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      01-16-2020, 11:21 AM   #1
Influence
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Base vs. Competition X3M comparison

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For those of you interested. I've been trying to figure out if the if there is any difference in the suspensions between the Base X3M and the Competition model. Luckily fortune smiled on me and I was able to do a pretty thorough comparison.

So two local dealers both got base X3Ms with 21's and X3M Competitions with 21s. I did back-to-back test drives at both dealerships over the past two weeks (taking advantage of the 50 degree plus weather we've had here in NJ so I don't slide around on rock-hard summer tires). Exact same roads/routes on both set of drives, so this was a really good comparison.

There is definitely a difference (not massive, but noticeable) between the suspension setups on the base vs. comp models. While it is certainly possible that the actual suspension components are the same, I wouldn't be surprised if there is a difference in the software tuning of the adaptive shocks between the two cars. Having had the Dinan Shockware software flash on my '17 340i Adaptive Suspension package car proves what a difference a simple software change can make to a BMW Adaptive suspension's feel/performance

I'm comparing "comfort" mode on both vehicles here as that is mode I'd need to be in 80%+ of the time in order to keep some degree of comfort on the crappy NJ roads I drive daily.

On both set of test drives, I noticed that on small, rapid sets of bumps/undulations the Comp car seemed to "crash" over the bumps and really bounced me and the passenger around much more. It felt like the car was riding over the bumps as opposed to absorbing them. It makes for a very jittery and unsettled ride. Frankly, there is no excuse for this kind of behavior out of a BMW as they know how to make a car firm yet compliant. You could actually hear the impacts more in the Comp car as well. Surprisingly, the Comp models "Sport" mode seemed to handle small undulations better. Yes it was firmer, but Sport seemed to take the edges off the impacts slightly better. Weird. Sadly I couldn't stand driving around a Comp model in Sport all day, but maybe those of you with smoother roads could.

I asked my CAs to pay attention to how they felt going over the same set of bumpy roads to help me see if I was being crazy or not. They both agreed unprompted that the base model seemed to handle the bumps better and that they felt the bumps much more in the Comp model. They also said that they felt they were being tossed around more in the Comp. I had a backseat passenger too at one of the dealerships (Genius was really interested in seeing if there was a difference between the two models) and she said that the ride in the 2nd row was much more unpleasant in the Comp model.

One thing I did notice (and which supports the Car and Driver quote about the anti-roll bars being thicker on the Comp models) is that initial turn-in on the Comp felt quicker/more responsive than the base to me. One of my test drives lets me take some really high-speed (like 60+ MPH - might have actually taken one long turn at 90) country back road sweepers and the improved turn-in of the Comp was easily felt. This actually made the steering feel a bit better/more responsive on the Comp as well. I felt more comfortable pushing the Comp through high speed turns as long as the roads were smooth. If there was any roughness/bumps to the turns, the Base model felt noticeably more stable due to the better damping. The Comp got a bit "skittery" on me on one high speed (50+) bumpy turn, which really shook my confidence in the vehicle. Proof that ultra firm is not always the best choice for handling.

I also quickly found out that the "Economy" throttle response mode is crap on either model. Put it in Sport if you want proper throttle response. It completely wakes the car up and almost makes it feel like they put a different engine into the car.

One other item if you care about 2nd row passenger space/legroom. The M Sport seats are definitely thicker than the base Sport seats in the Base model. I intentionally drove a second base model at one dealership just to see if I liked the base seat better than the M Sport (standard in the Comp, upgrade on the Base). After my drives I always get into the back seat to see how much legroom I have. For reference, I'm 6' 1.5" with fairly long legs and drive in a fairly proper "racing" position (seat back fairly upright, legs relatively straight, wrists rest on the top of the steering wheel while keeping my back against the seatback). With the base seats, I still had about 1.5" of clearance before my knees hit the back of the front seat. With the M Sport seats, my knees were just touching the back of the front seat. While it is possible that I was in slightly difference driving positions as the seats are different, bottom line is that it looks the base seats in the Base model will net about 1-1.5" of additional legroom. They are also softer cushioned and the seat bottom is wider (if you've got a big ass - stick with the base on a Base model).

If I could get the ventilation, I'd probably stick with the base seat on a Base X3M just for the additional 2nd row legroom, but I really liked the support/feel of the M Sport seat. Plus the leather is nicer and you can get the ventilation option, which I love. Maybe I can find a way to change the driving position a bit to get a bit more legroom for the rugrats in the back.

So right now, I'm leaning towards a base X3M with the upgraded M Sport seats. I'm curious if BMW will address the ride quality criticisms with the 2021 model. If they improved the "Comfort" suspension setting on the Comp, I'd definitely go that route.

