BMW's X3 was the original compact luxury SUV and remains a segment leader today. For 2015 it receives new powertrain options and styling tweaks that add much-needed shape to the second generation of this SUV. Available with three engines, including a new diesel, the X3 offers a wide range of performance, technology and safety features that make it a top contender in this increasingly competitive class.
What Is It?
The 2015 BMW X3 is a five-passenger compact luxury SUV.
Our test vehicle, the awkwardly named X3 xDrive28i, was fitted with the volume-selling turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine coupled to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission. The 2.0-liter four is rated at 240 horsepower, which proved enough to push the X3 to 60 mph in only 6.4 seconds: better than most SUVs in the segment.
A rear-drive version called the sDrive28i is also available with the 2.0-liter engine. Other powertrain options include a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine (xDrive35i) and a new-for-2015 2.0-liter turbodiesel four-cylinder (xDrive28d), both of which use the same transmission and are all-wheel drive.
Base rear-drive X3s (new for 2015) start at $39,350. Our all-wheel-drive tester, equipped with the Cold Weather, Driver Assistance, Premium and Technology packages, totaled $50,075.
How Does It Drive?
For better or worse, the X3 is (at least partially) a driver's machine. No, it won't lure you onto a racetrack, but it will certainly encourage enthusiastic driving. Our all-wheel-drive X3 lacked the M Sport package, which ups wheel size from 18 to 19 inches, but was still amply engaging when driven with purpose. Body roll is minimal and steering response is among the best in the class. Turn the wheel and the X3 turns with it.
Power is surprisingly strong despite this being the lesser of the gasoline engines. Only those seeking enthusiast levels of performance need to bother with the six-cylinder engine. Long pulls uphill are handled without gear hunting and at low engine speeds. The turbocharged four-cylinder is highly flexible, so it's able to provide ample yank at low speed, yet still willing to rev to high speeds for quick passes on the highway.
A Driving Dynamics Control (DDC) system allows you to tweak the X3's personality across three modes — Eco Pro, Comfort and Sport. Throttle and transmission response as well as steering weight are sharpened with each step. Add the Dynamic Handling package and damping will follow suit.
At 64.9 mph, the X3's slalom speed is at the top of the class. Needless to say, if you want a premium compact SUV that feels like a small sedan, the X3 is one of your best bets.
What's It Like Inside?
Since its last major revision for the 2010 model year, the X3 has led the segment in interior space. Its 110-inch wheelbase is among the longest in the class and it allows for more rear seat and cargo space than most competitors.
Materials quality is at or above segment standards. There's stitched leather coupled with a simple, elegant design that provides among the quietest cabins in the segment. Assembly is drum tight and all controls operate precisely. Seats are firm but offer ample support. We found three-hour trips easy despite the X3's relatively taut ride.
Thanks to accommodating seat and steering wheel adjustments, tall occupants fit up front easily. Six-footers have ample legroom in the rear but might find the relationship between the seat bottom and floor to be a comfort compromise over long distances.
With 63.3 cubic feet of total cargo space, the X3 is among the roomiest SUVs in the segment. Its split-folding rear seats don't fold completely flat, but the compromise to utility is marginal.
What Kind of Fuel Economy Does It Deliver?
Our tester was rated at 24 mpg combined (21 city/28 highway). However, as has become common with SUVs powered by smaller turbocharged engines, we weren't able to equal that number, even on our best tank. We recorded 20.7 mpg during 795 miles of mixed driving and virtually identical mileage on our test loop, which includes mountain and highway driving.
If fuel economy is a priority, the diesel-powered xDrive28d is a better option. It's rated at 30 mpg combined (27 city/34 highway) but we have yet to test it.
How Safe Is It?
The 2015 X3 receives a "Good" rating in all four crash test categories from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). It has not been rated by the federal government.
Stopping from 60 mph required 129 feet, which is only average for the class. However, the X3 has superb pedal feel and response that doesn't change after repeated panic stops, indicating that its braking system is robust.
You'll pay extra for a rearview camera, which is becoming standard equipment on many vehicles in the class. Other available safety equipment includes a forward collision warning, blind-spot monitor and surround-view camera. Remote services, including the ability to locate the SUV using a smartphone as well as assistance unlocking it via a call center, are available. Stolen vehicle location and recovery is included as well.
A head-up display that projects a variety of information in the driver's line of sight is also available.
What Are Its Closest Competitors?
Audi's aging Q5 is still the X3's biggest rival in terms of size, quality, performance and price. Though it lacks some of the X3's technology and safety features, it offers a similarly powerful engine and standard all-wheel drive. Its interior is high quality and it's similarly roomy. Don't overlook it as an alternative.
The angular 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLK isn't available with a small turbocharged gasoline engine like the X3. It offers a more powerful V6 in both rear-drive and all-wheel-drive configurations. An all-wheel-drive diesel version is also available.
Acura's 2015 RDX lacks the X3's extensive list of technology and safety features, but is similarly powerful and efficient. It comes only with a V6 and is available with all-wheel drive. Despite being smaller, it uses its space very efficiently and is able to nearly rival the X3's interior room. It's also significantly less expensive.
Why Should You Consider This SUV?
If you like your compact luxury SUV to come with obvious sporting intentions in addition to a roomy, high-quality interior and an abundant features list, it's hard to rule out the X3. We give this SUV our highest rating for a reason: It's one of the best.
Why Should You Think Twice About This SUV?
The one area where the X3 clearly falls behind some rivals (and the EPA estimates) is in fuel economy. Though it's not alone in missing the mark here, there was a wide gap between our measured fuel economy and the EPA combined rating.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.