The X3 continues to perform admirably in the compact luxury crossover segment. With over a decade of model heritage, BMW has been in the game a lot longer than the competition. The result is a refined machine that does everything an SUV should do, all while retaining the performance and design characteristics that define the BMW brand. We believe there are attractive alternatives you should consider. However, the X3 should satiate all your needs from a compact SUV, with the added benefit of being a Bimmer.
According to Consumer Reports, the X3 has dramatically improved in reliability since previous generations, but still lags behind the aforementioned competition in this category. They give the X3 a 3 out of 5 predicted reliability rating. JD Power awards the X3 a 3.5 out of 5 predicted reliability rating. The higher rating may be the result of fewer safety recalls than others in the segment with only two. The first only involved 103 xDrive28is and had been resolved before the affected units were even sold. The second recall was issued for a problem with the anchor that secures child safety restraint seats. The affected units receive an additional bracket that reinforces the anchor from the dealership, free of charge. As we’ve advised before, expect to pay a premium for parts and service in German branded vehicles. A well maintained vehicle will tend to have things break less, but cost of ownership is higher on luxury SUVs, so budget accordingly.
There are three available trims for the X3. The sDrive28i model starts $40,050. The all wheel drive equipped xDrive28i is $2,000 more. And finally the all wheel drive and twin turbo, inline 6 cylinder equipped XDrive35i tips the scale at $48,950. You are forced to pay for one of two appearance packages, regardless of which model you choose. The xLine package adds some cosmetic touch ups like matte silver kidney grilles and roof racks, upgraded interior trim, and 19in all alloy Y spoke wheels with all season run flat tires. The price is model dependant, but expect to pay around $1,500.
The second appearance package is the M sport package that adds an aerodynamic body kit, M sport steering wheel, upgraded transmission, 19in M sport double spoke wheels with run flat tires, sport seats, and replaces the stock leatherette with black Nevada leather with grey contrast stitching. Again, price is model dependant at around $2,600. An available cold weather package adds heated front and rear seats, a heated steering wheel, and retractable headlight washers for $950. The driver assistance package also costs $950 and provides parking sensors and a rearview camera. The $1,700 driver assistance plus package gives surround view, active blind spot detection, speed limit info, a fuel saving engine stop/start function, and driver assistant software.
The dynamic handling package includes variable steering that adjusts steering sensitivity to speed and road conditions and a variable suspension dampening system that also adjusts accordingly. The $900 lighting package affixes upgraded Xenon headlights that adapt up to 15 degrees whilst turning. An available $2,050 premium package introduces four way lumbar support to the seats, a convenience key that allows keyless operation and hands-free trunk access, and a panoramic sunroof. The $2,750 technology package furnishes a navigation system with real time traffic information, a heads-up display, remote access services, and BMW online connectivity.
Unlike the smaller, front wheel drive bastard brother, the X1, the X3 packs performance characteristics worthy of the BMW family name. Both the available power plants apply smooth performance with refined twin turbo forced induction systems. This means you’ll get better performance and fuel economy out of smaller engine than a non aspirated larger engine. The 2.0 liter inline 4 cylinder produces 240 hp @ 5,000rpm and 258 lb-ft of torque @ 1,250rpm. BMW claims this setup takes the X3 from 0-60mph in 6.2 seconds. The larger 3.0L inline 6 cylinder engine makes 300 hp @ 5,800rpm and 300 lb-ft of torque @ 1,250rpm.
BMW insists on a class-leading 5.3 second 0-60mph time for xDrive35i model. However, an optioned xDrive35i can easily total in the mid 50ks, which puts this model in direct competition with the base Audi SQ5 and GLC 43 AMG, much higher performing and better all-around SUVs. The eight speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly and intelligently. Unfortunately, paddle shifters are only available on models with the M sport package, a feature that is standard on most of the competition.
The handling on the X3 is one of the sharpest in the segment, behaving similarly to the Q5 and Acura RDX whom we gave top marks for agility. Body lean and roll is controlled quite well, especially in the variable dampening equipped models.The ride is firm, a common consequence of capable suspension, but not uncomfortable. Expect to feel some bumps with the welcome side effect of better road “feel” than some competitors, like the Lexus NX, which provides a soft, comfy ride with none of the athleticism of the X3. The brakes are undersized for the X3’s weight and require longer stopping distances than competitors. if you’re looking for the the “Ultimate Driving Machine” experience in compact SUV form, the X3 delivers.
The X3 seats 5 in a comfortable cabin that is distinctly BMW. The stock leatherette isn’t bad, but the optional Nevada leather definitely enhances the atmosphere, a feeling that should be standard in a luxury SUV. The seating position is high and provides an excellent field of vision with BMW’s expansive window design. Shorter drivers will appreciate this attribute.
