Before we go any further, I just want to point out one thing — I hate the BMW X3. I loathe even the idea of it. I grew up on the E30 3 Series and the E23 7 Series, both of which were in my father’s driveway well before most people in Suburbia knew what the hell a “Bimmer” even was. I find the concept of an Ultimate Driving CUV to be a blight on the brand itself, a disgrace of the highest order.
The last generation of the X3 was total trash. It was a rough-riding, fuel-guzzling exercise in badge whoring. Its sole purpose was to impress other moms in the school pick-up line. There was nothing the previous X3 could do that literally any other entry in the small CUV sector couldn’t do better. I’m including the Kia Soul in that comment, by the way.
So when I saw a 2018 BMW X3 on the Emerald Aisle at MIA, I was excited to rent it. Not because I thought I would enjoy it, but because I thought it would give me the chance to write a hateful screed about another automotive abortion from Spartanburg. Alas, it was not to be. Because the new X3 is likely the best car BMW makes today.
I know, it hurts to type that. If you’ve ever driven any of the “E” M3s, you may have just vomited upon reading it. But BMW today isn’t BMW of yesteryear. BMW will sell more X3s than anything else in 2018 — by far. By definition, this makes it their most important car. Therefore, it has to be good. And it is.
Visually, there isn’t much to differentiate this X3 from the ones that came before it, and I have to suspect that this is somewhat intentional. After all, the X3 has been a raging sales success for much of its life, so why change the way it looks?
Thank the deity of your understanding, BMW didn’t apply that philosophy to the remainder of the car. Driving dynamics are flat-out enjoyable — and not just for a CUV. Straight-line acceleration is strong, thanks to a 248-horsepower turbo-four that feels much stronger than its predecessor, and the braking, while a little spongier than you would want for any sort of competitive driving (I know, nobody is running an X3 in a time trial), is perfectly suitable for daily battle on the highways and surface streets.
The transmission is also vastly improved. Granted, Miami is flatter than a surfboard (I’m so proud of myself for not saying Cameron Diaz there), but the X3 never seems to be in the wrong gear. It’s quick to downshift under acceleration, but the paddles are there for you if you want to be even faster — and they don’t entirely suck, especially when in comparison to what you’d find in other entries in this class.
The steering wheel succeeds in its primary function of, you know, steering the car. Steering feel in Sport Plus mode is downright, well, BMWish. As far as controlling the infotainment, there are a few too many scroll wheels and not enough buttons for my liking, but we’ll get there in a moment.
Visibility in all directions is excellent. The X3 has one of the nicer greenhouses in any car I’ve driven this year, with more headroom and shoulder room than most in its class. My rental was equipped with BMW’s 3-D surround view, which I never knew I wanted so much in urban situations until I had it in the X3. Knowing your proximity to the other crazy sons of bitches on the streets of Miami-Dade is incredibly helpful.
The instrumentation on the dash is more complex than it needs to be — while the previous generation’s dash looked like something you’d find on a Power Wheels (or a Honda S2000), this one is somewhat difficult to read. The speedometer gets lost a bit in all of it, mostly because the dash consists largely of digital gauges. If you’re using anything on your phone — say you’re recording voice memos for an upcoming review of your X3 — you lose the tach. There is a heads-up display available, and I’d recommend using it.
My rental was also equipped with the available CarPlay option, and one cool feature is that you can connect to CarPlay via WiFi instead of being forced to use USB cables, which is always a dicey proposition with an iPhone. Also, somebody sitting in the back seat would also be able to pair his or her phone to CarPlay, too. I can just imagine how much my son would enjoy torturing me by pairing his phone and playing Weird Al at full volume.
Unfortunately, it didn’t work very well. Pairing wasn’t an easy process, and sometimes the music wouldn’t turn off after I shut off the car and opened the door — I would have to restart the car and turn it off again for the infotainment to stop. It’s a great idea, but the execution fell a little short in my rental example. Also strange is the fact that the default view for infotainment is street-map view, as shown in the picture above, and if you use Apple Maps, both maps show up. Very confusing.
Like everything else on the market, the X3 offers several different drive modes. I spent most of my time in Sport Plus mode, and as a result I averaged right at 22 miles per gallon in my four days with the car. Eco Pro mode is available as well, should you choose to save some pennies at the pump. Throttle response and transmission changes significantly for the worse in Eco Pro, to nobody’s surprise. Comfort mode is a nice compromise between the two, but you lose all of the excellent steering feel in Sport Plus. The Bark recommendation would be to drive in Sport Plus and pay a little extra at the pump.
Ah, yes, the pump. 89 octane is required, but the last gen required 91, so…improvement?
The storage space in the back is surprisingly good for a vehicle in this class—downright cavernous compared to some others. You might suspect that is due to bloat in the vehicle, but this X3 actually weighs about 120 lbs less than the previous model.
As you can see, I’m struggling to say bad things about the 2019 BMW X3 sDrive30i — wait, the name is fucking ridiculous, so I can say that. I mean, why is it an “30i?” It doesn’t have a 3.0 liter engine, does it? No, it does not. I’m fully aware that the BMW nomenclature system is just like the points in Whose Line Is It, Anyway? but that doesn’t mean that the X3 needs to have such a stupid long name. It doesn’t. It’s stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Whew. Autowriter credibility restored! I hated something about this horrific, vile, fraudlent blemish on the Roundel.
But if I’m being honest, the only thing to really hate about this car is the price. As my rental was equipped, you’d pay a shockingly high $51,745 for the privilege of taking the X3 home. The good news, of course, is that nobody actually buys these — they’re all leases. And BMW has a $479 a month (with $3k down) lease special going on the X3 right now, although it won’t have all the goodies mine had.
Just don’t tell the other autowriters that I liked it, okay? I’d hate for those hardcore guys who’ve never turned a single timed lap on a racetrack to be able to call ol’ Bark a sellout to the CUV game.
[Images © 2018 Mark Baruth/TTAC]