by Adam Lynton
The third generation BMW X3 is upon us, and as the saying goes, third time's the charm! Based on a new platform, the X3 advances BMW's Sports Activity Vehicle moniker and takes BMW into the realm of compact performance SUVs for the first time, offering enticing dynamics along with the traditional comfort and plethora of options and technological advancements we've come to expect from BMW. Solely available in xDrive, and with two gasoline powerplants, the latest X3 might not offer much variety, but the small focus it does have ups the game considerably from what's come before.
Though a new model and a new design, the interior layout elements still scream BMW – and it's true that if you're changing over from any BMW of the last decade and a half, you'll still feel at home. High quality materials range from the soft touch dash to the range of optional trim bits, with intricate details feeling solidly put together and of a high quality standard.
Leather upholstery can be found on all seats – there's enough room for 5 adults in here – and a range of adjustments makes it easy to get comfortable. It's spacious too; and the tall door apertures ensure easy ingress and egress. Though not quite X5 levels of spaciousness, the cabin space available is still more than enough and far exceeds that of the Porsche Macan – the benchmark in this performance SUV segment. The trunk is capacious too, offering up 62.7 cubic feet when the rear bench is folded flat – a 40/20/40 split affair.
After Porsche's Macan and Jaguar's F-Pace substantially upped the game for dynamic handling in the segment, the driver's brand (BMW) needed something big. The X3 delivers with a ride/handling balance that places it firmly in the performance bracket. Despite being all-wheel drive, the xDrive system is rear biased – as all good ones are – and as such gives the X3 a rear-driven feeling and the ability to induce oversteer at a push, particularly on the M40i models. But in regular scenarios, it offers a planted feel with high levels of grip, and a meaty feeling of complete control. The steering is weighty, and though it feels artificial thanks to the electric assistance, it still offers some feedback overall.
However in spite of sporty pretence, the X3 is still comfortable, with suspension travel enough to soak up most bumps, and dampers that filter out secondary ride imperfections surprisingly well.
Stateside, we get two gasoline X3 derivatives, both of which can only be had in xDrive all-wheel drive and equipped with the snappy rapid-fire ZF 8-speed automatic gearbox. A 2.0-liter turbocharged 4 cylinder is found in the X3 30i, developing 248 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. The range-topper is the X3 M40i, powered by a turbocharged inline 6 with a 3.0-liter displacement and outputs of 355hp and 369 lb-ft. Economy conscious buyers will opt for the smaller-engined 30i derivative, but if it's performance you want, the straight six M40i is your viable alternative to the Jaguar F-Pace S.
xLine, Luxury and M-Sport trims provide different visual cues, whilst four tiers and a driver assistance package equip the X3 with various bits of equipment. Standout features include LED headlights, 10-way power adjustable front seats, and the latest iDrive 6.0 – now featuring available gesture control. Also worth noting are the optional Wi-Fi hotspot and wireless charging functionality for techies on the move. Available safety features include a heads-up display, adaptive cruise control, and a rear-view camera, as well as active lane keeping assistant as part of the Driving Assistance Plus Package. The X3 is yet to be crash tested.
BMW has upped the game. Not only is the new X3 an accomplished performer, but it's a refined family SUV too. However with the inline-6, potent performance, and sports suspension, the X3 M40i steals the show as the standout model, and a credible contender for the performance SUV throne.