Cargo capacity is excellent in the X3 at 27.6 cubic feet behind second row and 63.3 total cubic feet with second row down, a figure only eclipsed by the Jaguar F-pace. That’s enough space for a car full of adults and their luggage for a weekend getaway. BMW’s iDrive is one of the stronger infotainment systems in the segment, with controls and software that are easy to understand and intuitive.
The touchpad allows you the ability to scribble letters and numbers with your fingers. This features removes the tedious scrolling or touch mistypes that are all too common in other systems. Standard bluetooth and voice control round out the already advanced iDrive infotainment system. Overall, the interior is what you would expect in a premium SUV, but there are better cabins in the Mercedes GLC and Audi Q5.
The X3’s exterior design shares similar characteristics to the larger X5. The front displays the trademark kidney grilles that have defined BMW for decades. Beneath, a fog light equipped bumper enhances the SUVs presence and gives the impression it may go off road from time to time, though we know it most likely won’t. The M sport package replaces this bumper with one with large, aggressive intakes that give a sportier edge to the X3’s appearance.
The shadowline trim further enhances this impression and makes the X3 look like it sits lower than it actually does. We found the back end a bit busier and less aesthetically appealing. The red reflectors look cheap and tacky. Why are they necessary? With bright red lights directly above them, aren’t they a bit redundant? The side profile and roofline are sharp and modern, a vast improvement over the previous generation. We understand exterior design is pretty subjective to one’s taste, so will leave the final judgment to you; but we think there are better looking alternatives in the compact luxury segment.
According to Consumer Reports, the X3 has dramatically improved in reliability since previous generations, but still lags behind the aforementioned competition in this category. They give the X3 a 3 out of 5 predicted reliability rating. JD Power awards the X3 a 3.5 out of 5 predicted reliability rating.
The higher rating may be the result of fewer safety recalls than others in the segment with only two. The first only involved 103 xDrive28is and had been resolved before the affected units were even sold. The second recall was issued for a problem with the anchor that secures child safety restraint seats. The affected units receive an additional bracket that reinforces the anchor from the dealership, free of charge. As we’ve advised before, expect to pay a premium for parts and service in German branded vehicles. A well maintained vehicle will tend to have things break less, but cost of ownership is higher on luxury SUVs, so budget accordingly.
The X3 is awarded top ratings from both the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The eight airbags provide excellent protection in the unlikely event of a collision. Optional driver assistance features greatly improve the overall safety of the X3. However, competitors like Mercedes include many of these features standard.
The available lane departure warning system gently vibrates the wheel if the driver departs their lane without using the indicator and functions more or less identically to competitors. The BMW lacks adaptive cruise control, which is available in the GLC, Q5, and RDX. That shouldn’t be too big a deal for BMW drivers who prefer to drive their vehicle rather than deferring to a computer.
The X3 comes with two different motors. The two models behave differently and require separate competitors. The 2.0L variant delivers performance most closely matched by the Mercedes GLC 300. The GLC 300 outpaces the X3 to sixty, and does so more comfortably. However, the GLC lacks the responsive handling and suspension the X3 provides. The GLC arrives more expensively, albeit better equipped, with driver assistance features, real leather, and a more luxuriously appointed interior. However, the iDrive infotainment system is much simpler to navigate than that of the Benz. The X3’s simpler design, increased cargo capacity, and sharp handling make it the more practical choice. The GLC 300 is an impressive package for the money, with higher quality materials and superior straight line performance. We prefer the exterior and interior design of the GLC 300 to the X3, but you're welcome to form your own opinion. Test drive both and see which you prefer, did you really need an excuse?
The xDrive35i is rivaled most closely by the 3.0T equipped Q5. Don’t ask us why Audi denotes this model with a T when it is powered by a supercharged, rather than turbocharged, V6 that makes considerably more horsepower and torque. This Q5 model starts at $46,400, a few thousand less than the base xDrive35i X3, and includes real leather, better brakes, and better performance. The Q5 is quicker to 60 mph by almost half a second and handles incredibly well. While they both employ stiff, capable suspension systems, we have to give our preference to the Audi. We found the handling and steering a bit more responsive in the Q5. Rear passengers will appreciate the Q5’s sliding and reclining second row, a feature unavailable in the X3. The MMI infotainment system in the Audi feels outdated when compared with iDrive, but we do like the simple analog controls. If you’re paying for 35i rather than 28i model, you’re looking for better performance. The V6 equipped Q5 simply does a better job across the performance spectrum for less money. We also think it looks damn good doing it.