- Pert, nicely sculpted exterior
- Soft, finely detailed cabin
- Fuel-efficient powertrains, new diesel option
- Supportive seats
- Great maneuverability
- Expensive options
- Start-stop sometimes misses a beat
- Noisy idle (28i)
- Tall, but not much for the trail
Among compact crossovers, the 2015 BMW X3 doesn't try to be rugged; instead it's one of the sportiest and most fuel-efficient in its class, and this year's new sDrive and diesel models add to that while the lineup gets even more tech and active-safety options.
The BMW X3 has styling that's smart and suave; a versatile layout; responsive road performance; and impressive fuel efficiency.
It's one of the best picks in its class. The 2015 X3 might not have the heady enthusiast reputation of the esteemed 3-Series sport sedan, or the sexier shape of the upcoming (and closely related) X4, but it adds up to what makes sense for a lot of image-conscious families.
And for 2015 the X3 gets a mid-cycle refresh bringing a set of significant changes, as well as some new variants in the model lineup, while for the most part preserving all the fundamentals.
Lean, pert, and graceful are still the best ways to describe the 2015 BMW X3, which eschews the rugged themes so typical in this class and instead looks like a tall sport wagon. There's enough in common visually with the larger X5, although the X3 keeps to its own proportions that better match its more compact size.
This year as part of a light refresh the X3 gets new twin-circular headlights (with optional LED lamps, plus a more flamboyant version of the BMW kidney grille, exterior mirrors with integrated signal lamps, and some other minor changes to the front and rear appearance. Inside, the X3 is elegant but soft, calming, and decluttered--actually blending a driver-centric cockpit feel with the brand's warmer interior look. This year brings some more chrome and brightwork, plus high-gloss black trim.
Headlining the changes is the availability of a new xDrive28d model, packing BMW's punchy 2.0-liter TwinPower turbocharged diesel four-cylinder. Rated at 180 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque (with maximum twist available from just 1,750 rpm), the diesel X3 can hit 60 mph in under eight seconds, and will likely score well on EPA fuel mileage tests.
Otherwise, the 2015 BMW X3 family continues with its all-turbocharged engine lineup, including the new TwinPower four-cylinder that makes 240 hp and 260 lb-ft. It's the perkiest and most V-6-like of the current crop of German turbo fours, and moves the X3 with no hesitation, foot to the floor. New this year is a rear-wheel-drive sDrive28i model, for those in warmer-weather climates, that should be even a bit more spirited for the lack of all-wheel-drive weight. With the xDrive35i, you get a 300-hp, 300 lb-ft TwinPower six that sizzles to a 60-mph acceleration time of 5.5 seconds, and to a top speed of 150 mph. As we've noted in repeated drives of various X3 variants, it's all a little disconcerting how agile and athletic this vehicle can feel—because the seating height is so tall, yet it lacks the squat, nosedive, and excess motions that are typical in this vehicle class.
All X3 versions except for that base sDrive28i come with BMW's xDrive all-wheel drive system, which splits power delivery 40/60 percent. It sends 60 percent of torque to the rear wheels in normal driving but can flex to send 100 percent to the rear; we've found it is especially good for maintaining traction and poise when the road surface is slippery.
At about 183 inches long and 74 inches wide, with a wheelbase of 110.6 inches, the X3 has the sensible parking footprint of a compact car, while the added height gives it usefulness as an all-purpose family vehicle. It's sized in the vicinity of models like the Mercedes-Benz GLK, Audi Q5, Volvo XC60, and Cadillac SRX.
If the amount of back-seat space, cargo space, and overall versatility are things that truly matter, you'll find that the 2015 BMW X3 makes a lot of sense. With seating for five, the X3 has a large 19-cubic-foot rear storage area that swells to 56.6 cubic feet when the rear seats are folded down. The rear seats now all have a ski pass-through and 40:20:40 segments for better flexibility and seatback folding. In back, there's space carved out for feet, under the front seat, and head room soars. We recommend the sport seats in front for their extendable thigh bolsters and more aggressive side bolstering; they may feel firmer at first but they're better in long-distance support. And throughout the cabin, BMW has paid close attention to the details. Additionally, 2015 brings new extendable sunshades to the cabin, as well as a sliding cover for the center console plus redesigned cupholders.
New colors are available in the 2015 X3 inside and out, but it's the new xLine and M Sport packages that are some of the most noteworthy additions to the lineup. The xLine offering adds metallic inserts to the bumpers, satin aluminum side accents to the air intakes, and simulated skid plates at the front and rear, as well as extra leather upholstery variations, unique interior trim, and 19-inch alloy wheels. The M Sport gets a unique aerodynamic package, high-gloss Shadow Line trim, a choice of six paint finishes, and two exclusive 19-inch or 20-inch alloy wheel options; the interior of the X3 M Sport gets an Anthracite roof liner, sport seats, and other M-bred touches to sport up the look and feel.
For 2015, BMW has significantly improved the X3's active-safety and connectivity feature set. The iDrive controller now has touchpad functionality, allowing you to input characters for destination or phonebook entry by tracing characters, and the long list of available features includes a Parking Assistant, the full-color BMW Head-Up Display, Active Driving Assistant with ACC Stop & Go, Lane Departure Warning, Pedestrian Warning, City Collision Mitigation, and Frontal Collision Warning.