As I’ve come to expect when test driving a car in Vancouver, I barely had time to connect my phone to the X3’s Bluetooth system before rain started to fall on the windshield. Still, for a wet, mid-day run up to Squamish, the X3 seem a strong choice.
New for 2018, this is the third generation of the X3, which originally launched for the 2004 model year as BMW’s small SUV. Since 2004, BMW has expanded their crossover offerings with the X1, the X4, and the newly announced X2. With an updated exterior design, this handsome third-gen X3 is a welcome refresh of the previous generations’ dated looks. Combined with this refreshed appearance is an efficient and smooth inline four-cylinder engine and an incredible amount of tech; the 2018 X3 continues to offer what is essentially an SUV expression of the 3-Series sedan.
For 2018, the X3 is available as the four-cylinder xDrive30i and the sporty six-cylinder M40i. In Phytonic Blue Metallic with the M Sport Line package over black Vernasca leather; I’m driving an xDrive30i example that is loaded with a host of added tech, appearance, and performance options. The interior will be very recognizable to anyone who has been in a modern BMW and the X3 feels very up-to-date with a large high-res central infotainment touchscreen, a fully digital gauge cluster, and a matching full-color heads-up display. While there is a learning curve to the finer points of BMW’s love-or-hate iDrive system, the X3 is fitted with iDrive 6.0 which features excellent performance, simple access to core functions like navigation and media, and can even be controlled via gesture (i.e., drawing a circle with your finger in front of the screen will raise or lower the volume).
The X3 is fitted with iDrive 6.0 which features excellent performance, simple access to core functions like navigation and media, and can even be controlled via gesture.
While it’s most definitely a button-heavy environment, I had no problem pairing my phone, setting a route to my lunch in Squamish, and controlling the basics like seating position, climate control, driving modes, and driver assistance.
With the M Sport Line package adding 20-inch wheels and a dash of sporty M2 looks, this X3 is likely not an ideal choice for a day of off-roading. That said, it does boast BMW’s xDrive all-wheel-drive platform and eight inches of ground clearance, making the X3 a great option for weekend recreation and maybe even a touch of light trail work (albeit, likely not on the 20s). The xDrive30i’s two-litre turbocharged inline four makes 248 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque that is sent to the wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission. Capable of 0-100 kph in 6.3 seconds, I wouldn’t call the xDrive30i fast, but it has enough power and scoot for most needs. Those wanting more performance from their X3 can select the M40i model, which is the first M model in the X3 line and offers a 355 horsepower inline six-cylinder engine. Regardless of the power plant, with a 50/50 weight distribution and an updated chassis, the X3 drives well and feels very competent.
Progressing through North Vancouver’s near-constant traffic gave me ample opportunity to play with X3’s CoPilot driver assistance systems, which includes accident avoidance, radar cruise control, blind spot detection, speed limit information, and semi-autonomous driving. The Active Cruise Control system easily manages stop and go traffic, and the X3 also has semi-autonomous driving that will maintain lane position with no input from the driver (aside from keeping their hands on the wheel). While this system didn’t seem to like the curvier sections of Highway 99, vehicles at this price are expected to have a suite of such features and the X3 handled standard highway driving without issue.
The X3 boasts BMW’s xDrive all-wheel-drive platform and eight inches of ground clearance, making it a great option for weekend recreation.
With three available driving modes, the X3 is easily adapted from a relaxed cruise to more spirited driving and each mode (ECO Pro, Comfort, and Sport) makes adjustments to the suspension and performance characteristics of the X3. I quickly found that I preferred to bounce between ECO Pro when cruising and Sport (better throttle and steering performance) for around town, on-ramps, and passing. Each dynamic mode is met with an entirely different design for the active (fully digital) driver gauge cluster. ECO pro is blue and relays information about efficiency, while Sport is more aggressive, with red gauges, a tachymeter, and an indication of the current gear (when using the shift paddles).
All of the crucial information, from current speed, speed limit, navigation, and driving mode are all also included on the very cool heads-up display. BMW’s heads-up is one of the better examples I have used, and a welcome feature that I wish more manufacturers offered.
Speaking of optional equipment, this X3 was very well optioned and those selections pose a considerable increase over the 2018 X3’s base price of $48,000. Add on the Ultimate Package (lighting, navigation, heads-up, Harmon Kardon hi-fi, digital gauges, and much more) for $13,900, the $2,900 M Sport Line (20-inch wheels, sport package, and more), a well-spent $1,500 for the M Sport Plus Package (dynamic damper control, M Sport brakes, variable steering), and a final $895 for the metallic paint, and I’m sitting in an X3 that costs more than $67,000 before destination.
I very much enjoyed my rainy afternoon drive to Squamish and back in the X3. The X3 xDrive30i is exactly what it should be, a comfy, flexible, luxurious, tech-packed and feature-rich CUV that is family-sized, but not too big for the city.
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