Going all-in on the crossover craze, BMW now offers seven such body styles to choose from ranging from the diminutive X1 to the grandiose X7.
If that weren’t enough, each comes in all manner of packages and powertrains, including a couple of plug-in hybrid (PHEV) models. The smallest is the 2021 BMW X3 xDrive30e that combines a four-cylinder gas engine with an electric motor and a 12-kWh battery pack under the back seat that BMW says is good for 55 km of pure electric driving.
My tester was tastefully adorned in metallic black paint with a caramel leather interior. The X3 follows the existing design language of the X family, which is simultaneously sleek and sophisticated. A hood crease here and a fender flair there, it offers an element of presence that isn’t over the top. Thankfully, the X3 has yet to adopt the appallingly awful bucktooth front fascia of the 3 and 4 Series, or the upcoming fully electric iX, which are all just plain offensive to the eyes.
The $3,500 M Sport package adds 20-inch double-spoke alloy wheels that show off a set of upgraded brakes. Upgraded exterior elements add to both its styling and aerodynamics, such as high-gloss exterior trim, distinct body-colour bumpers, side skirts, a contrasting rear diffuser, and chrome exhaust tips. The exterior M badge can also be removed upon request.
The interior offers an improvement over the previous generation, which was a bit on the bland side. Instruments are easy to read, and materials are high in quality with enough variance to add an element of character without appearing busy. The M Sport package also adds a thick and robust sporty steering wheel.
The X3 comes with safety features you’d expect from a modern premium vehicle, such as adaptive cruise control and lane-departure warning, but many others are optional. At a cost of $2,900, the X3 can be made available with an advanced driver assistance package that includes a self-parking system and adaptive cruise control that works in stop-and-go traffic, lane-keeping aid, and forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking.
My tester was optioned with adaptive full LED headlights ($500) and the aforementioned park assist feature for an added $1,000 that offers a 360-degree camera view, visual and audible sensors, and automatic braking capability. It will also park the vehicle on its own in the proper conditions. The driver need only find an appropriate space, engage the system, and turn on the indicator. The vehicle will select the gear, then apply throttle, braking, and steering inputs as needed.
The Premium Enhanced pack came at a cost of $6,000, adding such optional equipment as aluminum roof rails and a panoramic sunroof, side sunshades, heated seats front and rear, interior ambient lighting, and a head-up display. It also features wireless charging and wireless Apple CarPlay. (There’s no Android Auto yet, but a requisite Bluetooth connection is standard.)
The $14,600 Ultimate package adds all that and more, with extras like upgraded leather, the driver assistance systems, and gesture control, among others.
User Friendliness: 8/10
The infotainment system can easily be adjusted via knobs, buttons, or the console mounted wheel, but don’t worry – this is not the persnickety system of old. The steering wheel also features a variety of functions to keep the driver’s attention on the task at hand. Battery charge and range information are easy to read on the digital dash. Rear passengers get optional heated seats and the ability to adjust their own climate settings.
Europeans don’t seem to understand the North American fascination with drive-thru windows, so cupholders are often an afterthought. That means accessing the optional wireless charging pad here requires any beverages occupying the cupholders to be removed first.
The X3 has become a popular vehicle for many good reasons. It delivers engaging driving dynamics in a stylish, manageable package. Its relatively small stature, good visibility, and tight steering ratio make it simple and nimble to drive. The various elements included in the parking assist system allow for it to easily be manoeuvred around a parking garage or into a parallel parking spot. The X3 also offers decent cargo room and towing capacity, particularly for its size.
The X3 is easy to get in and out of, featuring ample headroom, wide door openings, and a ride height higher than a car but lower than an SUV. Seats are comfortable, nicely bolstered, and supportive. The heated steering wheel and front seats add a nice touch of warmth that we Canadians have come to expect from models at any price, not just the luxury segment. Handling and suspension are on the sporting side, with the latter being both felt and heard on rougher road surfaces. The sound and sensation of the engine straining under enthusiastic acceleration is also decidedly uncivilized.
The 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder provides 248 hp, with the electric hardware adding extra 40 hp. Acceleration is likely considered adequate for many, but certainly not exhilarating. Torque is rated at 310 lb-ft, and it does boast a respectable towing capacity of 2,000 kg (4,409 lb) across all models, though. Engaging the sport mode button on the centre console and switching into manual mode allows you to hold gears longer and accelerate at a slightly brisker pace; but if performance is a high priority to you then the six-cylinder M40i would be the way to go.
