The BMW X3 is a spacious luxury CUV that you’ll actually drive without wanting to kill yourself. What do you need to know before you buy a BMW X3? Don’t worry, we’ll tell you everything right here in our Buyer’s Guide.
BMW wants you to think of the X3 as a tall 3 Series with a hatchback, as a grown-up version of that old 3 Series beater you can’t fit your family in. That’s why the Bavarians incessantly refer to the X3 as the world’s first “Sport Activity Vehicle,” not a CUV. It’s their way of saying “Hey guys, this isn’t like one of those RAV4 things, it’s completely different!”
Basically, BMW doesn’t want to admitting defeat. They don’t want to tell you that they built a compromise-mobile in order to get in on the action that is the cash-cow CUV market.
But as far as compromise utility vehicles (CUVs) go, with the X3 BMW has minimized the “compromise,” maximized the “utility,” and, umm, it’s still a “vehicle.” Over the last 15 years or so, Bayrische Motoren Werke has sold over a million X3s worldwide, so they’re clearly doing something right.
Based on a 3-series platform, the X3 offers solid handling for its class along with plenty of interior space. You also sit high off the ground, which is important, because Americans like sitting high.
So it sits high, has plenty of space and doesn’t handle like a typical CUV. That all sounds good to us.
The BMW X3 has been around since 2003 and quickly became a hot seller in the lineup. That 2004 model year X3, based on a 3-series platform, was BMW’s first entry into the compact luxury CUV market. BMW likes to say they created the segment with their X3, and whether that’s true or not, they certainly have managed to succeed in the segment, selling over 150,000 first generation X3s in the U.S. between 2004 and 2010.
But, to keep their money making machine marketable, BMW decided to modernize in 2011 with an all-new second generation. The new X3 not only got new styling inside and out, but it’s also significantly larger than its predecessor. 3.36 inches longer, 1.1 inches wider and 0.5 inches taller, to be exact.
The refresh not only brought size, but also more standard equipment, new powertrain options, an updated iDrive infotainment system, a revised suspension and a lower starting price. Also, the X3 is no longer an import, it is now built in Spartanburg, South Carolina alongside the X4, X5 and X6.
The second model year brought a few tweaks to standard features and option packages, but was largely the same as the 2011 model. But 2013 brought a big change: the naturally aspirated inline-six from the base xDrive28i was swapped for a new, similarly powerful but more efficient 2.0-liter turbocharged inline four.
There weren’t many changes for 2014, but BMW did a mid-cycle refresh on the X3 for the 2015 model year. The mid-cycle action brought modest styling changes to the interior and exterior as well as an all-new diesel variant, the xDrive28d. The diesel gets a 180 horsepower 2.0-liter turbodiesel engine shared with the BMW 328d sedan.
Also new for ‘15 was the addition of an sDrive28i model, a lower-priced rear-wheel drive model. Additionally, BMW made numerous changes to standard and optional equipment, adding plenty of new gadgetry (especially driver-assist tech) to their all-star CUV.
This year’s 2016 model gets enhanced USB and Bluetooth as standard and a Harman Kardon surround sound system becomes standard on xDrive35i trims. Next year, BMW is expecting to release an all-new 2017 X3 as the current generation rounds out its sixth model year.
The BMW X3 comes in four trims: sDrive28i, xDrive28i, xDrive28d and xDrive35i. The sDrive28i is the two-wheel drive version of the xDrive28i, so they both get a 240 horsepower 2.0-liter turbo four. The xDrive 28d is an all-wheel drive diesel X3, while the xDrive35i is the most powerful X3, making 300 horsepower and blasting to 60 MPH in 5.3 seconds.
All X3s come with electric power steering, a MacPherson front suspension design and a five-link setup in the rear. Brakes on all models are 12.9-inch vented rotors up front and 13-inchers out back.
If we were buying an X3, we’d nab the xDrive28i model. Its all-wheel drive coupled with a decent list of standard features and a 240 horsepower turbo engine. Not only will it keep you and your family comfortable and safe, but it will kick ass in the snow. And, to top it off, it will get you to 60 MPH in a quick 6.2 seconds. Good in snow, practical, comfortable and fun to drive? Yes please.
Our xDrive28i model would come with a 2.0-liter turbo, an 8-speed auto, LED fog lights, 18-inch alloy wheels, power leatherette-trimmed seats, power tailgate, rain-sensing wipers, automatic climate control, iDrive infotainment system with 6.5-inch screen, and 9-speaker audio system with 205-watt amplifier.
We’d pay $500 for heated front seats and $1,400 for the Dynamic Handling Package, which gets us Dynamic Damper Control. Tack on destination and the $550 that BMW charges for metallic paint and we’d end up having to drop a single 44,395-dollar bill or 44,395 single-dollar bills.
Important Facts At A Glance:
MSRP: $38,950-$46,800 Top Speed: ~130 MPH
Acceleration: ~5.3s to 60 [xDrive35i]
MPG: 27 city/ 34 hwy / 30 combined [xDrive28d]
Engines: 2.0L turbo I4, 2.0 turbodiesel I4, 3.0L turbo I6
Max Horsepower/Torque: 300 hp/300 lb-ft
Curb Weight: 4,030-4,230 pounds IIHS Rating: Not Fully Tested
Transmissions: 8-speed automatic
Drivetrain Layout: Front engine, RWD/AWD
Photo credit: BMW