The 2016 BMW X3 is a leading light among compact luxury crossover SUVs. That’s pretty remarkable for a car in its sixth year of production, but the X3 pulls it off seemingly without breaking a sweat. Indeed, it’s such a challenge to find fault with this crossover that our only "Con" is its relatively high price. It kind of makes sense, after all, that you’d have to pay a little more for a nearly flawless product.
The 2016 BMW X3 is a handsome crossover SUV that can even do a little off-roading if the mood strikes.
Although the X3 receives no notable changes for 2016, it was treated to a significant refresh last year that burnished its appeal. In particular, the new headlights made it look like a downsized X5, while the newly available diesel engine took fuel economy to new heights with only a slight drop in real-world performance. In other words, the X3 has just gotten better with age, and as our glowing long-term test of a 2012 X3 demonstrates, it was already at the pinnacle of its profession. The competition has had a long time to catch up, but generally speaking, the BMW still holds the advantage among compact luxury crossovers.
Of course, there’s no shortage of alternatives in this hotly contested segment. The Audi Q5 is even older than the X3, but it has also aged nicely, offering a comparable blend of sport and comfort along with a compelling diesel option. The Q5-derived 2016 Porsche Macan is the sports auto of the bunch, though it’s far pricier and offers hatchback-grade cargo capacity. If you’re looking for more value, the 2016 Acura RDX provides generous power, space and features for the money, while the Lexus NX brings uniquely aggressive styling and a slick, impeccably trimmed interior to the table. The veteran Volvo XC60, meanwhile, is a stylish, family-friendly crossover that’s surprisingly fun to drive.
But if the BMW’s price fits your budget, resistance may be futile. The current X3 has been a winner from day one, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down.
Don’t be fooled by the modest 240-hp rating of the 28i models; acceleration is quite brisk, and unlike many turbocharged engines, this one doesn’t run out of breath at higher rpm. The xDrive28d is about a second slower to 60 mph, but its slightly better torque rating makes it feel nearly as strong in most cases, and its fuel economy is off the charts for a luxury crossover. If you don’t mind paying extra for the xDrive35i, you’ll be rewarded with thrilling acceleration and fuel economy that isn’t far off the 28i models’ pace.
The 2016 X3 strikes a jaunty pose here in the dirt, but the pavement is its natural habitat.
The auto stop-start function that comes with all X3 models does optimize fuel economy ratings, but it can be an annoyance in heavy traffic, as the engine doesn’t restart as quickly or smoothly as we’d like when transitioning between the brake pedal and the gas. Fortunately, you can manually disable this feature.
The X3 delivers on the promise of BMW performance in other respects, too. Take it around a turn with enthusiasm and it feels light and nimble. As compact luxury crossovers go, it’s one of the sportiest, particularly with the Dynamic Handling package’s adaptive suspension dampers and torque-vectoring AWD. Although the drive quality is definitely on the firm side, most people will find the 2016 BMW X3 quite livable, whether commuting on urban streets or taking long highway trips.
The 2016 BMW X3 crossover SUV is available in four trim levels: sDrive28i, xDrive28i, xDrive28d and xDrive35i.
The sDrive28i model comes standard with the gasoline-powered 4-cylinder engine, 18-inch wheels, roof rails, rear privacy glass, automatic headlights, LED foglamps, automatic wipers, a power liftgate, auto-dimming mirrors (with exterior power-folding functionality), cruise control, dual-zone automatic climate control, eight-way power front seats with driver memory functions, ambient interior lighting, "SensaTec" premium vinyl upholstery, a 40/20/40 split-folding rear seat, a leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, Bluetooth phone and sound connectivity, the iDrive electronics interface with a touchpad controller and a nine-speaker sound system with a CD player, HD radio, a USB port and an auxiliary sound input.
The xDrive28i adds all-wheel drive and hill descent control, while the xDrive28d adds those items plus the diesel engine.
The xDrive35i boasts the more powerful inline-6 gasoline engine plus adaptive xenon headlights, adaptive LED taillights, a panoramic sunroof and a 16-speaker Harman Kardon sound system.
The 2016 X3’s simple, uncluttered control layout belies the advanced technology underneath.
The Premium package includes the panoramic sunroof (standard on xDrive35i), keyless entry and ignition, hands-free tailgate functionality, leather upholstery, satellite radio and four-way lumbar support for the front seats. The Cold Weather package includes heated front and rear seats, a heated steering wheel and a retractable headlight-washer system. The Technology package gets you a head-up display, a navigation system with a larger central iDrive screen, an enhanced driver information display in the gauge cluster, smartphone app integration and BMW Remote Services. The Dynamic Handling package adds adaptive suspension dampers, variable-ratio steering and an enhanced torque-vectoring version of the all-wheel-drive system (sDrive28i excluded).
