake.

Yet the X3 M Competition doesn’t offer enough utility to make up for the fact that it doesn’t reach those higher echelons of performance; besides the cargo area, there’s not much there. It doesn’t come with a tow hitch or tow mode, and BMW doesn’t even list a maximum towing capacity. The Dodge Durango SRT 392 and Hellcat may not be as nimble as the BMW, but both can tow up to 8,700 pounds when they’re not hauling ass.

One last mark against the X3 M Competition is its fuel economy. While it’s not surprising that a high-performance vehicle is inefficient — and the X3 M Competition is, with an EPA-estimated 15/20/17 mpg city/highway/combined — it’s shocking that the SUV’s estimated driving range on a full tank of gas is just 292 miles.

Adequate Interior

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Built as a performance car, the X3 M Competition doesn’t have a plush interior, but it’s comfortable and well put together. The Competition Package adds front sport seats that are heavily bolstered but still comfortable, and while the backseat doesn’t get sport seats, it does have space and comfort to spare — along with climate controls, charging ports and available heated outboard seats. It’s roomy enough to have earned a respectable grade in our Car Seat Check, and interior touches like carbon-fiber trim and seat belts with M-inspired color stitching add to the sportiness.

Technology is also a strong suit, with standard wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity. (Wireless device charging is a stand-alone option that my test vehicle did not include.) The large 12.3-inch touchscreen is clear and easy to use in spite of a deep menu structure. The standard digital instrument panel also measures 12.3 inches and includes an M-specific mode that heightens the SUV’s sense of aggression by streamlining the information on display and adding red accents. Some of that information also carries over to the optional head-up display.

Even better is the fact that despite the SUV’s tech-heavy interior, there are still ample physical climate and audio controls that are easy to use. These controls are especially welcome because the touchscreen can be hard to reach from the driver’s seat, and BMW’s optional gesture controls don’t always work (and trying to make them work while driving is distracting).

The interior layout will be familiar to BMW enthusiasts, but that familiarity is beginning to edge toward datedness. The X3 M Competition’s biggest interior weakness is that it doesn’t have the materials quality to match its price — $87,345 as tested (including destination). A comparable 2023 model will likely be over $90,000. To be blunt, it doesn’t feel like the M Competition interior is all that different from a pedestrian X3, which starts around $47,000 for 2023. Plastic abounds, mostly in the lower reaches of the interior. There’s an embossed “X” logo on the front doors that feels like an Easter egg, and I’m a sucker for those, but it also looks like it would be more at home on a Subaru than a BMW.

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Is the X3 M Competition Right for You?

The appeal of a performance vehicle is not just what you actually do with it, but what it can do. The X3 M Competition gives owners those bragging rights while providing a comfortable ride, lovely sounding exhaust and utility you can’t find in a coupe with similar performance stats.

While this vehicle makes sense in those terms, buyers looking for a true performance vehicle, or even a true performance SUV, might want to look elsewhere — especially if track driving is on the menu.

BMW doesn’t let the X3 M Competition go for cheap. As mentioned, our test vehicle’s as-tested price was $87,345, but its starting price was just under $71,000. Options included the Competition Package ($7,000), Executive Package ($2,450), M Driver’s Package ($2,500) and $4,500 for matte-finish Frozen Marina Bay Blue Metallic paint. Prices have gone up since then, with the 2023 X3 M starting at over $75,000 before options.

Some of the features in that optional Executive Package (heated steering wheel, heated outboard rear seats, head-up display) are standard on other luxury vehicles in this price range, and our pricey test vehicle didn’t have the optional Driving Assistance Professional Package ($1,700 on a 2023 model), which adds BMW’s low-speed Extended Traffic Jam Assistant and additional safety tech.

The Competition Package turns up the heat on the X3 M, but at $7,000, it might be pricier than what it delivers: additional horsepower and torque, unique wheels, sport exhaust and sport seats. The M Driver’s Package unlocks a higher top speed — 177 mph instead of 155 mph — and a day of track instruction. Those are the main selling points of these two packages, but buyers won’t have an autobahn where they can safely access all that power and speed — and even if they did, this SUV isn’t the best choice for a track day.

All of those options on our test car added more than $15,000 to its sticker price, and they aren’t all necessary if you’re happy with the level of enjoyment you can get out of the base X3 M — or an even cheaper X3 M40i. With the X3 M Competition, what you’re mostly paying for is bragging rights. If that’s what you want, so be it.

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