Remember what SUV stands for? Sport-utility vehicle.
Sport was originally part of the equation for these AWD, off-road intending vehicles that have taken over the auto world along with their cousins, crossovers. Funny, not many SUVs feel sporty, yet this week’s drive was the blissful anomaly.
BMW knows a little something about sporty handling and spunky performance and it shows in its X3 compact premium luxury SUV. This was the AWD model, the X3 xDrive 30i, which increased its grip and grins when our June monsoons unloaded.
X3 comes in three trims, the base rear-drive sDrive 30i and this mid-level xDrive, both with peppy 2.0-liter twin-turbo I4s. Then there’s the crazy fast M40i with a twin-turbo 3.0-liter I6. Horsepower is 248 in the two lower models and 382 in the M. All prefer premium gas, so to manage driving costs, this xDrive model may be the safer bet.
Power is smooth, but gives the small SUV plenty of oomph heading onto the highway, especially in Sport mode. There also is Comfort for daily driving and Eco Pro for gas saving. Power runs to all wheels via an 8-speed automatic here, or rear wheels for the sDrive model. Car and Driver magazine says the X3 will do zero to 60 mph in 6.2 seconds while its top speed is said to be 130 mph.
Handling is quick and precise, something that may surprise you if you’ve driven many other SUVs. The X3 corners like a sports sedan, well balanced and light. And it is moderately light, weighing in at just more than 4,000 pounds.
Aiding grip were the 21-inch Pirelli performance tires, a $1,550 option. And these are run-flats, so no need for pack a spare.
Ride too is well-controlled. The test for me is railroad tracks, which are a minor jiggle here and even those annoying highway expansion joints do no harm.
Ironically the X3’s fun driving character manages to meld well with its practical side. The interior feels roomy and the cargo space in back is stellar, with some storage under the floor and second row seats that easily fold completely flat. But even with them up there’s more than 28 cubic feet of cargo room, plenty for five or six full-size suitcases.
This Brooklyn Gray Metallic test vehicle was handsome too, its twin kidney-shaped grilles being more restrained than some new BMW noses, although I like both looks as they are distinctive. However, this gray paint though looks more battleship gray than metallic, a styling trend right now. Plus it costs $550 extra, only black and white being standard colors. A cool metallic Tanzanite Blue is available, but that’s $1,500 extra. Ouch!
Inside, the X3 is well laid out and simple to navigate, yet also stylish.
Seats are a light tan leather with black dash and door tops. Leather is an option though, $1,450 worth to get this Vernasca covering, which includes dyes and protective finishes. This black dash is what BMW calls SensaTec, sort of a soft rubber texture that I think should be standard, but is part of the bulging M Sport package that adds $4,100 to the sticker.
What do you get for that?
It’s mostly visual, including an aerokit outside along with Shadowline (black) trim, fancy M Y-spoke bi-color wheels of gray alloy, black gloss roof rails. While inside the package includes the SensaTec dash, a thick leather M-Sport steering wheel, and something BMW calls Rhombicle smoke gray aluminum trim.
No denying that aluminum trim looks sharp on the dash and doors, but really, I could live with whatever is standard. Here the console still comes with a gloss black surface, which can be reflective on sunny days. How about a matte finish to avoid blinding the driver?
Those leathery seats not only look good, they are mighty comfy too, with good hip and lower back support, plus the power side bolsters adjust via buttons on the side of the driver’s seat. Got long legs? The lower cushion will extend manually to give more support. One drawback though, IMHO, the self-tightening seatbelts for the front seats. These snug up on your chest after the SUV is placed into gear. It’s disturbing to most passengers, especially women.
BMW heats the seats too, along with the steering wheel, yet the seats are not cooled. I found the wheel extremely thick, less easy for smaller hands to hold. I like the leather, but the wheel could be thinner and I’d prefer a flat-bottom race wheel. The heated wheel is not standard, it’s part of a $1,850 premium package that also includes a HUD and gesture control for radio and info screen adjustment. The latter is not needed.
BMW bumps up its info screen and the radio is easy to adjust. Plus, get this, there are eight radio buttons below the screen that you can program with your favorite stations. Old tech, but perfect!
Overhead is a dual-pane sunroof to brighten the interior. However, there’s no wireless phone charger — a major faux pas, although one is available for $500. Also, and this was odd, the roll-top cover over the cupholders and console storage tends to stick, making it quite hard to open. The solution? Almost close it all the way, just don’t latch it.
All the usual standard safety devices are here — blind spot, lane departure and smart cruise, for instance.
The test SUV also added a dynamic handling package for $1,400 that included variable sport steering and M Sport brakes with red calipers. Those (despite their color) help provide performance-level braking if you plan to push the X3 to its natural limits.
Another option, for $900, is the live cockpit pro system with navigation on the big screen, plus Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
Gas mileage is fine, other than the ute’s desire to drink premium fuel. I got 25 mpg in about a 50-50 mix of city and highway while the EPA rates the X3 xDrive at 21 mpg city and 28 highway.
The good news, for luxury SUV buyers, the base rear-drive model starts at $44,695, very competitive with the likes of its competitors, the Lexus NX, Volvo XC60, Audi Q5 and primo new Genesis GV70. Adding AWD costs $2,000 more, so $46,695, including delivery, for this one.
That’s still less than a Porsche Macan or Mercedes-Benz GLC. However, with all the options on this one it hit $58,490 and that’s more than many mid-size SUVs these days, although they may not be as sporty.
Oh, and to get that high-horse 3.0-liter twin-turbo I6 model, the M40i? Well, it starts at $58,798 and, wait for it … there’s even a special X3M, the M signifying it’s a land-based rocket. M models always cost more for their performance perk. The X3M lists at about $71,000 with delivery, but there’s a 473-horse twin-turbo baby in that one. Oh my!
Overview: 2022 BMW X3 xDrive 30i
Hits: Spunky yet practical. Good looks, power, handling, AWD, and cargo space. Controlled ride, comfy supportive seats, 8 radio buttons, dual sunroof, heated steering wheel and seats, big screen.
Misses: No wireless charger, roll-top cupholder cover sticks, auto-tightening seatbelts, thick steering wheel, cost of options, and premium fuel drinker.
Made in: Spartanburg, S.C.
Engine: 2.0-liter twin turbo I4, 248 hp/258 torque
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Weight: 4,079 lbs.
Wheelbase: 112.8 in.
Length: 185.9 in.
Cargo: 28.7-62.7 cu.ft.
MPG: 25.0 (tested)
Base Price: $46,695 (includes delivery)
Brooklyn Gray metallic paint, $550
Oyster Vernasca leather, $1,450
Dynamic handling pkg. (variable sport steering, M Sport brakes w/red calipers), $1,400
M Sport pkg. (aero kit, SensaTec dash, Shadowline exterior trim, gloss black roof rails, aluminum Rhumbicle smoke gray interior trim, M Sport steering wheel, M Y-spoke bi-color gray alloy wheels), $4,100
Premium pkg. (heated steering wheel, lumbar support, HUD, gesture control), $1,850
Tire upgrade (21-inch performance Pirelli P Zero run-flats), $1,550
Live cockpit pro w/navigation (XM radio 1-year, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay), $900
Credits from deletes, -$350
Test vehicle: $58,490
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