BY SETSHABA MASHIGO

It’s quite puzzling when some performance car enthusiasts are about to start a new family. They bemoan the prospect of having to let go of their beloved boy-racer-mobile for something that can comfortably fit kids, pets and their luggage. But what do cars like the BMW X3 M40i exist for? Well it has just been updated and I got to spend some time with it.

The LCI (life cycle impulse or facelift) features a redesigned front fascia, with larger kidney grilles (of course), more adventurous angular lines and tweaked headlights. The rear gets stunning contoured LED taillights, more aggressive apron and updated M40i specific tailpipes and mirrors.

The wand of progression has been waved over parts of the interior as well, with the X3 now getting the centre console out of the G22 4 Series and customizable ambient lighting, undoing some of BMW’s reputation for mediocre interiors. This particular car was equipped with a 31.2cm touch screen infotainment display connected to a Harman/Kardon sound system and equipped with Android Auto. Being an M-Performance model, smatterings of M tricolour are found on the steering wheel stitching and seatbelts, plus M badge inserts in the headrests to give passenger content that extra edge.

The sport leather seats might just be the most comfortable and equally supportive I’ve experienced yet, which, combined with the slightly upright seating position typical in SUVs, easily lend themselves well to long journeys. That said, the lack of a cooling function was very apparent in the heatwave conditions Johannesburg has been experiencing. The rear seats are equally comfortable and are manually foldable in a 40/20/40 configuration to increase boot space from 550 litres to a cavernous 1 600 litres.

A 48-volt mild-hybrid system has been added to the already fire-breathing turbocharged 3.0-litre straight-6 engine. This starter-generator not only smoothens out the fuel saving start-stop operation, but it also augments power delivery and fills in the gaps in torque left open by a spooling turbo and the ZF 8-speed automatic’s gearshifts.

Iron fist in a velvet glove. This is the only appropriate description of how the X3 M40i goes about locomotion. The silky-smooth thrum of the B58 engine envelopes you in a comforting hug, only to squeeze the air out of your lungs with a wallop of unending torque until you reach hideously illegal speeds. At no point in the rev-range does the motor feel like it’s overstretching itself, despite carrying 1.8 tonnes worth of steel, aluminium, and leather – a quality generally reserved for engines displacing far more than two Coke bottles. When a change of direction is required, the M-Sport brakes are adequate though they aren’t too keen to shed a lot of speed too many times. It’s no 3 Series but the X3 M40i is eager to turn and, once the top-heavy platform has settled, it’s eager to keep turning, helped in no small part by the M Differential on the rear axle and clever distribution of torque by the X-Drive AWD system.

Once you’re satisfied by the screams of joy and/or horror from your spouse and children, slip the drive mode selector out of Sport and into Comfort. The ride and steering soften up, throttle response calms down and the exhaust hides any evidence of the mind-bending power lurking inside the unassuming body. If you’d used up a bit more dinosaur juice than you had anticipated, which will almost certainly always happen (I reached a fuel consumption of 20l/100km at one point!), dialling the drive mode selector another notch will put the car into Eco Pro, which in my case yielded a consumption figure as low as 11l/100km.

The Drive Assist package, which comes standard in M40i trim, combines a brilliant active cruise control system and lane-keep assist to make freeway miles evaporate before your eyes.

Experiencing two extremes of BMW X3 – iX3 and now in M40i guise – within a span of a few weeks demonstrated how versatile the platform is, but also highlighted how the X3 is first and foremost an internal combustion-engined vehicle. It simply comes alive when unencumbered by a battery pack and furnished with a sweet straight-6 howling in the background. It’s a fantastic family SUV for individuals who like a kick in the rear on occasion, but not the outrageousness of the full fat X3 M.

QUICK STATS

BMW X3 M40I

ENGINE: 3.0-litre in-line 6, turbocharged petrol

POWER: 285kW at 5 800rpm

TORQUE: 500Nm at 1 900rpm

GEARBOX: 8-speed automatic

DRIVE: AWD

0 – 100KM/H: 5.1 seconds

TOP SPEED: 250km/h

AVERAGE FUEL CONSUMPTION: 12.4 litres per 100km

FUEL TANK SIZE: 65 litres

RANGE: 520km

CO2 e: 204 g/km

PRICE STANDARD: R1 440 000

NATURAL RIVALS: Audi S Q5, Jaguar F-Pace P400, Maserati Levante Modena S, Mercedes-AMG GLC 43, Porsche Macan S, Range Rover Velar P400e

PRICE RIVALS: Audi RS 5 Coupe, Mercedes-AMG C 43 Cabriolet, Porsche 718 Cayman GTS, Land Rover Defender 90 D300 HSE, Range Rover Sport TDV6

MAINTENANCE PLAN: 5-year/100 000km, roadside assistance

WARRANTY: 5-year/120 000km

BADDIE INDEX: 4/5

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