The BMW X3 is a great alternative for sport sedan shoppers who desire just a bit more utility from their compact luxury vehicle. As is typical for a small luxury crossover SUV, the X3 offers a high seating position, all-wheel-drive traction, solid build quality and abundant equipment. However, it goes a few steps further with sweet six-cylinder engines and above-average handling one wouldn't normally expect from an SUV.
Now in its second generation, the current BMW X3 is a greatly improved vehicle but it also has significantly more competitors than it used to. As such, the X3 isn't the easy choice it once was. But the new model and most years of the first-generation X3 should remain near the top of your short list of choices.
Current BMW X3
The BMW X3 is available in two models, which correspond to engine. The xDrive28i gets a naturally aspirated 3.0-liter inline-6 that produces 240 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque. The xDrive35i has a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 good for 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque. Every X3 features all-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission. The latter slings through gears with buttery, quiet ease and returns impressive fuel economy considering the engines' power.
While the X3 may be smaller and cheaper than the X5, you won't feel short-changed inside, as almost the same high-quality materials and construction are present, while the features list includes luxuries like heated rear seats and steering wheel, Bluetooth streaming audio, multiview parking cameras and a premium sound system. Like other recent BMWs, the X3 can be outfitted with adjustable drive settings that alter the tune of the suspension, steering, transmission and throttle response. We would skip it, however, as the car's standard tuning strikes a better balance than any of the three available drive programs.
In reviews, we found the current BMW X3 improves upon its predecessor and remains an appealing compact luxury crossover. For those who want an ample dose of driving fun from their compact SUV, it's very tough to beat -- especially if you're willing to pony up for the 35i engine. However, given its competitors from Audi, Infiniti, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo, we would hardly declare the X3 the class leader and urge you to first shop around.
Used BMW X3 Models
The current BMW X3 represents the model's second generation that debuted for 2011. It is a little bigger than the previous model, but there were a number of notable mechanical improvements and advancements compared to the first-generation model. The retuned suspension is better balanced than before, offering a much better ride. Handling capability has also largely been maintained. Exterior and interior styling are now in line with BMW's latest aesthetic, as well as including the most recent electronic features. There have been no significant changes to the newest X3 since it was introduced.
The first-generation BMW X3 was produced from 2004-'10. Like the current car, it was known for being one of the most fun-to-drive SUVs on the market. However, early X3s had notable flaws -- we'd recommend trying to go with a 2007 model or newer. There were also scant few competitors early in its life, which means your other used choices will likely result in going bigger or going cheaper.
Initially, the X3 suffered from a rough ride and an interior quality not up to BMW's typical standard, while exterior styling wasn't as polished as other BMWs from this era. This was largely rectified for 2007 when BMW freshened the exterior and added higher-quality materials inside. The ride was also smoothed out, making the X3 feel more like a biological member of the BMW family rather than an adopted cousin.
Originally, there were two six-cylinder models: the 184-hp 2.5i and the 225-hp 3.0i. The 2.5i was discontinued after 2005. A six-speed manual or six-speed automatic were available throughout this generation. As part of the '07 update, the 3.0i became known as the 3.0si (which was subsequently changed to xDrive30i for '09) and gained 35 more hp for a total of 260 hp.
Throughout its run, the first-gen BMW X3 boasted generous seating space (even for taller adults) and a spacious cargo area -- aspects that didn't change once its current competitors arrived on the scene for '09. It also maintained its lead in terms of driving involvement, thanks to superior steering feel, ideal suspension tuning and eager engine power output. Its ride, however, remained on the firm side compared to its rival luxury crossovers.
Read the most recent 2014 BMW X3 review.
If you are looking for older years, visit our used BMW X3 page.