2018 BMW X3
A popular crossover becomes a more convincing BMW.
Buyers’ wild-eyed enthusiasm for compact-luxury SUVs has put the BMW X3 on a trajectory to overtake the X5 and ultimately the 3-series as the brand’s best seller. The model has undergone a redesign for 2018, which sees it get slightly larger—not surprising given that the X1 is on hand, soon to be joined by the new X2, for buyers seeking something smaller. The X3 also becomes a more full-fledged member of the BMW family with its upgraded interior. And at a time when some of the brand’s passenger-car offerings have strayed from BMW’s historically strong dynamics, the new X3 makes an encouraging showing there as well.
Chassis tuning like BMWs of old, improved interior, plenty of passenger and cargo space.
Imprecise variable-ratio steering, goofy electronic shifter, the entry-level four pales next to the six-cylinder.
As before, the X3 is offered with four or six cylinders under the hood, both engines bolstered by a turbocharger. Their configuration and displacement are the same, but both engines are new to the model. Although the 30i designation suggests that BMW’s 3.0-liter inline-six is present, it actually has a 2.0-liter inline-four. (The 28i was the previous four-cylinder X3). The six-cylinder version has been elevated to M Performance status and is now badged X3 M40i. Both models come with an eight-speed automatic and all-wheel drive.
The new 2.0-liter sees horsepower increase from 240 to 248, while the torque peak falls slightly, from 260 lb-ft to 258. The B46 powerplant’s output is nothing extraordinary, but the twin-scroll turbo effectively masks any signs of lag, making for precise and predictable throttle response. This engine punches above its weight in other applications (330i, 530i), but here it feels a tad overmatched. There’s nothing to criticize in the nature of its power delivery or its pairing with the eight-speed, but it’s a far cry from the M40i’s silken and muscular inline-six, which boasts 355 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. BMW’s turbo six is an engine from the gods, and the M40i feels as quick as a Porsche Macan GTS.
With either engine, the eight-speed automatic, unfortunately, is controlled via BMW’s annoying and unintuitive electronic shifter that is spreading throughout the lineup. We can’t fault the transmission’s behavior, though, which is smooth and responsive. Plus, standard paddle shifters are on hand should the driver want to take control. The X3 30i earns EPA fuel-economy ratings of 22 mpg city and 29 highway, both increases of 1 mpg over the outgoing X3 28i. The city number falls between those of the Audi Q5 (23 mpg) and the all-wheel-drive Mercedes-Benz GLC300 (21 mpg), while the BMW’s highway figure tops both competitors’. The six-cylinder X3 M40i also manages increases of 1 mpg over its predecessor in both EPA measures, with ratings of 20/27 mpg city/highway.
More encouragingly, the X3 chassis suffers none of the float or sloppiness that plagues much of the recent BMW lineup. The 30i we drove was fitted with the Dynamic Handling package ($1400), which brought adaptive dampers, Variable Sport Steering, M Sport brakes, and a fourth driving mode—Adaptive—in addition to Eco Pro, Sport, and the default Comfort. Even Comfort mode doesn’t have the wallow we’ve seen in BMWs of late; the X3 is plenty capable in corners. Sport tightens the reins noticeably, which is fine where the roads are glass smooth but might be too much when they’re not. The M40i starts out with a firmer suspension, and our example added the adaptive dampers (a stand-alone option that’s $1000 on the 30i and $700 on the M40i). The net result is that this is a rare modern BMW that doesn’t require you to switch it out of Comfort mode and into Sport the minute you turn it on. The M40i’s body control is exemplary, and even its standard Variable Sport Steering is not overboosted. The variable steering is optional on the X3 30i, however, and there we’d be inclined to skip it. In the lower-spec model, it fails to build effort as you wind on more lock, instead seeming to increase assist; switching to Sport mode increases overall effort, masking this behavior.
Luxury and Practicality
The X3’s starting price has increased by $2400, mostly because there’s no rear-drive version anymore. (Compared with the previous all-wheel-drive model, the new X3’s price sees a $400 increase.) The X3 30i opens at $43,445—versus $42,475 for the Q5 and $43,045 for the GLC 4Matic, its two most obvious competitors—whereas the X3 M40i starts at $55,295. The new X3 is a well-rounded performer, particularly the M40i, and it also is now a better ambassador for its brand. That’s a good thing, given its increasingly visible role