The BMW X3 crossover offers style, practicality, fuel efficiency, safety and responsiveness, with an 8-speed automatic transmission and available ultra high technology. It’s got great rear-seat and cargo space, making it a versatility overachiever.
For 2015, X3 got a mid-cycle facelift in the headlamps and grille. The 2016 BMW X3 gets no significant changes. Competitors include the Mercedes-Benz GLK, Audi Q5, Volvo XC60, and Cadillac SRX.
Every engine is turbocharged, including the new, strong and eager 2.0-liter TwinPower four-cylinder, with 240 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. BMW says its time from zero to 60 is 6.5 seconds, but it feels faster. The BMW xDrive all-wheel drive system splits the power 40/60 front/rear, but it can go 100 percent rear-wheel drive when it wants to. But don’t expect much if any off-road talent from the X3.
All models come with automatic Stop-Start, which saves gas by killing the engine when you stop, and restarting it when you take your foot off the brake pedal. We think it shuts off too soon and starts too slowly, and BMW’s one of the shakiest versions of such systems.
New for 2015 was a rear-wheel-drive BMW X3 sDrive 28i. Also available is an all-wheel-drive X3 xDrive28d with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder diesel engine making 180 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque that comes at a low 1750 rpm. The X3 28d accelerates to 60 mph in less than eight seconds, which is average performance, and is EPA rated at 27/34 mpg City/Highway.
If it’s speed you want, there’s the X3 xDrive 35i, with a TwinPower six-cylinder making 300 horsepower and 300 foot-pounds of torque. It accelerates to 60 in a brisk 5.5 seconds, on the way to 150 mph. It’s agile and athletic, astounding for a tall crossover.
This second-generation X3 was launched as a 2011 model and updated for 2015. The 2016 BMW X3 is available with a new Harman Kardon surround sound system and updated USB and Bluetooth.
The 2016 BMW X3 sDrive28i ($38,950) is rear-wheel drive. The BMW X3 xDrive28i ($40,950), xDrive28d ($42,450), and xDrive35i ($46,800) are all-wheel drive.
The Technology Package adds navigation, head-up display. The Cold Weather Package brings heated seats all around, heated steering wheel, headlight washers. The Dynamic Handling Package includes active shocks and variable-ratio steering. There is no X3 M, but there is an M Sport Package with aero trim, larger wheels and sport seats.
The BMW X3 looks neither rugged nor flashy. It got new round headlights for 2015. With great proportions, it looks like a tall wagon, not an outdoorsy SUV. It’s lean, pert, and graceful, compared to its big brother the BMW X5.
The crease at the beltline is gracefully swoopy, lowered by chiseled lines at the hood. The nose is tapered just right, not high or blunt like so many crossovers. The LED taillamps are like those on the 3 Series sedan.
The cabin of the BMW X3 is driver-oriented, uncluttered and with attention to detail, while being soft, warm, and calming. Soft-touch surfaces abound, from the doors on up. The cabin is heavy on chrome and brightwork with glossy black trim.
The familiar BMW instrument panel arcs over the controls, and cants them a slight bit toward the driver. We like the optional sport seats, firmer but more comfortable in the long run because they’re more supportive, with more thigh and side bolstering.
The X3 seats five, with good headroom and especially legroom in rear, thanks to a space that’s carved out under the front seat, for the rear passengers’ feet. And there’s a lot of storage space in back of the rear seat, 19 cubic feet. Drop the 40/20/40 rear seat and it balloons to 56.6 cubic feet. No need to drop it for skis and other long thin things, which can pass through the center of the seat.
The four-cylinder turbo is stronger and more fuel-efficient than the six-cylinder of old. It accelerates without hesitation. With the latest design of direct injection, variable camshaft timing, variable valve timing, and twin-scroll turbo-charging, it delivers instant response, with its full 260 foot-pounds of torque all there at a tractor-like 1250 rpm, and it stays with you up to 4800.
The six-cylinder in the X3 35i models ups the ante to 300 hp and 300 pounds, and chops one second off the time to accelerate to 60, from a standing-start launch with no trace of squat or dive, like you’d get out of most crossovers or SUVs. That’s nearly as fast as the venerable and even worshipped M3, with its screaming straight six.
The 8-speed automatic delivers quick shifts, sharp and isolated; it’s muted and smooth yet precise and responsive. The ride is steadier than most crossovers in the class, with very little excess motion.
There’s good cornering feel in slower turns, but the steering wheel doesn’t unwind with much feel. The optional Variable Sports offers more road feel, relaxed on center and at high speeds, while easier to maneuver around tight corners.
The Driving Dynamics Control, a switch near the gear lever, can set Normal, Sport and Sport Plus modes, affecting the dampers, throttle, transmission and steering. No surprise, it feels best in Sport mode, with a firmer ride, tighter cornering, and quicker steering.
If it’s driving dynamics you’re after in your crossover, with excellent rear seat and cargo space, not to mention great non-SUV-like looks, the X3 is a winner.