I'll definitely miss the better exhaust note of the Comp (yes, it is noticeably meaner/louder) but the power difference is negligible and can easily be solved with a tune. Ditto for the exhaust and black grilles and such - easily fixed problems, though they basically eliminate the cost savings of getting a Base model.

Overall, I felt really comfortable driving the X3M and am astounded with how much raw performance is available in an SUV. This really does feel like a jacked-up M3. Yes, you do still feel the weight and high center of gravity when pushing the car (compared to a coupe/sedan), but only folks with a lot of driving experience will really notice. I'd love to drive an M Drivers' package car to see if the weight loss of the sunroof would make the car feel even better. It certainly couldn't hurt, but not sure if I would really notice it shy of a racetrack setting when really pushing the car.

If you've gotten this far, thanks for reading my novel. . .
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      01-16-2020, 04:11 PM   #2
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Honestly, even on poor roads, if you are doing over 40 or 50'the car is more comfortable and controlled in Sport. It's better damped.
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      01-16-2020, 04:13 PM   #3
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Its an excellent novel.Very informative.
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      01-16-2020, 04:25 PM   #4
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thank you for your post, Iím gonna have to try driving around in sport suspension a bit more to try it out myself (x4mc).
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      01-16-2020, 04:46 PM   #5
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Does the comp actually have a different exhaust, or is the difference in note just a result of tuning?
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      01-16-2020, 05:04 PM   #6
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Interesting read. We don't get a choice in the UK, only the competition model available
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      01-16-2020, 05:13 PM   #7
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Great info, thanks!

Iím curious if someone can find a tech doc that confirms the differences. If it is just a software tune or hardware?
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      01-16-2020, 05:51 PM   #8
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Great post--thank you.

I actually drove both back to back yesterday and the CA informed me that there were "heavier springs" on the Comp model? Have not found anything to support this. The drive(s) were nearly identical (apart from the amazing exhaust sound on the comp.....).
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      01-16-2020, 06:17 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Influence View Post
... I also quickly found out that the "Economy" throttle response mode is crap on either model. Put it in Sport if you want proper throttle response. It completely wakes the car up and almost makes it feel like they put a different engine into the car. ...
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Influence. Everyone has a different driving background, body habitus, needs for their vehicle, performance interests, so personal drives are key when purchasing vehicles, especially high-performance models.

Just a comment on the 'throttle response'. When moving from 'Eff/D1' to 'Sport/D2' there is improvement, and that is where our M1 buttons are set. But to really sense a difference in throttle response which you seem to want to experience, would recommend at least trying 'Sport+/D3', even if only in the Engine setting (leaving suspension and steering in Comfort if you wish). Our M2 buttons are set for that to allow quick transition to a more responsive performance curve when that is needed (as it was today during busy Interstate driving).
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      01-16-2020, 06:35 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by weitz View Post
thank you for your post, I’m gonna have to try driving around in sport suspension a bit more to try it out myself (x4mc).
I now use Sport suspension for daily driving (X3MC) and, as it turns out, it really is better than comfort. True story.
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      01-16-2020, 06:36 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hoonigan View Post
Does the comp actually have a different exhaust, or is the difference in note just a result of tuning?
Different, and a variable valve vs and on/off valve as well, I believe. Assume that is controlled by the tune, but still a physical difference and not just note.
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      01-16-2020, 06:42 PM   #12
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Great comparo! The only thing that would have been the icing on the cake is if you put a Comp and non-Comp up on lifts side-by-side to see if there were visual differences between the springs and sway bars. It might be easy enough to compare the spring and sway bar part numbers at realoem.com.
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Last edited by SD ///M4; 01-16-2020 at 07:17 PM..
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      01-16-2020, 06:58 PM   #13
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Very nice write up!
What brand of tires did the cars have?
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      01-17-2020, 01:28 AM   #14
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Thanks for the impressions. Do you know which tires were on each car you drove?
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      01-17-2020, 07:43 AM   #15
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I bought the X3M for my wife. We looked at and drove the competition but the deal killer was no 20Ē wheel option. The extra 1/2Ē of sidewall really helps the ride. I was pleased that the engines in both produce the same torque and were exactly the same engine except for tuning. If I recall, the comp gets an extra couple of pounds of boost. The sport seats arenít extremely comfortable for me as the seat bolsters seem to dig in to my thighs when I man-spread, but my wife loves it.
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      01-17-2020, 10:08 AM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ironwood View Post
I bought the X3M for my wife. We looked at and drove the competition but the deal killer was no 20Ē wheel option. The extra 1/2Ē of sidewall really helps the ride. I was pleased that the engines in both produce the same torque and were exactly the same engine except for tuning. If I recall, the comp gets an extra couple of pounds of boost. The sport seats arenít extremely comfortable for me as the seat bolsters seem to dig in to my thighs when I man-spread, but my wife loves it.
I feel the same way about the side bolsters on the M Seats. My boys need to breath!

