The BMW X3 has aged with grace. Launched as a 2011 model and facelifted four years later, BMW’s compact luxury crossover SUV still ranks among the best in class despite recently added competitors.
Several features now come standard on upper models of the 2017 BMW X3. BMW has dropped some neutral beige shades of leather and SensaTec simulated leather, but milk chocolate brown with orange stitching remains available.
Competition is fierce in the compact segment, which includes the Acura RDX, Audi Q5, Lexus NX, and Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class. BMW’s entrant should meet the needs of luxury-SUV shoppers, with its blend of style and practical merits. Fun to drive, the X3 also boasts an inviting set of available technology, as well as powertrain options.
Little has changed in the X3’s attractive proportions since its debut. The X3 shares its running gear with the newer, more boldly styled X4. Both models share running gear.
Developing 240 horsepower, the turbocharged four-cylinder base engine delivers impressive performance. Working with a smooth 8-speed automatic transmission, the base model can hit 60 mph in 6.2 seconds. Rear-wheel drive is standard (X3 sDrive28i), but most models get all-wheel drive (X3 xDrive28i).
Coming closer to serious performance territory, the inline six-cylinder engine, also turbocharged, generates 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque. Offered only with all-wheel drive and the 8-speed automatic, the stimulating BMW X3 xDrive35i needs just over five seconds to reach 60 mph.
A 2.0-liter, 180-horsepower turbodiesel engine was available for 2015. Then, in the wake of Volkswagen’s emissions-falsification scandal, BMW said that its diesel X3 would be held back until regulators finished evaluating its emissions. In mid-summer of 2016, that testing was completed; and the X3 xDrive28d model returned to the U.S. lineup.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has not rated the latest X3, though the 2015 earlier model earned a five-star overall score (four-star for rollovers). The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has given it top Good scores in each crash test, except for the difficult small-overlap crash, which hasn’t been rated.
Optional advanced safety features include blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, and frontal collision warning with automatic emergency braking. The rearview camera is optional, part of a Driver Assistance package, rather than standard.
BMW X3 sDrive28i ($38,050) has the four-cylinder gasoline engine, rear-wheel drive, a power tailgate, power front seats, automatic climate control, rain-sensing wipers, Bluetooth, and a nine-speaker audio system with USB port and HD radio. X3 xDrive28i AWD ($40,950) adds all-wheel drive.
X3 xDrive28d ($42,450) has a turbodiesel engine and all-wheel drive.
X3 xDrive35i ($47,650) gets the six-cylinder engine with all-wheel drive, plus keyless ignition, lumbar support, adaptive headlights, a panoramic moonroof, and a premium Harman Kardon surround sound system with 16 speakers.
A Driver Assistance Plus package ($1,700) adds lane-departure warning, frontal collision warning, and pedestrian safety. Blind-spot monitoring, stop/go cruise control, and a surround-view camera system can be added. (Prices are MSRP and do not include destination charges.)
Smaller than the X5, the compact BMW X3 looks less like an SUV than a tall sedan, at least to some eyes. Though less daring than the related X4, the X3 has visual virtues of its own, centered upon its handsome proportions. Compared to an X5, it has a leaner, more graceful air.
Round headlights and a rather pronounced rendition of BMW’s familiar kidney grille emphasize kinship to the German automaker’s sedans. LED headlights are optional. Chiseled lines adjacent to the hood tend to make the beltline look lower, its creases swooping gracefully.
Two lines are available as options. The xLine adds brightwork to grille and windows, while the M Sport package includes a more aggressive-looking front fascia.
Not only are materials handsome, but the X3 cabin boasts thoughtful ergonomic elements. Shaped to aim displays and controls toward the driver, the dashboard features soft-touch materials, though few would call it lavish.
Ranking among the most versatile smaller crossover models, the X3 offers more usable interior space than most rivals. Despite relatively compact dimensions, cargo volume is abundant, amounting to 27.6 cubic feet. Headroom also abounds, helped by a body that’s 66.1 inches tall.
Front seats are firmly cushioned and appropriately angled, offering bountiful legroom and good head clearance. Back-seat passengers aren’t too slighted, with 36.5 inches of legroom available, a bit less than some competitors. Unlike the related X4, the X3 can actually carry five passengers without anyone being crushed. A pass-through is standard, while the 40/20/40 configuration makes it easier to fold seatbacks. The cargo area contains rich carpeting and metal cargo rails.
Reasonably quiet on the road, the X3 is tightly assembled. As a result, the cabin has a muted character, absorbing harsh sounds.
Powertrains are among the main attractions of an X3. Developing 240 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, the base turbo four-cylinder engine performs capably, whether equipped with rear-drive or xDrive. Pushing the pedal to the floor, the direct-injected four-cylinder X3 displays abundant energy, without hesitating, as the turbocharger spins promptly into action. A bit on the coarse side, the four-cylinder can be heard while idling.
Able to hit 60 mph in 5.3 seconds, the six-cylinder xDrive35i takes off without the squatting sensation that’s typical of tall vehicles. In short, it moves out with the authority that’s expected from a 3 Series BMW.
Ride quality ranks as relatively firm, with the standard run-flat 18-inch tires. Larger (19-inch) rubber is available. Visibility is generally good.
Optional adjustable dampers can subdue harsh vibrations, softening the ride, but rougher pavement surfaces can induce an X3 to crash ahead rather than roll peacefully through bad spots. Road and wind noises basically remain outside the vehicle. Optional Variable Sports Steering provides a relaxed on-center feel, but eases maneuverability at lower speeds.
Driving Dynamics Control, with Normal, Sport and Sport+ modes, can adjust the dampers, throttle, transmission, and steering feel. Like any BMW, the X3 seems happiest in Sport mode, which quickens steering responses while producing a tauter ride.
An X3 can handle mild off-roading, but on-pavement performance is its forte. Because you sit tall, agility and lack of excessive body motions come as something of a surprise.
Fuel economy ranks close to the competition. Whether it has rear-drive or all-wheel drive, the four-cylinder X3 is EPA-rated at 21/28 mpg City/Highway, or 24 mpg Combined. The six-cylinder xDrive35i lowers EPA ratings to 19/26 mpg City/Highway, or 21 mpg Combined. All models have stop/start technology, but the system operates quite roughly.
Essentially, the X3 looks and acts like a tall wagon, for families that need greater space and capability than a sedan provides. Performance is impressive, as it should be in a BMW. An impressive amount of equipment is available, but the cost of options adds up mighty quickly.
Driving impressions by Aaron Cole, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.