The BMW is one of the best-selling luxury compact crossovers. It was most recently redesigned in 2018 and has received a host of styling, engine, and technology revisions since. All X3 models are 4-door wagons that seat five passengers. Both rear- and all-wheel drive are offered. Competitors include the Acura RDX, Alfa Romeo Stelvio, Audi A3, Cadillac XT5, Genesis GV70, Infiniti QX60, Jaguar E-Pace, Lexus NX, Lincoln Corsair, Mercedes-Benz GLC, Porsche Macan, and Volvo XC60.
Trim levels include the 30i and M40i. 30i models get a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder that makes 248 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. They come with rear- or all-wheel drive (xDrive). M40i models get a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder engine that makes 382 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. All-wheel drive is standard on the M40i. There's also a limited production X3 M. It comes with a 473-horsepower twin-turbo inline six. All trims get a 8-speed automatic transmission. Towing capacity when properly equipped maxes out at 4,400 pounds.
Prices start at $45,000 and clime to more than $100,000 on X3 M models. Standard safety features include blind-spot monitor, forward-collision warning with brake intervention, front and rear parking sensors, and lane-departure warning. Additional standard features include 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment screen with wireless Android Auto and Apple Car Play, dual-zone climate control, simulated leather upholstery, adaptive LED headlights, power liftgate, navigation system, WiFi hotspot, and 12-speaker audio system.
Being a BMW, even the base X3 30i is fairly quick. The turbo four will push the 4,200-pound crossover from 0 to 60 MPH in about 7 seconds. Certainly not class leading, but more than appropriate power for the class and price. Stepping up to the M40i, you get a lot more punch and a significantly quicker 0 to 60 time. But the biggest difference is with a full load of passengers. Where the base model struggles a bit with a full-passenger load, the M40i just powers through. X3 M models are blisteringly quick, but also extremely expensive.
Transmission performance is outstanding. The 8-speed automatic shifts smoothly and without hesitation. Downshifts are quick. Using the steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles is a lot of fun, but isn't necessary. All-wheel drive can make a big difference in all-season traction, but really it comes down to the tires. Most BMW models come with summer tires or touring tires, which are not appropriate for Chicago winters. All-wheel-drive will not solve a tire traction issue, it only provides additional traction if the tires can get it.
One of the penalties of robust acceleration is poor fuel economy, and the X3 is not exception to that rule. The all-wheel-drive 30i is EPA rated at 21/28 MPG, the M40i is rated at 21/26 MPG, and the X3M is rated at a dismal 15/20 MPG. Realistically, those numbers are average for the class, however. All engines require premium-grade gasoline. In routine suburban driving expect to average about 22 MPG overall, perhaps a bit higher if you spend some time on the highway. M Competition owners will be lucky to average 18 MPG.
The X3 is and always has been the gold standard for athletic compact crossovers. It's level of athleticism rivals some sports sedans and certainly places it as one of the top handling luxury crossovers, perhaps only rivaled by the Alfa Romeo Stelvio and Porsche Macan. With that agility comes a slight ride penalty, that grows larger as you step up in trim. However, even the top trim M40i has an acceptably firm ride. (Note, the X3 M has a very firm ride that won't be to everyone's taste, but it handles like a true sports car -- albeit one with four doors and a large cargo area.)
Technically, the X3 doesn't impress with struts up front and an independent multi-link suspension out back. But BMW gets the details right and throws in dead accurate steering and powerful brakes to complete the package. Combined, the X3, even in base trim, will run circles around your traditional crossover. When traversing twisty roads and in quick changes of direction, the steering is communicative and body roll limited.
Interior noise levels are appropriate for the class, but the X3 isn't the quietest thanks to it's grippy tires. Much like fuel economy drops as you step up in trim, noise levels grow as the tires get larger.
MW has a formula for interior design and the X3 doesn't deviate. There's a digital instrument cluster, wide infotainment screen and console-mounted shifter and jog dial for the infotainment system. Add to that plenty of rich, dark materials and just enough chrome and aluminum trim to liven things up. Overall, the design is pleasing and well executed. Everything is easy to see and clearly marked and the switchgear has an expensive, solid feeling.
The X3 has extremely cozy and supportive seats. All models have a wide range of adjustments that will allow any driver to get comfortable. Front-seat passengers have ample head and leg room. Those in the back will find ample room as well, though knee space grows tight if the front seats are positioned all the way back. Large door openings and a modest step-in make is easy to get in and out. A tall greenhouse and reasonable roof pillars provide good visibility all around.
From a tech standpoint, it really doesn't get more advanced than BMW. All of the required goodies are there and there's an infotainment system so commanding that you could launch the space shuttle. Still, most functions are intuitive, it's just the set-and-forget stuff that is complicated. That said, BMW should give up on its gesture-control commands. They oftentimes don't work and when they do it is frustrating because they are slow to respond.
X3 offers good cargo space. There's a healthy 29 cubic feet behind the back row and flipping those seats reveals an appealing 63 cubic feet. Both impressive numbers for the class. Interior storage is just fair, with a few open and covered bins throughout.
Bottom Line -- It is hard to fault X3, as it perfectly executes its mission. It was the first luxury compact crossover and remains one of the best. That said, it definitely leans sporty, meaning agile handling, powerful engines, mediocre fuel economy, and a firm ride. Prices are steep, but on par with other vehicles in the class.