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2022 BMW X3 M40i. The 2022 model is a 'refreshed' edition of the third generation of BMW’s bestseller.Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

BMW’s 3 Series is the breadwinner for the German brand, and always has been. Not too big, not too small, and just expensive enough to remind you that you’ve bought a premium vehicle.

The new X3 doesn’t mess too much with the compact SUV’s style. The 2022 model is a “refreshed” edition of the third generation of BMW’s bestseller, and it tweaks the exterior while redesigning the interior. Sit inside, grip the thick leather steering wheel, scan the buttons and dials on the centre console, and there’s no doubt about what you’re driving. If you’re not a car person, though, you’ll probably have to think for a while to realize the differences from last year’s model.

The various controls in the cabin have been moved around to make them more intuitive and easier to operate, though there really wasn’t anything wrong with their previous layout. Pretty much everything can be adjusted through the 12.3-inch high-resolution touch screen that sticks up from the centre of the dashboard like an iPad resting in its slot. BMW resisted touch screens for years, saying it was dangerous for drivers to reach across to make selections, but market demand changed that and they’ve now been embraced. Even so, everything on the screen is still selectable with a control dial on the console, in case that’s what you prefer.

BMW drivers have a reputation for being fussy and demanding (among other things), so almost everything can be tweaked to your preference. For example, the heated seats and steering wheel can be set to switch on automatically when the outside temperature drops below a certain point. Stellantis introduced this with its Chryslers, Jeeps and Fiats, where you could choose to switch on the heat at a preset 5 degrees Celsius, but with the BMW, the trigger setting for the actual temperature is up to you, because you’re the boss and your decision is final.

There are four different engines available. The least powerful, which means the least expensive and most popular, is a two-litre, inline-four that makes 248 horsepower and costs $52,990.

There’s also a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) model that matches that engine with an electric motor and a 12-kilowatt-hour battery, which will give you an optimistic 29 kilometres of purely electric driving. It starts at $2,000 more, but qualifies for a $2,500 rebate from the federal government and possibly more from your provincial government, meaning the PHEV ends up costing less.

The most powerful X3 is the M Competition, which starts at about $100,000 before taxes and pounds out 503 horsepower, but if you like power and performance without getting silly, the X3 M40i, which was my test vehicle, is the way to go. It delivers 382 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque to all four rear-biased wheels, without any fuss or drama. BMW says it can sprint to 100 kilometres an hour in 4.5 seconds, which is only 0.4 seconds slower than its M-rated sibling. That makes a difference on a racetrack, but not on a public road.

The X3 M40i starts at $66,990, and this test model came with an additional $17,656 of options.Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

The X3 M40i starts at $66,990, but of course, that’s only the beginning. Remember how BMW lets the driver select and adjust everything? The same goes for the conveniences and the technology, and those come at a price.

My tester came with an additional $17,656 of options, and then on top of that is BMW’s costly $2,480 for freight and pre-inspection delivery, and BMW’s mysterious $595 “retailer administration fee,” and then all the government taxes. In other words, about $100,000 to drive this nicely equipped vehicle off the lot. That’s steep for a compact SUV.

In fairness, though, it’s the going rate for a more powerful German vehicle. SUVs like this don’t deliver value for money so much as they provide customer satisfaction, and if you can afford it, the X3 M40i will be a very satisfying drive.

New this year for the three-litre X3 is a 48-volt mild-hybrid electrical system, which allows occasional driving with just an electric motor. It only works at low-stressed power, like when you ease off the throttle to coast on the highway, or inching forward in traffic or a drive-through, and it’s intended to save fuel more than improve performance. That fuel will be Premium, of course, which is all part of the costly German experience.

Tech specs

2022 BMW X3 M40i

  • Base price/as tested: $66,990/$84,335
  • Engine: Three-litre turbocharged inline-six
  • Transmission/drive: Eight-speed automatic/All-wheel drive
  • Fuel consumption (litres/100 kilometres): 11.2 city, 9.1 highway, 10.3 combined
  • Alternatives: Mercedes-AMG GLC 43, Audi SQ5, Jaguar F-Pace, Genesis GV70

Looks

The tail lights are more pronounced on the 2022 BMW X3 M40i.Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

The headlights are thinner, the kidney-shaped grille is a little larger, and the tail lights are more pronounced. BMW has been known to mess up its style with radical and pointless changes – does anyone remember the Bangle Butt, back in the days before SUVs? – but there’s no such issue with this revised edition.

Interior

The red leather of the test model costs an additional $3,000.Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

Comfortable and a bit clinical, the cabin is typical BMW. The seats are firm and the controls are well-placed for easy use, once you’ve figured them all out. That red leather of the tester cost an additional $3,000, and the carbon-fibre trims were an extra $860. The “digital cockpit professional” was $1,200 on top of that, but it provides a fully digital gauge cluster that can be configured several different ways, and once you’ve seen it, you’ll want it.

Performance

When you’ve paid extra for the larger engine, it all comes down to performance and the M40i will deliver a swift and responsive drive. Of course it will – it’s a BMW, with its smooth-shifting, intuitive automatic transmission, and equally smooth air suspension. If anything, the overall feel is fairly anonymous and you have to really push the vehicle to create excitement. You can do that with a choice of electronic driving modes that adjust the steering feel, response, suspension, transmission shift points, and even the sound. Set it up just right and there’ll be a crackle from the exhaust. That will surely impress the kids on the school run.

Technology

The front seats, dash and 12.3-inch high-resolution touchscreen that sticks up from the centre of the fascia like an iPad resting in its slot.Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

You can have it if you want to pay for it, except for wireless charging of your smartphone – that’s not available yet. The tester’s $7,900 “Enhanced” package included a heads-up display that disappeared when I wore polarized sunglasses, and a drive recorder that works with an integrated 360-degree camera for automatically recording events and crashes. It also included “comfort access,” which is a BMW term for the keyless entry that you’d expect to come as standard at this price.

For another $2,000, the tester offered the usual driver’s assistance features and then some. These included an active cruise control that worked well in stop-and-go traffic, and which could adjust its following distance from the vehicle in front, depending on your current driving style.

Cargo

Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

The trunk has 550 litres of space behind the rear seats and 1,600 litres when those seats are folded flat.Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

There are 550 litres of space behind the rear seats and 1,600 litres when those seats are folded flat. This is identical to the Mercedes GLC, but less in both cases than the Jaguar F-Pace. The Audi SQ5 offers more space behind the seats but less when they’re flat. Frankly, if you want more luggage room, go for the larger X5.

The verdict

Standard BMW, the X3 is a satisfying if relatively sterile SUV that will give you almost everything you want if you’re prepared to pay for it.

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