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2018 BMW X3 Review

2018 BMW X3 Review
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The 2018 BMW X3 ventures into M territory, but doesn’t lose sight of its SUV duties.

With the new 2018 X3, BMW may have its best vehicle–the one that best matches lofty expectations with nifty execution.

Other BMWs like the M2 make specific compromises to please niche audiences. With the X3, we can’t find many compromises BMW has had to make.

With the new X3, BMW doesn't shake the earth with radical design changes or size gains. The philosophy telegraphs itself: don't break it, just burnish it. The X3 has taller glass and bigger intakes, but the shape’s a clear and gradual progression of the X3, nothing radical. Inside, BMW has moved the ball too, with a cockpit that’s grown warmer and more infotainment-friendly. The X3's iDrive control puck rides shotgun to its space-age shifter joystick, and the dash wears interesting brackets of metallic or wood trim.

Performance issues from a 248-horsepower 2.0-liter turbo-4 in base models. All-wheel drive is standard, as is an 8-speed automatic. Base models don't want for power, a week behind the wheel of an xDrive30i was proof enough. The base BMW turbo-4 found in many of its models is one of the best and power arrives early and readily, and make stop-and-go traffic less of a chore. Coupled to a telepathic automatic transmission, xDrive30i versions don't disappoint.

We’ve spent miles in an X3 M40i, shod with BMW’s fabulous 355-hp turbo-6, M-grade handling hardware, and the same all-wheel-drive system and 8-speed automatic. Acceleration, ride, and handling have made a quantum step toward the 3-Series golden mean; as an M40i, the X3 delivers flat cornering, copious grip, and grin-generating flappy-exhaust sounds. The strut-and-multilink suspension copes well with its hybrid on-/off-road mission, but the steering and brakes could relax a little, we think.

In size, the X3 gains a couple of inches in wheelbase, but doesn't net out with much more interior space, whether it's leg room for front or rear passengers. An extra cubic foot of cargo space has been carved out of the extra length between the wheels. The sport seats cup front passengers well, and BMW carves out great space for four adults and their baggage.

The latest X3 hasn’t been crash-tested. Forward-collision warnings remain an option on this expensive SUV (prices start at $43,000). A surround-view camera system and adaptive cruise control are on the order list, as are high-end audio and a widescreen navigation system with iDrive infotainment control. BMW’s warranty is just average, and it packages features like Apple CarPlay in expensive ways that stir grumbles into what’s otherwise a deeply satisfying crossover SUV.

The latest BMW X3 has a taller stance, but the wagon-like SUV recipe hasn’t been altered too much.

The 2018 BMW X3 modulates its sheet metal in the usual ways in its third generation. The cabin benefits more from the gradual changes, as it becomes a cleaner, clearer place to work.

With the new X3, BMW doesn't shake the earth with radical design changes or size gains.

On its third trip through BMW's redesign studios, the X3 adopts the same philosophy of the current X5: don't break it, just burnish it. The X3 has some wider air intakes, and the crossover SUV sits somewhat lower and wider on its wheels than in the last generation. From the side, it has very tall glass areas, which gives it a slightly bulbous look but pays dividends in outward vision.

The front wheels have been moved forward, further away from the dash, for better proportions, and the rear end's been scaled up visually with more glass and larger taillights. The effect grows more pronounced as it adds body trim and aero kits in its new performance editions.

Inside, the center stack of controls has grown wider, and now gets capped with a wide, high-definition display for infotainment services. The X3's iDrive control puck rides shotgun to its space-age shifter joystick, and the dash wears interesting brackets of metallic or wood trim.

On the M40i, a 12.3-inch screen replaces the standard gauges. The digital gauge screen has big numbers and dials, a red band that denotes tach and speedo readings, even a legible clock. It’s coordinated in size and display style with the available 12.3-inch infotainment display.

The X3 can be configured with a Luxury package, which adds chrome grille bars and an upholstered dash. BMW offers a choice of wood trims or that diamond-etched aluminum in the cabin, and M Sport and M40i models get the usual badges and sill finishers and dark trim.

