For decades, the BMW 3-Series served as a gateway vehicle into the prestigious automaker's lineup.
Back in 2003, the German automaker introduced a crossover-ish body style based on the iconic 3-Series, giving birth to BMW's X3. The general public responded in kind.
Never one to follow, BMW repurposed 'crossovers' throughout its line up with an upscale 'Sport Activity Vehicle' nomenclature. All BMW Sport Activity Vehicles (SAVs) sport an 'X' prefix.
For 2018 BMW welcomes aboard the third-generation X3 SAV now based on its highly touted KLAR architecture. Two turbocharged powertrain selections team with an eight-speed automatic transmission. Both engines are new to X3. All-wheel drive (marketed as xDrive intelligent all-wheel drive) now comes standard.
Sales of X3 in the 2016 calendar year reached 44,196, an all-time record, representing a hearty 38 percent increase from the previous 12-month calendar cycle.
At 185 inches in length, X3 skews towards the larger end of the compact crossover/SAV segment. Toyota's RAV4, one the segments best sellers, measures in four inches shorter. This extra girth plays out in X3's favor, as row two amply accommodates three adult riders when called upon.
Wheelbase (distance between front and rear axle) stretches 2.2 during this third-generation go-round also enhancing interior comfort. The extended wheelbase better balances X3 to a desired 50/50 front-back weight distribution, benefitting handling and ride quality.
The notable eight-inches of ground clearance remains handy if foraging through small creaks. However, primary pavement usage may suit Chicagoans better, as mud and muck somehow don't jibe with BMW's symbol of success.
Two X3 trims each sport their own specific, upgraded powertrain. The X3 xDrive 30i (replacing a 2017 xDrive 28i) features a ginned up 2.0-liter twin-scrolled turbocharged four cylinder cranking out 248 horsepower, eight more than 2017. Also worth pondering is the 3.0-liter X3M40i six-cylinder turbo generating 355 horses, 55 greater than 2017's xDrive 35i. Both trims offer a wide variety of stand-alone and option packages. No diesel variant is sold in the U.S.
Turbocharging delivers greater air volume into the engine for increased horsepower without added cylinders by pumping recycled exhaust gases through a pinwheel-inspired turbine back into the engine.
The four-cylinder X3 (our tester) started at $42,450. An array of five options packages brought our bottom line to $57,620 including a $995 destination charge. The six-cylinder X3M40i starts at $54,300.
Option packages included a $2,850 Convenience Package (panoramic moon roof, one-year complimentary satellite radio subscription), $900 Driving Assist Package, $1,400 Dynamic Handling Package (variable sport steering, dynamic damper control), $1,300 Parking Assistance Package (active park distance control, multi-panel rear view camera) and $3,300 Premium Package (heated front/rear seats, heated steering wheel, in-dash navigation and 75-percent larger, multi-colored heads-up windshield display).
While slightly larger, this Gen-Three rebirth continues with similar, understated exterior cues found in the last go-round. Returning undaunted is the signature twin-port kidney grille (now adding a three-dimensional effect) with BMW's circular medallion logo between and slightly above each port. Fog lights incorporate a hexagonal design. Chrome trim frames side windows.
The power hatch door, hinged at the top, opens up as one unit with standard rear wiper. Average head clearance allows ample space for those six-feet one inches and shorter. Dual exhausts come standard.
Flood lights, popular within the upmarket fraternity, project an illuminated ground image from side-view mirror underbellies; all-too-often a corporate logo. BMW goes one step better with a longer, stretched foot print (or beam print in this case). A beam stream originating below each front door sends an elongated art design along the ground on each side stretching towards the hatch end.
Inside, X3 includes more than ample headroom, even when ordering the expansive panoramic moon roof (9.8-inches longer this generation). The dashboard-located circular push-button start locates in a convenient position not obstructed by the steering wheel.
The multi-function screen no longer tucks inside the center dash. Instead, the sizeable 10.25-inch design, resembling a rectangular flat screen, rises slightly above the center dash. Four interactive formats communicate with the high-resolution screen, including higher-tech voice and gesture commands. For those more attuned to old-school traditions, the screen remains touch sensitive and also operates via a chrome push-twist iDrive control dial between front buckets with ample back support.
Nearby is an electronic pull-push tab parking brake directly behind an electronic transmission grip. This rather thin vertical shifter fits neatly into the right palm, requiring a push of a forward-facing 'P' plate atop the grip plank to summon park. A gentle nudge forward of the shifter activates reverse while a tweak backward generates forward movement.
The highly-animated instrument panel includes interior framing resembling the two chambers of a Valentine's Day heart, or at the proper perspective, two Mickey-Mouse ears. Colorful corporate BMW lettering appears when beginning and ending the drive. After the corporate ID plug, the right chamber illuminates as a traditional analog speedometer. Smaller quarter gauges align in lower corners with fuel and temperature information.
The manually-adjusting steering column needs updating to a power-driven sort prominent and/or standard in most other luxury and many luxury-wanna-be crossovers. Below the flat screen, a long, narrow row of diminutive fan speed and air-direction buttons flank dual temperature zone dials. New for 2018, rear seat ventilation controls allowing row-two occupants to dial in their own requests.
Ambiance wise, the German automaker creates a comfy cocoon inside via pen-light curvy blue swipes adorning all four doors once the sun sets. An orange glow streams across the region above the glove box. Soft-touch dual-colored doors and dash step up the quality quotient from past generations with wood-like/brushed-aluminum elements throughout.
The fuel tank accommodates a hearty (for a compact) 17.2 gallons of mid-grade 91-octane petro. Fuel economy remains good, not great for a compact crossover (or SAV) featuring all-wheel drive. A recently tested four-cylinder AWD Subaru Crosstrek generated 27 mpg city and 33 mpg highway compared with our X3's 22 and 29 respective city/highway estimates. That said, X3 prioritizes performance and comfort in this genre.
Tucked in the northwest corner of the Palmetto State is BMW's sprawling five-million square-foot Spartanburg, South Carolina assembly complex. It's the German automaker's largest production plant with an annual capacity to churn out 450,000 units. Approximately 70 percent of vehicles produced get exported to 140 markets worldwide. In addition to X3, a multitude of other products churn out of Spartanburg including X4, X5 and X6 sport activity vehicles. Later next year, an X7 gets added. The sprawling campus, BMW's sole U.S. plant, celebrates 25 years of operation in 2017. 2018 BMW X3
Price as tested: $57,620
Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo
Wheelbase: 112.8 inches
Overall Length: 185.9 inches
Overall Width: 74.4 inches
Overall height: 66.0 inches
Fuel Economy: 22 mpg city/29 mpg highway
Assembly: Spartanburg, South Carolina