Remember the days when the X3 used to be a rebel in BMW's range? The carmaker's burning niche passion has turned this into a more-than-traditional model. The time has come for the second-gen X3 to receive its LCI (facelift), so here we are, getting up close and personal with the revised compact premium crossover.
In 2014, BMW's second X3 model in history turned four years old. In typical Bavarian fashion, that meant the Sport Activity Vehicle (BMW slang for SUV
) was up for a facelift and yet, looking at the 2015 model from any other angle than the front you'd be hard pressed to point out the differences. That's because there aren't any remarkable ones to see.
Up front is where you'll see the most changes, if you can even call them that. The front fascia was refreshed, welcoming the X3 into the world of contemporary Bimmers, with a set of headlights that are now connected to the trademark kidney grilles. That's a feature we've been seeing on all BMW cars launched after the F30 3 Series
and it seems that it will be hanging around for quite a while.
Apart from that, there's little to let you know this is the 2015 model. Round the back, the taillights and the overall design remained the same, while the side mirrors were slightly enlarged to house the direction indicators.
As far as size goes, the new model is basically the same as the old one in width (1,880 mm/74 inches) and height (1,661 mm/65.4 inches) while in length it overcomes its forefather by just one centimeter (0.39 inches), measuring a respectable 4,648 mm (183 inches). That puts it right in the mid-size SUV segment, where it should be.
We do have fresh metal under the skin though. BMW knew that in order to keep up with the competition, the X3 needed new technology and new features along with new materials and customization options, things that customers have been asking for quite a while now.
Inside, the touch-sensitive iDrive controller is now standard, allowing you to operate the infotainment system easier without taking your eyes off the road. And while that alone is a huge improvement, the entire system was upgraded and is now one of the benchmarks in the automotive business, unlike its earlier versions, which were confusing to say the least.
It's also inside the cabin where you notice a couple more differences compared to the older versions. The basic shapes remain the same, with the dash featuring the serious design we've all been getting used to lately, but there are small details that set it apart. For example, new high-gloss trims that are available actually get the job done of making your car feel premium.
The materials used are some of the best in the business as long as you don't look below the mid section of the door panels. That's where some hard plastics can be found and they don't look, feel or sound right by any means. At least not for a car with the price tag of the X3. They'd be more suitable on an entry-level Dacia than on a premium BMW.
The standard steering wheel, the one you get for the xLine model, is thick enough and comfortable while the gearshift knob takes a bit of getting used to, even for BMW drivers, as it was reshaped and has a flatter feel. However, after a couple of miles behind the wheel you'll know exactly what it does. We're talking about the one used on the 8-speed automatic gearbox, of course.
Other changes include the new HVAC
panel that looks more in tune with the times, having a fresh look, the high resolution display and the restyled seats that now have Xs embroidered in the headrests. Under the center console, the cup holders have been redesigned - now a sliding cover makes sure they are nice and hidden from plain sight at first glance.
The driving position is rather high, giving you the impression you're driving a larger SUV.
The visibility is great and, unlike in the X4
, the rear window is actually usable to ensure you don't back up over your kid's bike when pulling in the garage. Sure, you can also get the Parking Assistant with its rear-view camera to help out.
Those will also come in handy around town, where parallel parking is a must most of the time. It's in this environment that the X3 doesn't feel exactly at home. Sure, you can easily drive it to do your daily chores but you'd be much better off with a small town car.
However, since you went for an SUV, you must like one or two things about what it offers, right? The high driving position gives you a commanding view of the road and the parking spots when you're on the look-out. Thanks to the revised electric steering and the selectable driving modes, switching the car in Comfort mode will allow you to drive it inside city borders just like a sport wagon, while choosing Sport mode will only make the steering unnecessarily heavy. Still, parking it is easy thanks to the massive rearview mirrors on the sides and the big hatch at the back that offer plenty of visibility.
Speaking of the big hatch, we should also mention that the luggage space is generous at 19.4 cubic feet/ 550 liters (56.5 cubic feet or 1,600 liters with the seats folded) and you get plenty of tricks back there to keep your cases and groceries in check. There are a couple of nets and hooks available that can change position as needed, to keep things nice and tight. The so-called Smart Opener is now also available on the 2015 model, allowing you to open or close the tailgate with a short movement of the foot below the rear bumper.
The X3 is comfortable when you want it to be. Don't get the wrong idea though, this is still a BMW and, compared to other cars in the range, it might seem a bit harsh on your spine. But when sized up against other cars from Munich, it's a decent, even comfy ride.
