Compact crossovers are hot. But competition in the luxury SUV category is fierce. How fierce? Over the last couple years, we’ve seen new players from Volvo, Jaguar, Range Rover, Mercedes-Benz, Alfa Romeo, Audi, Infiniti, and BMW. And this summer we’ll have the new Acura RDX in the dealerships. With consumers quickly shifting to SUVs, BMW redesigned its X3 to make it more attractive to buyers who want something more than a premium SUV.
The task isn’t easy. The third-generation X3 has been in U.S. dealers since last November, and from December to February, the X3 has suffered a decline in sales. In the first two months of this year, the Bavarian compact SUV is down 13.1 percent, selling 6,235 units in that time frame. Acura, for example, sold 6,727 units of the old RDX in the first two months of the year, and Mercedes put a whooping 10,196 units of the GLC on the streets during the same period. BMW, however, expects that sales of the new X3 will revamp pretty soon and is increasing its production at the Spartanburg, South Carolina, plant.
Propelled by a 2.0-liter turbo-four engine that produces 248 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, the X3 uses an eight-speed automatic transmission that sends all of that power to the four wheels through a rear-biased all-wheel-drive system. To see how that formula works, we took it to the track to run our standardized tests. The 2018 BMW X3 got from 0 to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds and completed the quarter mile run in 14.8 seconds at 92.6 mph. Those sound like good numbers—and they are—even when we compare them to our 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 4Matic long-termer (Motor Trend’s 2017 SUV of the Year), which goes from 0 to 60 mph in 6.9 seconds and completes the quarter mile in 15.2 seconds at 89.6 mph. Our BMW tester was equipped with the Dynamic Handling package, which adds M Sport brakes. The resulting stop from 60 mph took 123 feet. The X3 took 26.9 seconds at an average 0.64 g to complete our figure-eight testing, but testing director Kim Reynolds didn’t find the Bimmer to be as fun as its new, younger sibling. We tested the X3 alongside the X2, and Reynolds said the younger model handles better. “The X3 feels heavy and not overly powerful,” he said. “It has a lot of understeer and brake feel that’s good, but it’s not nearly as communicative as the X2’s. Indeed, the X2 really puts this to shame in terms of handling as well.” However, he found the X3 chassis more solid and body motions “well controlled.”
On the city streets and highway, I found the X3’s ride smooth and comfortable. The power coming out of the 2.0 turbo is not spectacular, but press harder, and you’ll feel the punch. The driving modes available are Eco Pro, Comfort and Sport. The latter holds gears longer and provides, like its name suggests, a more dynamic drive. If you’re looking for more power, however, the BMW X3 M40i might be the model to choose, as it’s equipped with a six-cylinder inline engine that delivers 355 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. The eight-speed tranny feels well mated to the 2.0-liter engine and quickly shifts when it’s supposed to. Paddle shifters help the driver experience a more passionate drive.
After driving our Jaguar F-Pace 35t R-Sport long-termer a couple of days after spending almost a week in the X3, I found that the BMW’s suspension is way less stiff and more confortable to ride. Although our Jag rides on 20-inch wheels and the Bimmer we had rode on 19-inchers, the stiffness of the chassis was more notable on the F-Pace. Editor-in-chief Ed Loh asked me how I liked the ride quality in his long-term vehicle when I first drove it a couple of months ago, and my reaction was the same as now: very rigid. However, that difference was more notable after driving the X3. If there’s one thing that should be improved in the X3, it’s the start/stop system, which makes a lot of noise and vibrations inside the cabin when the engine is turned on or off. The system can be turned off with the push of a button, but we’ve recently seen better systems in mainstream cars, like in Chevys and Fords.
Inside, the cabin has a nice feel, but it’s a little short in terms of luxury compared to the Volvo XC60 or Mercedes-Benz GLC. Sure, the wood trim and the six-color ambient lighting make the cabin feel upscale, but in general, I didn’t really feel like I was riding in a $57,000 crossover. The center console’s design isn’t as clean as other interiors that we’ve seen in this segment, but it’s a big step up from the previous generation. One of the features that I enjoyed the most was the multicolor head-up display, which showed different information, from the travel speed to the list of radio stations available when using the tuning controls on the steering wheel. Our model was equipped with a 10.0-inch screen that can be controlled in four ways, including voice, touch, and gesture, but I found myself operating it most of the time with the iDrive controller located on the center console. The cabin is spacious, even for passengers who sit in the second row; they will feel airy with the panoramic sunroof and will enjoy air vents in the back, but it’s a bummer there are no USB ports—only one 12V port. That second row can be folded in a 40/20/40 configuration, making it easy to fit in large items like a surfboard.
Our tester included a variety of packages that brought the $42,450 base price up; these contained a Convenience package ($2,850), Driving Assistance package ($900), Dynamic Handling package ($1,300) and Premium package ($3,300). Although Apple CarPlay is standard on a Chevy Cruze, BMW charges $300 for it, but I admit I like using CarPlay wirelessly. All those options and the Harman Kardon surround sound system ($875) and a wireless charger ($500) brought our X3 to a total price of $57,470, including destination. Without a doubt, it’s an expensive model.
All in all, we enjoyed driving the 2018 BMW X3 on the highway and city streets. On the track, the X3 showed its performance roots, but we would like them to be a little more fun. Its comfortable cabin looks and feels better when compared to the previous generation, but it still has some work to do when we compare it to other players in the segment. And as that segment becomes more competitive, the X3 must stand out in the crowded group.
|2018 BMW X3 xDrive30i|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$57,470|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||2.0L/248-hp/258-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||4,236 lb (49/51%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||185.9 x 74.4 x 66.0 in|
|0-60 MPH||6.3 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||14.8 sec @ 92.6 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||123 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.82 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||26.9 sec @ 0.64 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||22/29/25 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||153/116 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.79 lb/mile|