2018 BMW X3 Review: The Lux CUV Segment Gets Deeper

– Detroit, Michigan

BMW brings a completely new version of its popular compact SUV to market this year, and it couldn’t come at a better time. Not only are U.S. buyers hot-on-fire for anything vaguely SUV or crossover shaped these days, but German rivals Mercedes-Benz and Audi also have new, and very good, products in this class (as does Volvo).

My X3 xDrive30i represents much of what BMW is doing very well these days, meaning a full-fat complement of tech and safety features, along with a compelling powertrain and nippy driving dynamics. You can buy still sportier small utility vehicles than this X3, but only just (and for more money).

Ahh, the Achilles heel of so many German vehicles... the sticker price. The X3 starts at $42,450 and the final, options included price of my test car was $57,620. Those numbers are, of course, in line with what the aforementioned rivals charge for their small SUVs, but are nevertheless more than many shoppers will be willing (or able) to afford.

Still, if you’re looking for a daily dose of luxury, and don’t really need the cargo or hauling capacity of a larger utility vehicle, there are certainly worse things to spend your money on.

What to say about this two-box shape? I guess it mimics the design language of the BMW stable right now, thought without the cheeky proportions of the 2-Series, or machismo of the bigger X5.

I like the sharp detailing of the bodysides and surfacing, but can’t help but think the longish nose and biggish grille makes the X3 look a little like a kid wearing his Dad’s suit jacket.

The X3 scores big points for seat comfort and adjustability here, with multi-positional chairs able to support a huge variety of body shapes and sizes. As ever, adjustable thigh supports and bolsters make a huge difference to bigger than average and smaller than average drivers, alike.

With that said, the X3 isn’t the roomiest SUV on the market. Points are lost for a relatively small back seat and cargo area.

Remember when the term “iDrive” used to raise the ire of your gearhead friends? Those days are long gone, and the newest version of the infotainment system, iDrive 6, is amongst the best in the business. Combine that software with a large, bright, high-resolution screen, and you have a first-rate – perhaps class leading – tech experience for most buyers.

BMW still doesn’t want to play ball with Android Auto, leaving a huge swath of smartphone users out in the cold. What’s more, Apple CarPlay is a cost-add option, which feels more than a little behind the times for a newly revamped model, with bleeding edge infotainment.

You’re not going to find an SUV this side of a Porsche badge with loads of steering feel or the ability to goad its driver into hard corners. But the X3 does just fine in the more normal spectrum of daily use. Handling is crisp and stable at speed, but without much road harshness transferring into the cabin.

The powertrain is no slouch, either. The 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder kicks out 248 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, propelling the small ute to 60 miles per hour in about six seconds. Very fast shifts from the eight-speed automatic gearbox help to involve the driver, when she might demand, but is more than willing to drop into the background the rest of the time.

Our safety scoring relies heavily on advanced safety features, of which the ‘18 X3 has many. Automatic emergency braking and active driver aids are all available as part of the Premium Package, while the Parking Assistance pack adds in with a 3D surround-view camera system, and more.

Sure, you’ve got to pony up $4,600 for those two long lists of features and tech, but that’s not an unreasonable price to pay for piece of mind, especially in the luxury segment.

With that small, turbocharged engine and many-ratioed transmission, BMW is right in the hunt for top mile-per-gallon ratings in the larger SUV universe. Hitting the magical 30 mpg mark is tough work for non-hybrids here, so the X3’s 29 highway and 22 city ratings deserve respect.

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