BMW X3 Review
- Excellent built quality
- Lots of space
- Good dynamics
- Plenty of tech
- Options are expensive
- Not quite as nice as some rivals inside
- Not cheap to buy
- Steering has lost its feel
A few years ago, BMW was the benchmark for driver involvement. The M cars were the pinnacle, as you’d expect. But even its SUVs felt so alive in comparison with the competition. The steering feel, the front end grip, the way the cars cornered with ease – BMW’s X5 and its little brother, the X3, just wiped the floor with the others.
Fast forward to 2019 and things have changed. The 2019 BMW X3 is still an amazing machine, with space, power and quality aplenty, but driving involvement? Let’s just say that BMW has been left behind in that department.
Let’s start with the good. The X3 is bigger in every dimension, including the price. Most people are happy to pay a bit extra when it brings more luxury or more up to date technology. However, when you have to start ticking options boxes to get the inclusions up to your standard, the price starts to skyrocket.
The starting price is $43,645, which is around $3000 more than the previous model, and it’s definitely well stocked, but when you add in a few niceties, you can watch the dollars add up in a staggeringly quick fashion.
Just have a look at the boxes ticked on our test car: Metallic paint, panoramic sunroof, BMW’s “Driving Assistant Plus”, wood trim with pearl accents, mocha leather seats which are hand-stitched. And this is only half of it.
Innovations package, park assist, LED headlamps, TFT instrumentation, adaptive dampers, luggage net, 20-inch wheels in two-tone – it all added up to around $18,000 which was added to the bottom line.
The model we tested here is one that’s more popular in Europe and some Australasian countries, being the xDrive20d. As the name suggests, it’s all-wheel drive (there’s a rear-wheel drive variant coming very soon), but under the bonnet is a 2.0-liter turbocharged diesel.
While an engine that small could seem a little underdone, BMW is an expert at creating lively, low-capacity motors. Thanks to the Dieselgate fiasco, the oil-burners still aren’t being viewed positively, so it’s possible you won’t be seeing too many more from BMW. But with how refined this motor is, we’d like to see it keep going for a little while longer.
Oil-burners are usually a bit clattery when idling, but this little engine is almost gasoline-like in its refinement. Producing 187 hp and 295 lb-ft, the turbodiesel is able to get it from 0-62mph in just eight seconds.
Helping match the engine’s smoothness is the lovely eight-speed automatic which also comes with paddle shifters if you want to take manual control. However, we’d wager that most drivers will just leave it in Drive and let the car sort out shifting. Considering how good this gearbox is at reading driving situations, this is definitely the best option.
Even in stop-start conditions, the automatic engine shut-off and restart doesn’t interfere with the gearbox’s ability to get the vehicle going. Thank the quick spinning starter motor for that. In fact, this fuel saving device is usually annoying, but in the X3, we didn’t once consider switching it off.
The power is sent to all four wheels however the X3 is set up to be quite biased toward the rear wheels, so it’s a bit of fun when you need it to be. Traversing very slippery surfaces such as gravel, snow or even sand, is easy, and the all-wheel-drive system is very adept in keeping the X3 moving along quite well. That said, it’s not quite as happy on the beach as say a Land Rover Discovery Sport, thanks to a bit less ground clearance and slightly longer overhangs.
Having an optional adaptive damper set up allows the X3 to become a bit stiffer when heading into the bends. That’s great for handling, especially with these gorgeous 20-inch wheels, and it’s as easy as simply pressing the drive selection button and dialling up the “Sport” mode.
Choose the Comfort setting and the X3 can only soften up the dampers, with these tyres and their tiny side walls still transmissing the inherent firm ride through the car. It means that although these wheels and tyres look good and imbue excellent handling, if you want a more comfortable ride, you’ll need to go with some smaller wheels.
So, start driving it quickly and you realise that the new X3 is very rewarding in terms of dynamics. And even in its stiffest mode, you can still bear it in everyday driving. But there’s a problem.
The previous BMW X3 had a hydraulic steering pump, which gave it class-leading heft and feedback, getting even better the harder you pushed it. But the new model’s electric steering has created a situation where the X3 feels separate from the drive experience, with weighting that’s too light and a numb turn-in.
What happened, BMW? For years you were the king of steering feel.
Clearly, the company has had to acquiesce to emissions by switching to electric steering, but in doing so has detracted from the driver involvement that was a core value of the brand.
Where the X3 does make itself more appealing is inside. The new model’s interior space is massive for this class, even compared with the Volvo XC60, with stacks of legroom and headroom in the second row.
The 2019 BMW X3 is in fact a bigger vehicle overall than the first X5, if you can believe it.
And of course, the X3 is built superbly, using some high-end materials (the stitching on the dashtop looks great) and the updated iDrive system is more user friendly than before.
However, anyone coming from the previous iDrive setup could be a little confused with how it’s laid out now, with some items disappearing and others relocated.
An electric tailgate allows you to access the trunk, and if you need to drop the back seat down you can. This expands the luggage area from 19.4 cu. ft to 56.5 cu. ft.
And the list of conveniences is as long as your arm: Bluetooth telephony and streaming, a head-up display (HUD), digital radio with an excellent sound system, wireless phone charging, SOS call button, Connected Drive (which has an app so you can find your X3 even if you are overseas), parking assist and plenty of active safety systems.
Most SUV buyers aren’t going to care about steering feel (or the lack thereof) so we feel that without any optional extras, the X3 is a good machine. Of course, there are plenty of competitors breathing down its neck, so buyers are spoiled for choice.
The X3’s pricing is quite good in base form, and it’s a good size, drives well enough, is put together properly and the styling is excellent.
In fact, given the space inside the 2019 BMW X3, there would even be some X5 or even X7 buyers who might look closely at it.
It’s easy to drive and will fit most families while still keeping the tradition of German design and technology.