The Car Connection BMW X3 Overview
The BMW X3 is a luxury compact SUV that serves as the basis for the more stylish X4.
With its more stylish X4 sloped-roof companion, the X3 rides in the middle of the BMW lineup, between the smaller X1/X2 and the larger X5/X6. The X3 is assembled at BMW's assembly plant in Greer, South Carolina. Its competitors are the Mercedes-Benz GLC, Cadillac XT5, Audi Q5, and Range Rover Evoque.
For 2019, BMW added a rear-wheel-drive X3 sDrive30i and standard automatic emergency braking. In 2020, BMW added high-performance X3 M and X3 M Competition models, a first for the small utility vehicle.
MORE: Read our review of the 2020 BMW X3
The new BMW X3
The third-generation BMW X3 went on sale in the U.S. late in 2017.
The new design isn't a radical departure. It's carefully modulated to give it more presence, without breaking from the X3's essential profile. Inside the cabin's better organized, with high-end versions that sport a digital gauge panel and a widescreen navigation display amid the wood and aluminum trim.
BMW sells the X3 for 2018 with a standard 8-speed automatic and all-wheel drive. Drivers have a choice between a 248-horsepower 2.0-liter turbo-4 and a 355-hp turbo-6 that also gains sport handling hardware, grabby brakes, grippy tires, and styling add-ons.
In this generation, the X3 has gained a couple of inches between its wheels, but interior space is up just slightly. It's still very good for four adults, with supportive sport seats in front and fold-down second-row seats that expand its considerable cargo space.
The new X3 offers forward-collision warnings, surround-view cameras, and adaptive cruise control. Other features include high-end audio and a widescreen navigation system with iDrive infotainment control.
BMW X3 history
As one of the anchors of the luxury crossover segment, the BMW X3 first showed up in U.S. showrooms with 6-cylinder engines, manual and automatic transmissions, and an advanced all-wheel-drive system that used input from stability control to determine where to route power. It also featured a relatively small interior with inexpensive-looking trim and had a very firm ride.
In almost every model year of that first generation, BMW tweaked the X3's looks or hardware. In 2007, the engines were updated, and ride and steering were revised, while the cockpit was refurbished with better materials—a noticeable improvement all around. Toward the end of its first generation, BMW dropped all engine variants save for the 260-horsepower, 3.0-liter inline-6. A brisk performer, the X3 remained responsive and eager.
BMW introduced its second-generation X3—the current model—for the 2011 model year. In its first redo, the X3 slightly grew and also improved its handling and ride, with options such as selectable steering modes and adaptive suspension. At launch, BMW offered two versions of its ubiquitous 3.0-liter inline-6—a normally aspirated version making 240 hp and a turbocharged, 300-hp variant. Both were paired with a new 8-speed automatic transmission and a version of BMW's familiar xDrive all-wheel-drive system.
The current X3's styling has adopted some of the latest BMW curves, though in this iteration it's a much happier mix than in some of the early examples of this design theme—the 7-Series and 6-Series of the early 2000s, to be specific. The X3's upgraded interior brought new clarity and richer materials front and center.
BMW now offers a choice of three engines in the X3. The base setup is a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, available with either rear- (sDrive28i) or all-wheel (xDrive28i) drive. A 2.0-liter turbodiesel xDrive28d costs just a bit more and makes all-wheel drive standard while improving greatly on fuel economy. The top engine is a turbocharged inline-6 in the xDrive35i. All are paired with an 8-speed automatic that was introduced at the beginning of this generation.
With car-like ride and handling, and 0-60 mph times of 5.3 seconds on the top model, today's X3 sits atop the luxury-crossover class in almost every regard. The IIHS has given it favorable marks: it's scored a "Good" rating in every crash test, including a "Superior" rating, when optionally equipped, for frontal crash avoidance. The X3 is a past Top Safety Pick, but because the car hasn't been rated in the notoriously hard small overlap crash test, the IIHS hasn't yet returned the honor. And entertainment's finally on the menu: the options list includes an excellent navigation system, iPod integration, HD Radio, Bluetooth, and a big panoramic sunroof.
The X3 was mostly unchaged for 2012. The 2013 model year marked a major turning point for the X3, as the base inline-6 was dropped in favor of a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine with nearly identical power ratings to the outgoing engine and improved highway fuel economy. Then 2015 marked the introduction of a rear-wheel drive "base" sDrive28i, as well as a new xDrive28d turbodiesel model.
To keep things fresh, the 2015 X3 received exterior and interior design tweaks, including a new grille, a new headlight design, and some cabin trim updates. The X3 also received BMW's latest iDrive controller, which incorporates a touch pad, as well as some newly optional active-safety features. BMW also launched a coupe-SUV version of the X3, dubbed X4, for the 2015 model year. Like the X6 is to the X5, the X4 is a more stylish but less practical take on the traditionally styled X3.
For 2016, a new Enhanced USB and Bluetooth connectivity kit brought mobile-office capability, Bluetooth sync for a second phone, and voice control for contacts and music. X3 xDrive35i models got the Harman Kardon surround sound system. The SUV was largely unchanged for 2017.