- 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 among compact luxury crossover SUVs. 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.
For 2015 the X3 wears a new front end and adds new models to the lineup, without changing the fundamental goodness.
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 headlights). It adopts a bigger grille and tweaks other front- and rear-end details. Inside, the X3 is elegant but soft, calming, and decluttered. 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 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 X3 still has an all-turbo engine family, including a new base turbo-4 rated at 240 hp and 260 lb-ft. It percolates like a bigger engine, and pushes the X3 off the blocks, without hesitation. 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 turbo-6 that vaults the X3 to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds, and on to a 150-mph top speed. The X3 is agile no matter which powertrain you buy. It's athletic despite the tall roofline, and skips by the squat, nosedive, and excessive body motions typical in this 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 110.6-inch wheelbase, 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 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.
2015 BMW X3
With a pert profile and no faux ruggedness, the X3 builds up from a sport sedan rather than down from a truck.
The 2015 BMW X3 avoids the rugged themes so typical in this class. It's a sporty, tall wagon and has much in common visually with the bigger X5, although the X3 sticks to its own proportions that better match its more compact size. Lean and graceful are still good ways to sum up the feel of it, but a refresh this year updates the look.
As part of a light refresh the X3 gets new circular headlights that can be lit by LEDs. The mirrors get integrated turn signals, and the grille grows a size. BMW's also made more small changes at the rear and front.
With its last complete redesign in 2011, BMW gave this model more length, width, and physical presence, along with a stronger visual link to the bigger X5. The combination of the pert, sport-wagon profile, the graceful swooping beltline crease, the tapered nose, and the crisp lines near the hood lower the beltline. It all adds up to a shape contrary to the typical rugged SUV.
Walking around, the key to the X3 is the attention paid to detail and surfacing. BMW doesn't go overboard on functionless style. The twin-kidney grille looks just as purposeful here as in the sedans, while the tail is capped with small, LED-lit taillights like the ones on a 3-Series or 5-Series.
The X3 cabin comes across as calm, uncluttered, and softly appealing. The warm interior look serves as a counterpoint to the driver-focused controls. This year BMW's added more metallic and glossy black trim.
The dash strikes a familiar BMW chord. It arcs around the driver, and gives the X3 a sedan-like flair. Almost every trim piece is finished in soft-touch plastic or leather, all of them nicely grained.
2015 BMW X3
With responsive new engines and better steering and handling than most crossovers, the BMW X3 offers a satisfying driving experience.
The 2015 BMW X3 has a powertrain lineup that's turbocharged, from top to bottom, including the turbo-4 added last year in the xDrive28i.
That turbo-4 booted the former base 6-cylinder engine to X3 history, but aside from losing the wonderful sound of the six the turbo-4 puts out more power and uses less gas.
The "N20" turbo-4 puts out 240 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque in the X3. Horsepower is the same as last year, but torque has risen 39 lb-ft. BMW pegs acceleration to 60 mph at 6.5 seconds, and their figure feels conservative.
BMW's turbo four is the perkiest and most V-6-like of the new-generation turbo fours; foot to the floor, it moves, with no hesitation. Direct injection, variable cam and valve timing work with twin-scroll turbocharging to spool up quickly. The engine hits peak torque at a diesel-like 1,250 rpm and stays strong beyond 4,800 rpm.
Step up to the 35i, and BMW fits a 300-hp, 300 lb-ft turbo-6 that sizzles to a 60-mph acceleration time of 5.5 seconds, and to a top speed of 150 mph. Those numbers are almost enough to knock off some recent vintage M3s. It's just the slightest bit confusing since the X3 has a compliant ride, launches strongly, and steers cleanly, more like a car than like a crossover SUV. There's just not a lot of squat or nosedive in this vehicle's suspension.
Factor in the damped but efficient shifts of the eight-speed automatic, and the powertrain throws off all sorts of muted but precise and responsive impressions. It's tunable, too, via Driving Dynamics Control, which allows drivers to choose between several attitudes, like Eco Pro and Sport.
As with most other current BMW models, the X3 comes with stop/start, which shuts the engine off when you're at a stoplight, with a foot on the brake pedal. The engine restarts the moment you even start to lift pressure off the brake. Most of the time it's quite seamless, but at times the restart will shake the X3's body.
The new xDrive28d packs BMW's punchy 2.0-liter turbodiesel-4. With 180 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque (available as low as 1,750 rpm), the diesel X3 reaches 60 mph in less than 8 seconds, and will likely score well on EPA fuel mileage tests.
This year BMW's also added a rear-drive sDrive28i, Drivers in dry and warm climates will love the lower curb weight and more spirited responses.
All X3 crossovers save for the sDrive28i have an all-wheel-drive system that 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. Mild off-roading isn't off the BMW X3's roster of capabilities--even though there isn't all that much ruggedness in the appearance.
We're not huge fans of BMW's standard-issue steering. Cornering feel builds properly at lower speeds but it doesn't unwind with the linear feel we expect. The available Variable Sports Steering is a good compromise, with its relaxed on-center feel and better maneuverability at low speeds. It has more road feel baked into it, too.
