Saturday, November 03, 2018

Miscellany: 2019 BMW X3 review - American German Club


During our epic trip to see the solar eclipse last year, the guys and I stopped by the Zentrum, BMW's visitor center and museum next to its Spartanburg, South Carolina manufacturing plant. The cars on exhibit, and the plant itself, told an interesting story - here was a Bavarian company, once known for compact sporty little sedans like the 2002, producing big luxury SUVs aimed squarely at American buyers:

Of course, X3s and other "Sports Activity Vehicles" (to use BMW marketing-speak) are now the company's biggest sellers...but is there any of the old 2002's spirit left in them? I had one to drive for a few days, so I thought I'd find out.


The X3 is classified as a "compact" SUV, but that's relative to what's out there in 2018. The thing is absolutely massive compared to the Lexus RX 300 crossover Mom used to haul us around in 20 years ago, and it's nearly the size of the first-generation X5 from 1999. Unless you have multiple six-footers in your family, I can't imagine anyone feeling cramped a 2019 X3.

Drivetrain and Performance

I tested the xDrive30i model, the overwhelming volume seller. It's got the same turbo direct injected 2.0L inline-four engine and ZF 8-speed transmission BMW uses across its lineup, with familiar pluses (punchy acceleration, smooth shifts) and minuses (unrefined NVH at low speeds, loses some oomph at high RPMs). In a vehicle of the X3's size, the combo provides good but not great performance, and decent fuel economy.

In terms of ride and handling, the X3 feels very solid at highway speed, yet still manages to be a bit more fun to drive than most of the competition. I think the credit for that goes to BMW's rear-biased all-wheel drive system and the SUV's reasonable ride height, which is low enough to be sporty but not so low that you scrape curbs and parking blocks. I suppose you could do some mild gravel roads and trails in the X3, but a hardcore offroader this is not.


If you've been inside any BMW for the last decade, you'll feel right at home in the X3. For some, that's a big negative, but I've never minded BMW's conservative streak in interior design. Materials quality in the cabin was noticeably better than in my 328i, but it better be, considering this is a four-cylinder SUV that stickers for north of $45k.

Tech and Options

The X3 was redesigned for 2018, but it doesn't have the swanky monolithic all-digital dashboard gauge cluster and infotainment screen found in upcoming BMWs like the next-gen 3-series. Instead, you get a weird-looking semi-digital gauge and an old-fashioned center-mounted touchscreen. The car comes with the latest version of BMW's iDrive infotainment system, but wireless Apple CarPlay is extra.

The X3 I tested came with a panoramic moonroof, a pricey $1,350 option. I must admit, though, it does work well, and might be worth it to some people.

Rear Seat

Unlike the 2002s of yore, you can actually fit three human beings in the rear bench, though the middle seat is still the runt of the litter thanks to a higher cushion and the transmission tunnel. The middle seat folds down to reveal a center armrest and pass-through, and the rear seats do also recline slightly.


The folks from Munich may have lost the plot in terms of performance-oriented driving over the past decade, but they've upped their game on storage design. The X3's cargo area is massively practical, with a power lift gate, easy split-folding 40/20/40 rear seats, a snap-in cargo cover that stores neatly under the floor, and all sorts of shifting tie-downs. With the seats down, this thing can hold almost anything.


If you're comparing the X3 to the 02 series just on objective performance bona fides, there's not much that's similar. The X3 is literally twice as heavy, with none of the compact agility or raw mechanical feedback you get from the 70's Bimmers. I found it offers a detached driving experience that might leave some cold.

On the other hand, the X3 is an entry-level luxury SUV, not a sporty coupe. When graded on that metric, it succeeds in its mission, and does it better or at least equal to most vehicles in its class. If I were ever in the market for this kind of SUV, I would definitely give it a test drive.


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