BMW charges for any paint color aside from white or black, and the basic synthetic leather costs more if you want it to come from real animals, in warmer hues.

The 2018 BMW X3 elicits some carlike road manners from its tall-wagon body, especially with the first M-badged model.

BMW has instilled more of the performance of its 3-Series sedans and wagons in the distantly related X3 SUV. In M40i trim, it’s a near faultless machine with great grip and poise.  

BMW fits its workhorse 2.0-liter turbo-4 to the X3 xDrive30i. With 248 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, the standard-issue version can drop 0-60 mph runs in less than six seconds and reach 130 mph, even with the extra weight of standard all-wheel drive. An 8-speed automatic is the sole transmission offered on this model.

Like other BMW cars with the same engine, the turbo-4 in the xDrive30i is smooth and responsive, it blends seamlessly into the car's behavior. Its pickup is geared toward the lower rev range, its pep is best in stop-and-go grands prix duty. On the interstate, the 8-speed kicks down quickly enough to find a sweet spot for the engine, but there's still a hint of lag. On affordability alone, the xDrive30i is the smart choice between the two engines, but even those buyers can be confident that they're not sacrificing much.

Our stint behind the wheel of an X3 M40i model, a vehicle that’s watched Mercedes GLC AMG variants march out over the past two years, was even better. BMW’s response is to slot its 3.0-liter turbo-6 into the new X3 chassis, and to tune it to 355 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque.

The first M-badged X3 does not disappoint. Coupled also to standard all-wheel drive and an 8-speed automatic, the X3 M40i hits 60 mph in 4.6 seconds and reaches a 155-mph top speed, according to BMW. Those strong figures counter the X3’s curb weight, 4,156 to 4,277 pounds depending on trim.

The turbo-6 gets excited easily; peak torque arrives at a low 1,520 rpm and holds steady until 4,800 rpm. A sport exhaust system pumps out a brappy exhaust beat. BMW’s 8-speed automatic doles out gearshifts like face cards; M40i models have their own code that dials in earlier shifts, even in the more relaxed driver-selectable modes. BMW’s dumb shift joystick gets superseded by plastic-backed shift paddles once it’s out of Park.

BMW's dropped the X3 turbodiesel from its lineup, no surprise given the existential storm clouds hanging over all diesels today. A plug-in hybrid model is expected, and BMW has confirmed an electric X3 will debut in 2020.

BMW X3 traction, ride, and handling

BMW’s all-wheel-drive system in the previous X3 split power delivery 40/60 percent, and could send 100 percent of its power (in theory, before frictional losses) to the rear. We've found it is especially good for maintaining traction and poise when the road surface is slippery, and BMW says it’s little changed. They were unable to confirm for us if the power split is the same this year, though they suggest the M40i’s ratio is more significantly biased toward the rear wheels.

With all-season tires that mitigate 8 inches of ground clearance and 19.6 inches of fording ability, it’s as much suited to real off-roading as any of its Eurolux rivals. The X3 can also tow up to 4,400 pounds.

It’s far more suited to quick passes through sweeping mountain roads. The new X3, particularly in M40i trim, has the fluid road manners of a really good sport sedan.

The X3 sports a double-pivot front strut suspension and a five-link independent rear, a layout not dissimilar to that of the sublime 3-Series.

Our M40i came with adaptive shocks and a drive-mode selector that spins through Eco, Comfort, Sport and Sport+, and Individual modes. As an M model, it also sports a stiffer suspension tune, grabby four-piston M-spec brakes, variable-ratio electric power steering, and 245/50R-19 performance tires (versus 225/60R-18s on the base version).

Through the X3’s rather thin-rimmed steering wheel, the sensations are numbed by overly firm steering. Even with the drive-mode dial set to Comfort, the X3 pours a thick layer of unnecessary heft into the wheel motion. On-center feel isn’t as sublime and accurate as the 3-Series, though mid-speed sweepers bring out its best self as it tracks well and re-centers with good weight.