As far as comfort goes, we should mention the seats. They remind us of the ones from the first model, the E83 X3
as the side bolsters protrude into the backseats a bit more, possibly becoming a bit uncomfortable on longer trips. After a while you do get used to them, but switching to a car with wider seats will reveal what you've been missing out on. Put the thing in Sport mode and floor it through the bends - the xDrive system will keep you in check while the suspension gives you the impression that this is not an SUV at all but rather a sedan. It's composed at all times and the level of grip is unbelievable.
Take it out for a longer trip and you'll soon get an even better idea of what we're talking about. For the 2015 models, BMW decided to introduce two new powerplants, both diesels. The sDrive18d and the xDrive20d are now using new engines, part of the bigger B-family that will soon be used on every model in the range.
They are EU6 compliant and, as expected, offer better performance and mpg than their predecessors. The sDrive18d is powered by a 2-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine making 150 HP
(7 horsepower more than its predecessor) and 360 Nm (266 lb-ft) of torque and can be hooked up to either a 6-speed manual for old school nostalgics or the new 8-speed automatic gearbox for more comfort and better fuel efficiency. The problem with this model is that it only comes with rear-wheel drive.
On the other hand, the xDrive20d uses a similar 2-liter engine but taken up to 190 HP (6 horsepower more than before) and 400 Nm (295 lb-ft) of torque. This is the one we'd pick out of the range. Sure, there are other models available, including those with the trademark 6-cylinder layout but they might be a little too much for a family man that wants practicality more than anything.
The top of the range version is the xDrive35d model that has a twin-turbo 3-liter inline 6-cylinder engine making 313 HP and 630 Nm (465 lb-ft) of torque. It will do 100 km/h (62 mph) in 5.3 seconds and it's basically a rocket but do you really need that much grunt?
During our time spent with the xDrive20d we never felt like we needed more power.
The 295 lb-ft (400 Nm) of torque are there almost instantly thanks to the brilliant 8-speed gearbox and all the other issues 4-cylinder diesel plants from BMW had in the past are basically gone.
The B family engines are more refined, less noisy and less thirsty than before. They won't become annoying earlier than 4,000 RPM and you rarely get to push your car's engine so far, considering that you get full torque from 1,750 RPM.
You might say that you'll need extra power outside the city, but the truth of the matter is you don't. Even the xDrive20d will pull decently up to around 90 mph (150 km/h), a more than decent speed. And even up there, the chassis and suspension will be so composed that you won't be afraid to swerve to avoid hitting a pot hole. However, we expected a bit more performance out of this 2-liter engine, not just a smoother operation and less noise.
On longer trips you'll probably take full advantage of the new features of the X3 like the Driving Assistant or the anti-dazzle high beam assistant. While the first one will do all sorts of things like make the steering wheel vibrate when you're going outside your lane without signaling and warning you of cars in your blind spots, the second one is absolutely brilliant in combination with the new adaptive LED headlights.
At night, you just press a button on the left turn signal and the car will automatically activate and deactivate high beams while also keeping other participants in traffic in a cone of shadow. Basically, you don't have to switch to high beam ever again. The car will do it for you and you won't even dazzle anyone in front of your car. At first, you might say it's a feature for lesser drivers but cover 1,000 miles in a car fitted with such headlights at night and you won't ever want to go back to an older setup.
The Parking Assistant, full color Head-Up Display, anti-dazzle high beam assistant and Driving Assistant plus are all part of this new wave of technology we mentioned and they're all worth a good penny. Of course, you can very well do without them but it's good to know they are available.
It's also good to know that BMW took its time and looked into the safety features this car should have. Sure, most people won't go off-road but if you do and something happens, the new models are now fitted, as standard, with the Intelligent Emergency Call function that automatically calls for help in case an accident happens, using your last known location. Furthermore, using various sensors on board, the car can tell how serious the accident was and sends valuable information to a BMW call center that will then send help your way.
Speaking of accidents, according to the EuroNCAP, the X3 got five stars out of five in their tests while the stricter challenges of the IIHS
(Insurance Institude for Highway Safety) gave the same car a 'Good' rating which is the best you can hope for. Still, the SAV hasn't been subjected to the small overlap crash test, the most difficult of them all. Nonetheless, it's... safe to say that you'll be better off in this car than in most others out there.
The X3 is surely included in the SUV segment judging by its size and features but it's not really a car you can take off road. Sure, the xDrive system will take care of you when sticky situations arrive but don't expect it to work miracles. Furthermore, you probably won't have the heart to take the BMW out on a muddy path that has all sorts of hidden accidents waiting to happen. It's good to have though, and it will probably come in handy the most during winter months.
