Like many things in life, being a dad comes with stereotypes. How we dress, what we say, and yup, what we drive. But when it comes to driving, BMW has an answer in the form of the X3 and X4. With the option of that “M lite” power train, I decided to gather my own X3 xDrive30i, and compare it to an X4 M40i. I’m not cool anymore, but are these cars?

BMW X3 30i – A Fun Dad Machine

I love it for what it is, but it’s never going to ask you to dance. There is no doubt that if BMW still made a 3 Series wagon here, I’d be in one. But they don’t because we all buy SAVs instead. And that’s OK, because if I had a wagon, I would have made a mistake. I’d have a smidge of driving fun back in exchange for half the practicality.

Living with the X3 is a joy. It’s easy to get in and out of, easy to load the rear hatch, easy to get kids out of the back seat, and easy to drive. I might have just described a driving appliance, but the X3 is more than that, and it shows behind the wheel.

Steering Feel

I remember getting an initial driving impression of this G01 X3 from a loaner, and I was immediately embarrassed for my F30 335i. The X3 had much more direct steering feel and feedback, along with a nicely weighted turn in. It was night and day, and though the F30’s steering woes have been well documented, it really showed against this taller, heavier SAV. You always feel the weight of this car, but it’s still able to be pushed without complaining too much.

The Engine

The F30 BMW 328i featured the N20 4-cylinder engine, and BMW replaced it with the mill in my X3, the B47. I always liked the N20, but this B series is light years ahead, being much smoother and quieter, with better gas mileage. It’s properly tuned, with the fat part of the torque curve available just off idle.

You don’t really want to rev this engine out, but you don’t need too to get the most out of it. The X4 (or X3) in M40i tune is both faster and more exciting with the B58, but I question whether it’s really worth the price premium.

If you buy an SAV, you might expect to carry things in it, and here I find the X3 to be the perfect size. The X5 has gotten huge, the X7 is a cargo ship, and the X1 is basically a tall MINI. This X3 is the sweet spot.

You Own One, So You Must Like It

Yes, I do. But it isn’t all rainbows and sunshine. The M40i digital dash gets font that’s harder to read, and both suffer from a busy layout. It looks cool, but using it every day wears the novelty off quickly. It presents a LOT of information to you, and the design of it is sometimes puzzling. For instance, why isn’t the odometer available at all times? I miss traditional dials that were more clear to read, and I’m dreading the display when my M3 arrives.

My daughter happens to love the ambient lighting on current BMWs. It’s a stand alone option with a cost of $250. Problem is, I couldn’t find a single car on any lot that was equipped with it, and ordering this car was not an option at the time, so I had to take what was available. BMW, I would gladly pay the money to have something like this as standard. It doesn’t make sense to have a ton of options that aren’t even available.

Apple CarPlay

I consider myself pretty good with technology. So why is it such a challenge to make my phone consistently connect to the X3? Music plays, then it doesn’t. Phones work, then they don’t. This needs to be seamless, and it actually worked better in my original M3 10 years ago. I expect both BMW and Apple to do better here.

X3 M40i Verdict

Have you ever been in your fast car for a few hours and thought “This would be better if it were just a tiny bit quieter/softer/etc”. You never need to say that in this X3. It does everything well, in comfort, and in a stylish package.

But it never asks you ‘Hey, wanna take that turn faster?” – something every BMW should do to you at least once in awhile. In this regard, it’s not an Ultimate Driving Machine. Since when do you need to buy the right trim level of a BMW to get the right driving experience? Since now.

Will the M badge help?

BMW X4 M40i – A Tall Gran Coupe

Coupes are usually nicer to look at than their sedan counterparts. Gran Coupes nicely split this styling tradition. So how does that explain the turtle shell look of the X4? It takes the useful space of the X3 and lops off the headroom in the back seat (along with the trunk). In its place you get a nice rake to the back end, but there’s no hiding its size. And if the X4 doesn’t look better than the X3, what’s the point?

Alas, like the grille of the G80, only you can decide if you prefer the looks of this car over another. But what about the mechanical guts, which are identical?

The Engine

On its own, the B58 is such a gem – it takes the N55’s punch and adds a layer of smoothness on top. In the X4, it produces a nice snarl and burble when you let off the gas. It also makes this 4,000+ lb SAV faster than it has any right to be, and probably more so than you need. Gas mileage is also not bad considering you have almost 400 horses on tap.

However, I have the same issue here that I had when I drove an M340i – it’s not very special. Not when you can get an X4 M with the S58. If you like to DRIVE, then you’re always going to be aware that these M Performance models are softer than their full-blown M counterparts. Maybe that’s not so bad, an M is hardcore. But it’s also meant to be driven every day in a comfortable fashion.

I can understand why BMW put the M badge on these cars, but it’s not really related to those high-performance models. It’s just the best standard Series BMW you can buy.

If you’ve signed up for the monthly payments on an X4 M and an X4 M40i pulls up next to you, you might slink in your seat a bit. They look close enough that only the faithful will truly spot the difference. M Performance cars do get some gunmetal accents on the mirrors and front air intakes (BMW calls it Cerium Grey), along with Shadowline trim. But if you get a regular X4 and order the M Sport line, you get a very similar look.

This is what led to BMW giving the new M3 the front end it did – to help distinguish it from its lesser brethren.

The Interior

I find it amazing that BMW can really go from bargain basement furnishings to high-end in what is pretty much the same car. This X4 has carbon fiber trim, ambient lighting, a SensaTec stitched dashboard, and an M steering wheel. It’s really a much nicer place to drive vs. the X3.

One thing I will say are leather seats – I’ve had them in every BMW, but opted for SensaTec in my X3. The texture is just about the same, especially if you go for the black leather, it’s easy to clean, and so far more durable. Important when you have a toddler.

The digital dash is here too, only now you get super cool M font. It’s harder to read at a glance. It might be blaspheme, but I’d get rid of the tach on automatic cars at this point as we head to an electric future.

Are the M40i Models Worth The Premium?

Yes, with a caveat. Watch those options. A big price difference awaits between my decently equipped 30i and this fully loaded M40i. The M40i is nicer to drive, but is it $20,000 better? If you really like driving, then the X3 or X4 M is a better choice than either, while not losing the utility that makes these cars so useful.

If you simply need an SUV that handles better than anything Toyota or Chevy can glue together, the base 30i fits the bill.

Now where are my New Balance sneakers?

This content was originally published here.