The Driver Assistance package adds front and rear parking sensors and a rearview camera, while the Driver Assistance Plus package throws in a surround-view camera system, an active blind-spot monitor, a forward collision mitigation system with automatic braking and a lane-departure warning system. Adaptive cruise control is available with the Driver Assistance Plus package at additional cost. The Lighting package adds adaptive LED headlights with automatic high beams to the xDrive35i, while the lesser trims get xenon headlights and adaptive LED taillights, with the LED headlights available for an extra fee.
The M Sport package features 19-inch wheels, torque-vectoring AWD (sDrive28i excluded), an aerodynamic body kit, sport front seats, special interior trim and a sport steering wheel. Also, all trims except the xDrive28d get an eight-speed sport transmission with shift paddles, while the xDrive28d gets the shift paddles minus the transmission upgrade.
Some of the above items (e.g., the panoramic sunroof and the navigation system) are available as stand-alone options, and the xDrive35i’s Harman Kardon sound system is optional on other X3 models. You may also encounter X3 models with an optional Mobile Assistance package that combines certain features from the Premium, Cold Weather and Technology packages.
The X3’s interior is classic BMW, from its traditional analog gauges to its sensible ergonomics and restrained sense of style. Most surfaces consist of high-quality, rich-looking materials, while the center stack cants slightly toward the driver for a more intimate feel. The various knobs and controls become familiar in short order. It’s a traditional layout overall, but we wouldn’t call it dated.
The iDrive electronics interface is an X3 strong suit, particularly with the larger, higher-resolution screen that comes with the navigation system. An integrated touchpad lets you scrawl text and number inputs with your fingertip, a feature that’s more useful than you might think. The menu structure is straightforward and processing times are quick, which helps minimize the amount of time you spend looking away from the road. That said, new owners should sit down and familiarize themselves with iDrive before hitting the road, because it’s still a complex system and you can’t master everything while the car’s in motion.
Although the X3 is technically a small luxury crossover, the rear seatbacks fold forward to open up a generous cargo bay.
Room for front passengers is ample by every measure, while rear legroom is downright generous and pairs with a truly cozy seat. Reviews often focus on the X3’s performance, but it’s also one of the most family-friendly vehicles in this segment. The cargo area behind the rear seats measures 27.6 cubic feet, and total capacity with the rear seatbacks folded down is 63.3 cubic feet. Both are satisfactory numbers by class standards.
Every 2016 BMW X3 comes standard with antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, automatic brake drying (useful in rainy weather), front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and active front seat head restraints. Also standard is the BMW Assist emergency communications system, which provides automatic crash notification and on-demand roadside assistance.
The optional BMW Remote Services system upgrades BMW Assist with remote door unlocking, GPS car location and additional features that can be operated via the My BMW Remote smartphone app. Other optional equipment includes front and rear parking sensors, an active blind-spot monitor, a forward collision mitigation system with automatic braking, rearview and surround-view parking cameras and a lane-departure warning system.
In SUVS brake testing, an xDrive35i stopped from 60 miles per hour in 123 feet, which is an average distance for the segment. An xDrive28i with 19-inch wheels stopped in 127 feet.
In government crash testing, the X3 received five out of five stars in overall crash protection, with five stars for frontal crash protection and side impact protection. In crash testing by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the X3 received the highest possible rating of "Good" in the moderate-overlap frontal-offset, side-impact and roof strength tests. Its seat/head restraint design was also rated "Good" for whiplash protection in rear impacts.
Every 2016 BMW X3 comes with an eight-speed automatic transmission and an automatic stop-start system. The latter saves fuel by shutting off the engine when you come to a stop and then starting it when you take your foot off the brake. Note that in BMW-speak, sDrive equals rear-wheel drive, while xDrive equals all-wheel drive.
The 2016 X3 employs an eight-speed automatic that’s operated via this joystick-like gear selector.
The 2016 BMW X3 sDrive28i and xDrive28i are powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that produces 240 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. In SUVS performance testing, the xDrive28i went from zero to 60 miles per hour in 6.8 seconds, which is slightly better than average. EPA fuel economy estimates stand at 24 miles per gallon combined (21 city/28 highway) for both the sDrive28i and xDrive28i.
The X3 xDrive28d is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder diesel engine that produces 180 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. BMW estimates it will go from zero to 60 miles per hour in 7.8 seconds, which is slow for the segment but typical for a diesel. EPA-estimated fuel economy rings in at an excellent 30 miles per gallon combined (27 city/34 highway).
The X3 xDrive35i gets a 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6 engine that produces 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque. In SUVS performance testing, the xDrive35i hit 60 miles per hour in 5.8 seconds, making it one of the quickest vehicles in this segment. Fuel economy is rated at 22 miles per gallon combined (19 city/27 highway), a remarkably frugal showing for such a powerful vehicle.
Choice of three capable and fuel-efficient engines; high-quality cabin; generous passenger and cargo room; crisp handling; top-notch crash-test scores.
The 2016 BMW X3 is an excellent, if somewhat pricey, choice for a luxury crossover SUV, with a broad selection of engines and wide-ranging talents.