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Step into the M40i’s cabin and, aside from a the occasional ‘M’ badge, the interior feels and looks largely the same as that of any other X3. That’s certainly no bad thing.
There’s plenty of adjustability in both the steering column and the seats, which are not only comfortable and nicely supportive, but also look particularly snazzy in our test car’s red leather upholstery.
The dashtop is crowned by BMW’s excellent 10.3in touchscreen infotainment system, which offers crisp, fluid graphics and gesture control. In the back, there’s plenty of head and leg room on offer. It’s an attractive, well-made cabin; not particularly different from, say, that of a 5 Series saloon, but that’s not really going to be a huge issue, is it?
Anyway, hit the starter button and the six-cylinder engine fires into the life with a muted bark that’s not particularly raucous but aggressive enough to let you know that you’re at the wheel of something with a fair amount of poke.
It’s a minor disappointment, then, that when you find a clear stretch of road and bury your foot, the manner in which the X3 M40i’s fairly immense performance is delivered isn’t particularly exciting.
Sure, if you exercise all of the throttle pedal’s travel, you’ll be greeted with a surge of smooth, linear and — unsurprisingly — rapid acceleration.
It’s just that the soundtrack that accompanies this increase in pace, while crisp and muscular, isn’t what you’d call memorable. And while you can position the front seats pretty low down, you’re still aware of the fact that you’re in a fairly high-riding SUV.
Thankfully, though, there’s a remedy. Select Sport mode and a flap in the M Sport exhaust system opens, lending the car a far more vocal demeanour with plenty of rifle-crack pops and bangs on the overrun. Throttle response is also sharpened, while the eight-speed transmission is far more eager to kick down and will hold onto its selected ratios for longer under throttle.
The X3’s adaptive dampers are firmed up, too, while the already fairly hefty steering becomes even weightier. The result is an SUV that doesn’t feel averse to being thrown into tight, fast bends.
There’s plenty of grip on offer here, with the front end only beginning to hint it’s about to wash out into understeer if you’re particularly silly about your cornering speeds. The steering is relatively communicative, although you do get the sense that it would be even more talkative were it not for the overly thick wheel rim. Body roll is present but, given this is a high-sided SUV, the way in which it is contained is impressive.
Tone everything down again and the X3 M40i returns to being a comfortable and refined cruiser. Despite the presence of the firmer M Sport suspension, the ride never feels too harsh or unforgiving and doesn’t fall apart at low speeds, either. Vertical body travel is also contained tidily over undulations.
Our only complaint — and it’s a small one — is that the 20in alloy wheels do generate a noticeable amount of road road when travelling at speed.