Last edited by spta97; 01-17-2020 at 10:15 AM..
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      01-17-2020, 12:30 PM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by weitz View Post
thank you for your post, Iím gonna have to try driving around in sport suspension a bit more to try it out myself (x4mc).
Sport mode will still be firmer than comfort overall, but if just feels better sorted on Comp models. Firmer, but less jittery (seems like an oxymoron, but the best I can describe it). In my opinion, BMW completely screwed the pooch on the "Comfort" suspension setting in the Comp models. Maybe they will fix it for the 2021 models.
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      01-17-2020, 12:38 PM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Transfer View Post
Thanks for the impressions. Do you know which tires were on each car you drove?
Thank heavens the dealers actually put a picture of the tires in their listings:

First dealership:
Base X3M: Conti SportContact 6
Comp: Conti SportContact 6

Second dealership:
Base X3M: Conti SportContact 6
Comp: Michelin P4S (this was the drive that made me feel that the Comp had much better turn in than the base model). Maybe it was just the better tires . . .
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      01-17-2020, 12:41 PM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Max Well View Post
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Influence. Everyone has a different driving background, body habitus, needs for their vehicle, performance interests, so personal drives are key when purchasing vehicles, especially high-performance models.

Just a comment on the 'throttle response'. When moving from 'Eff/D1' to 'Sport/D2' there is improvement, and that is where our M1 buttons are set. But to really sense a difference in throttle response which you seem to want to experience, would recommend at least trying 'Sport+/D3', even if only in the Engine setting (leaving suspension and steering in Comfort if you wish). Our M2 buttons are set for that to allow quick transition to a more responsive performance curve when that is needed (as it was today during busy Interstate driving).
I did play with the M setup a bit and did try Sport+ with the D3 mode at the first dealership with the Comp model. Yeah, it definitely makes a difference in how the car feels. It was almost insanely quick in Sport+ throttle with D3. Frankly almost unusably quick on public roads, but that's why you buy an M car, right?
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      01-17-2020, 12:43 PM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SD ///M4 View Post
Great comparo! The only thing that would have been the icing on the cake is if you put a Comp and non-Comp up on lifts side-by-side to see if there were visual differences between the springs and sway bars. It might be easy enough to compare the spring and sway bar part numbers at realoem.com.
Sadly, I just didn't have time to do that, but it would certainly answer the question. What's funny is the one Genius who went for a ride with me is a real BMW kid (I think he has an E30). He thought that they might have left the shipping blocks on the suspension on the Comp model we drove (that's how bad he thought the ride was). We checked when we got done with the drive - the blocks had been properly removed.
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      01-17-2020, 02:00 PM   #21
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I'm not sure I've read a user review that reflects my experience with regard to the suspension on the X3MC.

I don't experience this often mentioned crashing or bouncing at all, at low speeds it will thump a bit on cats eyes or small sharp ridges but it always feels in control, always tied down and as the speed rises it gets better and better, personally I think it could teach my old F80 M3 a thing or two about a controlled set up for fast road driving. Speed humps are dealt with in a firm but again really well damped and controlled way the suspension has never reached the end of its travel in my hands and as we know it's hitting the bump stops that causes the crash or bang, I wonder what people are driving over to get this to happen.

I'm amazed how well they have managed to control 2 tonnes of SUV as it never starts to get baggy or out of shape (I'm talking making progress on a public road not 10/10ths) it carves through corners, stays flat and deals with bumps in one bite doesn't carry on trying to deal with what just happened like my F80 M3 would do tyres skipping with the DSC light flashing away as the damper tried to get a rear wheel back on the ground.
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Last edited by Wills2; 01-17-2020 at 02:09 PM..
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      01-17-2020, 02:27 PM   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Influence View Post
Quote:
Originally Posted by Transfer View Post
Thanks for the impressions. Do you know which tires were on each car you drove?
Thank heavens the dealers actually put a picture of the tires in their listings:

First dealership:
Base X3M: Conti SportContact 6
Comp: Conti SportContact 6

Second dealership:
Base X3M: Conti SportContact 6
Comp: Michelin P4S (this was the drive that made me feel that the Comp had much better turn in than the base model). Maybe it was just the better tires . . .
i think not sir based on my limited experience.
i had michelin pilot sport 4 s in my car base suspension (335d) and the steering precision was good. I Then installed bilstein b8 shocks and the difference was incredible ie difference between a knife and a surgical scalpel both sharp but suspension being stiffer etc makes a huge difference.
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