Driving Feel: 7.5/10
Included in the $3,500 M Sport package, the variable steering adjusts its weight and input based on speed. Steering is direct and responsive with enough feedback to be predictable but not harsh. Gear changes though the eight-speed automatic are smooth and crisp. Being a relatively quiet, small displacement powerplant, the transition from electric power to the internal combustion engine is ever so slightly noticeable and not intrusive or disconcerting. Staying in electric mode requires a decisive, delicate touch, which basically meant that the only time the X3 was propelled exclusively by battery power while in my care was in my parking garage. Handling dynamics are BMW’s wheelhouse, so it is no surprise that the X3 tackles turns with composure and grace.
Fuel Economy: 6.5/10
The Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) numbers for the X3 xDrive30e rate it at 11.0 L/100 km in the city and 8.6 highway for a combined value of 9.9 L/100 km. While the green plate issued by some provinces will grant you access to high occupancy vehicle lanes and primo parking spots in regions that offer such perks, it may not provide much fiscal benefit unless you keep it for a long time.
Given the estimated annual fuel cost of $1,988, it would take approximately 12 years to recoup the extra funds remunerated for the plug-in hybrid model over the X3 xDrive30i. NRCan numbers suggest that the plug-in gets only marginally better fuel economy than its non-plug-in sibling that can be purchased for $7,440 less. Granted, that model only has 248 hp, which is the same amount as the xDrive30e without the assistance of its electric motor.
The 12-kWh battery pack charges itself through regenerative braking or by plugging in to a charging outlet using the cord provided. Run out of juice and it will operate like a traditional hybrid. Activate the eDrive mode via the console-mounted button and battery-powered, emission-free driving can theoretically had at speeds as fast as 135 km/h.
Results will vary depending on how and where you drive, but I averaged 12.9 L/100 km in real-world conditions on winter tires with the stop/start function engaged, which isn’t great for a small plug-in hybrid. Even the Mercedes-Benz GLC 300, which is equipped with a 2.0L four-cylinder internal combustion engine, gets 10.0 L/100 km compared to the 9.9 of this BMW PHEV. If you’ve got a gentle right foot and have an environmentally friendly employer who offers free charging, the math may work out for you.
The X3 xDrive30e offers a pseudo premium driving experience, but it doesn’t come cheap. Its lackluster performance and level of suspension noise in the cabin on rough roads didn’t do much to impress me. If its fuel economy blew me away then that would be a different story, but it didn’t. With a starting MSRP of $59,990, the sticker price of my tester jumped to $72,840 with a few option boxes checked. Even a similarly equipped Porsche Macan is less expensive. The X3 did come decently equipped, but the ratio of content versus cost would make me think twice about going for the plug-in. Federal rebates and incentives can help bring down the cost of an EV, but the X3 does not qualify due to its price. Provincial rebates may apply depending on where you live and whether you plan to buy or lease the vehicle.
The luxury compact SUV segment is becoming an increasingly competitive one. Customers demand performance, utility, comfort, and fuel economy in a versatile and attractive package. A comparably equipped Volvo XC40 R-Design can be had for $52,615. Featuring a turbocharged and supercharged 2.0L four-cylinder powerplant, the Volvo offers more torque and better fuel economy at a lower cost than BMW’s plug-in hybrid. A Mercedes GLC 300 is also less expensive, offers a nine-speed transmission, and will offer a more luxurious experience in both ride and interior comfort. If fuel consumption is of utmost importance to you, the pure electric XC40 Recharge offers 335 km of range, again for less money than the BMW. Audi also announced the addition of a plug-in Q5 arriving later this year that features a 12-volt electrical system bringing a combined output of 261 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque. If the promise of HOV lanes and preferred parking spots are enticing and BMW brand cachet is important to you, then the X3 xDrive30e may very well find itself on your list.
|Peak Horsepower||288 hp|
|Peak Torque||310 lb-ft|
|Fuel Economy||11/8.6/9.9 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||770 / 1,682 L seats up/down|
|Model Tested||2021 BMW X3 xDrive30e|
|Price as Tested||$75,085|
$12,850 – Premium Package Enhanced, $6,000; M Sport Package, $3,500; Vernasca leather, $1,500; Adaptive LED Headlights, $500; Parking Assistant Plus with Surround View, $1,000; Wireless Charging with Extended Bluetooth, $350