The suspension setup has a better sense of balance between its M mission and real-world driving. In Comfort mode there’s a pleasant firmness to the ride, not without gentle pistoning a few cycles after a Lincoln or Cadillac SUV would tackle and smother a bump. Set to Sport+ mode, the X3’s adaptive dampers let only a bit of body roll into the equation, just enough to remind you its center of gravity sits far higher than if you’d just bought a station wagon instead.

Our choice? Put the steering and damping in Comfort, set the powertrain to Sport, and enjoy an absorbent ride and responsive acceleration. Oh, and steer clear of the 21-inch wheel option. Nothing good happens beyond 20-inchers, or so engineers say.

Comfort & Quality
The 2018 X3’s interior shows lots of thought, with right-sized human space and lots of small-item storage.

The 2018 X3 hasn’t grown much over its predecessor. It’s still a spacious SUV with room in all the right places, and with comfortable sport seats on the model we’ve tested.

We give it a 8 for utility and comfort, with points in the plus column for front and rear seats and cargo space. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

By the numbers, the 2018 X3 measures 112.8 inches between the wheels. It’s 186.1 inches long in M40i trim, and 74.7 inches wide. It’s gained a couple of inches in wheelbase, but net interior space isn’t much larger in any dimension.

No worries. The X3 has excellent front-seat space. The M40i’s buckets have nicely padded seat backs and bottoms with good support and an adjustable lumbar pad. Power-adjusted front seats with synthetic leather coverings are standard.

Heated and cooled seats are an option, but standard is the spread-out space in every direction. The X3’s particularly abundant in head room: with the available panoramic sunroof, 6-foot-tall passengers will have no room to complain, what with a few inches of space left between their scalps and the headliner.

BMW promises 40.3 inches of front seat leg room, and 36.4 inches in back, and the X3 lives up to the numeric billing. In back, passengers can slide in easily thanks to the X3’s wide door cuts. The back seat looks flat but has enough support for long trips. Knee room allows 6-foot passengers to sit behind a 6-foot driver, no problem. If there’s a weak spot, the X3 simply wasn’t meant to be a three-across hauler for adults, though the grownups we know wouldn’t complain about a short stint in the middle back seat. The X3’s rear seat backs also recline individually for road-trip naps. A third seat row? BMW leaves that to the X5.

In-car storage is where the X3 shines. BMW’s thought long and hard about how drivers use the X3 on its U.S. home turf. The doors have 64-ounce bottle holders, and the console has space enough for a plus-sized smartphone to lie flat in a charging tray next to the USB port. In back, the rear seats fold nearly flat to open the 28.7 cubic feet of storage behind the rear seat to 62.7 cubic feet behind the front seats.

That cargo hold has vertical side walls, a minimum of intrusions by trim pieces, and a durable covering. It also has rails for cargo management, fold-down pulls for the rear seatbacks where you need them, even a damped cargo floor lid that covers a shallow hidden storage bin.

There’s no crash-test data yet for the 2018 BMW X3—and no standard forward-collision warnings, either.

There’s no crash-test data yet for the X3, so we’ll hold off on a safety rating until the data is in.

The X3 comes with the usual airbags and stability control on every model. For 2018, on the models announced so far, all-wheel drive also is standard, as are Bluetooth and a rearview camera.

Two packages add more safety technology to either X3. One for $900 adds lane-departure warnings and blind-spot monitors, as well as forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking. It’s a bit galling that on a luxury vehicle priced at nearly $44,000 base these features aren’t standard. The Honda Fit makes those active safety features standard at less than half the price to start.

For $1,700, BMW fits adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go functionality, active lane control, and traffic-jam assist for Level 2 autonomous driving ability. With the latter, the car takes over steering, braking, and acceleration for nearly a minute before it commands drivers to retake the wheel.

Other safety options include a surround-view camera system, parking sensors, and automatic park assist, for $1,300 on base SUVs or $700 on M40i models. Excellent outward vision is a hallmark of the X3, but we’re still more confident with those cameras and with parking sensors on board.