Sporty driving? Well, yeah, sure you can do that and if you get your car with the 3-liter turbocharged petrol engine on the xDrive35i you'll probably be tearing up tires in closed parking lots in no time, thanks to the 306 HP and 400 Nm (295 lb-ft) of torque it makes. But does it really make sense?
BMW itself suggest it doesn't, since the xDrive has a different behavior on the X3, as well as on the X4. Gone is the RWD bias through the corners, the thing is neutral now.
You get this kind of car for different purposes and for the interior space, comfort, safety and fuel consumption that are probably on your list if you're looking at an X3. In that regard, we found the xDrive20d to be just right. It has plenty of power, it's no longer as loud and clunky as the N47 engine before it and, during our test, it managed to return, on average 24 mpg (9.7 l/100 km) which is more than OK, considering that it included spirited sessions of driving around town and outside it as well as about 30 percent of ECO Pro cruising.
Inside the city, the diesel sipped only 10 l/100km (23.5 mpg) without being pepped around, while out on the highway, at exactly 130 km/h (75 mph) it sipped 8.6 l/100 km (27.3 mpg). On average, the tester allowed us to reach into around 500 miles per tank. Of course, you can get better numbers than us. We had to properly test the car and sessions when the pedal had only two positions (On and Off) were included. The attention to fuel consumption can be felt throughout the drivetrain though.
Compared to other BMW cars, on the xDrive20d model, the ECU
and gearbox maps were configured in such a way that, when driven in ECO PRO, the car would try to get into high gears as fast as possible. That's just what the industry has been trying but on the X3 that would leave your engine sitting at just above 1,000 RPM often, even around town. While that might work miracles for the fuel consumption, coupled with the already annoying vibrations of a diesel engine, having it work in that rev range makes the X3 even shakier. That can become annoying.
Another problem is that BMW, for some reason, decided to split the markets, once again. While Europeans can revel in plenty of new-age diesels, the US market was kept in the dark. The xDrive28d model, the only diesel in the X3 range at the moment, is using the older, N47 plant that has only 184 HP to go around and is both noisier and clunkier. It's fuel efficient but all the other downsides might convince you to look at different models.
Out of the range, the xDrive28i seems like the best choice on the North American continent, coming with a 2-liter, 245 HP petrol engine and a starting price of USD 40,400. Chip in around USD 5,000 in optional features and you get a more than potent luxury SUV for USD 45,000 which isn't too shabby, considering the competition. If all-wheel drive isn't a must, the sDrive28i model is even better, starting at USD 38,400 but coming with rear-wheel drive.
Speaking of competitors, there are two obvious choices out there that are right up the X3's alley. There's Audi's Q5 and Mercedes-Benz's GLK model. The X3 starts at EUR 37,200 in Germany, while the Audi Q5 starts at EUR 36,500 and the Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class kick-off at EUR 37,068. As you can see, the differences aren't all that high on their home market.
In the US, things are even more evenly matched, with the X3 starting at USD 38,400 for the sDrive28i (245 HP petrol) model, the Q5 starting at USD 38,900 for the 2.0 TFSI (220 HP) version and the GLK250 BlueTEC SUV kicking-off at USD 38,980 with a 200 HP diesel engine, each coming with its own pros and cons. For example, the BMW has more power but, at that price tag it’s got a rear-wheel drive, while the other two come with all-wheel drive setups.
The X3 has a couple of tricks up its sleeve: its best feature remains the sure-footed driving, hands down.
If you ever wanted a BMW that would have plenty of space for your family, high ground clearance, a commanding driving position and yet be a blast to drive, this is the one you want. Now, depending on how much power you need and how careful you are with your spending, the engine choice is down to you.
On the other hand, the X3 is pretty expensive. Our tester came with a sticker that said EUR 65,453, out of which EUR 27,000 were just the optional features. At that price point, you could easily get an entry-level X5, admittedly with less optional features. However, if you do tick only the right boxes, a decent X3 could be had for less than EUR 50,000 or USD 50,000 depending on the market.
Leaving the pricing out of the question, there's little at fault with the X3 here. In the case of the X4 we could argue that the lack of practicality and the controversial design might put off a couple of buyers, but here we're dealing with a much more conventional SUV that has plenty of appeal and aces up its sleeve, while keeping the BMW spirit alive.
Sales of the X3 have been growing steadily in the last few years. Since BMW introduced the model back in 2003, they sold over 1 million cars despite its unfavorable initial status. Now, 11 years later, the X3 has become part of the family and it seems like it will remain that way for years to come.