The X3's suspension pairs struts in front with a multi-link rear, classic BMW. Electronically controlled dampers can be grafted on, and the steering, suspension, throttle, and transmission can be tailored through the Driving Dynamics Control switch located near the shift lever. It's no surprise that from normal to sport plus, there's a sweet Sport mode in the middle that feels most appropriate to a BMW, with swifter steering and a more tautly controlled ride.
Over several drives of the X3, we've marveled at how much car-like road feel it preserves. It's athletic and agile and despite its tall body, it filters off the nosedive and squat implied by the shape and the mission.
2015 BMW X3
Comfort & Quality
There's a lot to like inside the 2015 BMW X3, including excellent interior design and soft-touch materials.
The 2015 BMW X3 has a length of about 183 inches and a width of 74 inches, with a wheelbase of 110.6 inches. It's the sensible parking footprint of a compact car, while the added height gives it usefulness as an all-purpose family vehicle. That puts it in the range of vehicles such as the Mercedes-Benz GLK, Volvo XC60, Audi Q5, and Cadillac SRX.
The X3 makes good use of the space inside its footprint. It has properly angled, firm front seats, and they're surrounded by copious head and leg room. The optional sport seats are worth it for the extending bottom cushion and the thicker side bolsters, both of which are great for long-distance drives.
If the amount of back-seat space, cargo space, and overall versatility are things that truly matter, you'll find that the X3 makes a lot of sense. The back seats have very good head room, and BMW carves out space for feet under the front seats.
If it's cargo space you seek, the X3 has a large 19-cubic-foot storage area behind the second row. That space swells to 56.6 cubic feet with a simple flip-down of the rear seatbacks. The rear seats have a ski pass-through and fold along 40:20:40 sections.
The cabin shows lots of careful attention to detail. The cargo hold has rich carpet, sturdy seatback latches, and satin-finished cargo rails. The turbo-4 makes itself known with mechanical sounds at idle, but wind and road noise mostly are sealed out. It may not have the most lavish or polished trim, but the X3's tight looks and fit and finish lend it a muted ambiance.
2015 BMW X3
The 2015 BMW X3 has great occupant safety, plus some options that may help you be a more attentive driver.
The 2015 BMW X3 promises solid occupant safety, and as can be expected in a German luxury vehicle, there are some innovative safety options as well.
In federal New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) testing, the 2015 X3 has been awarded five stars for front- and side-impact protection, and earned a five-star overall score. It's also earned top "good" ratings in all Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) tests save for the small-overlap test, which hasn't been performed on it yet.
All X3s have active head restraints. Sport mode on some models can alter the stability control programming, to allow more wheelspin for sporty driving, just as a snow mode allows more spin for better winter launches.
With the available Collision Warning with City Braking option, the X3 earns the IIHS 'basic' rating in front crash prevention--meaning it can warn the driver of a potential collision but not automatically brake.
A Driver Assistance Package bundles a rearview camera with a top-view camera and parking sensors. A head-up system is optional and might help reduce driver distraction. Other options include adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warnings, and forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking.
2015 BMW X3
Even on four-cylinder models, ticking all the option boxes can send the price of the BMW X3 well over $50k.
The 2015 BMW X3 doesn't lack for luxury touches or conveniences, but many of them are bundled in expensive packages that push the X3's price well over $50,000.
All X3 models have power features including assist for the tailgate and front seats; fog lamps; automatic climate control; cruise control; Bluetooth; and a 205-watt sound system with 12 speakers, satellite and HD radio, and a USB port.
BMW's iDrive interface is standard, and has been upgraded this year with navigation improvements, simpler menus, a split-screen layout, better voice recognition, and 3D city maps. It also has a touch-sensitive surface on the controller for handwritten entry, phone numbers and addresses, for example.
A Technology package groups a head-up display, BMW Apps, and navigation; a Cold Weather package adds heated front and rear seats, headlight washers, and a heated steering wheel. The Dynamic Handling Package adds adaptive shocks and variable-ratio steering.
On the style front, BMW offers cosmetic add-ons in bundles. The xLine package puts aluminum side accents and skid plates outside with distinct leather inside, as well as 19-inch wheels. An M Sport package wears aero add-ons, glossy trim, and 19-inch or 20-inch wheels, as well as sport seats and a grey roof liner.
2015 BMW X3
The introduction of a new diesel xDrive28d kicks fuel economy numbers up a notch for 2015.
The TwinPower turbocharged four-cylinder found in the xDrive28i and sDrive28i turns in punchy performance and good fuel economy. The EPA rates the xDrive28i at 21 mpg city, 28 highway, same as the sDrive28i. The 300-hp xDrive35i earns 19/26-mpg ratings, while it's the new diesel xDrive28d that leads the lineup at 27 mpg city, 34 highway.
All models in the lineup have stop/start, which shuts off the engine at stoplights, and restarts it when the driver lifts off the brake. BMW figures it cuts fuel use by 3 percent in some kinds of stop-and-go driving (and gridlock), but we've found this system a little rough in its restarts, especially in V-6 versions.