The 2018 X3 has the features to get tech-savvy buyers interested, but BMW walls them off behind expensive option packages.

The latest BMW X3 has the options and standard equipment we expect, and good resident infotainment.

It’s lighter on some of the custom touches found in high-end BMWs, and its warranty is just average. BMW has built some maddening walls between stand-alone options, which costs it a point, and gives it a 7 out of 10 for features. 

The $43,445 X3 xDrive30i comes with the usual power features, 18-inch wheels with all-season run-flat tires, automatic climate control, AM/FM/CD audio, Bluetooth, a power tailgate, a rearview camera, power front seats, and reclining rear seats.

Want a color other than black or white? That’s $550. Synthetic leather is standard; the real stuff is $1,700. Apple CarPlay compatibility costs $300, and can only be ordered when navigation is also on board, at $1,700 as a stand-alone option.

The X3 finally has a 10.3-inch touchscreen for its iDrive system. It’s a beautiful high-resolution display and also can be fitted with the gesture controls found on the 7-Series. But the touchscreen only comes on X3s with navigation. Otherwise, the iDrive system and rearview camera display on a 6.5-inch screen.

BMW will let you trim up the base X3 xDrive30i SUV with some of the higher-performance model’s options. A Convenience package, at $2,850, includes the panoramic roof, LED headlights, and satellite radio. A Dynamic Handling package adds adaptive dampers, M Sport brakes, variable sport steering and Performance Control for $1,400.

On the sport tip, an M Sport package at $5,300 adds 19-inch wheels (or 20s for an additional $950), a sport-tuned suspension (with adaptive dampers for another $1,000), a panoramic roof, a soft-touch dash, aluminum interior or matte wood trim, LED headlights, satellite radio, gray exterior trim and aero add-ons, a sport steering wheel, and keyless entry.

The $55,295 X3 M40i SUVs come with an M Sport exhaust, 19-inch wheels with performance tires, M Sport brakes, Performance Control, keyless entry, sport seats, and a year of satellite radio. Its key fob comes painted with M stripes. (At Porsche, those teensy stripes would be a few hundred bucks.)

Some option packages are available on either model. A Premium package ($3,300 on the xDrive30i, $2,550 on the M40i) gets a heated steering wheel, heated front seats (with rear heated seats another $350), navigation, a head-up display, and 19-inch all-season run-flat tires. An Executive package gets automatic high beams, gesture control, digital instruments, a surround-view camera system and parking sensors, and LED headlights ($3,500 xDrive30i, $2,550 M40i).

Stand-alone options include 21-inch wheels for the M40i, an adaptive M suspension for the M40i, a space-saver spare tire, a trailer hitch, cooled front seats, Harmon Kardon sound, and wireless charging, the latter two of which require the Premium package.

Fuel Economy
BMW will sell battery-powered X3s soon; until it does the 2018 X3’s good gas mileage will suffice.

BMW no longer offers a turbodiesel in the X3, but plug-in hybrid and battery-electric models are in the the offing.

Until then, we give it a 6 for gas mileage, given its competitive but not stellar numbers. 

All the X3 models announced so far in the 2018 model year come with standard all-wheel drive. Coupled with the base turbocharged inline-4 engine and an 8-speed automatic, the X3 xDrive30i earns EPA ratings of 22 mpg city, 29 highway, 25 combined. Those numbers are 1, 2, and 1 mpg higher than last year’s base model.

The twin-turbocharged inline-6 in the X3 M40i has a surprise in its EPA numbers. They’re 20/27/23 mpg, just 1 mpg lower each than last year’s base model. If fuel economy is your chief concern, there’s not much angst involved in going all-out on power.

Of note, BMW’s stop/start system now is much smoother in the X3 than in early iterations, and its combined EPA ratings exceed those of some prime competitors, Audi and Mercedes, though Jaguar offers a turbodiesel that exceeds them all.

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