The explosive growth of the crossover SUV market has been good for automakers’ bottom lines, but the real winner might just be the consumer. Look at the current state of the compact-luxury-crossover segment, for instance. Every major premium brand now fields an entry, and many of them are very compelling. There’s the well-rounded Audi Q5, the soulful Alfa Romeo Stelvio, the design-forward Volvo XC60, the stately Mercedes-Benz GLC-class, the athletic Jaguar F-Pace, and the sports car of the group, the 10 Best-winning Porsche Macan. Entering this gladiatorial arena is the third-generation BMW X3. The Bavarians were one of the first to enter this market when the original X3 launched in 2003, and the model has been one of the strongest sellers in this class ever since. The newest X3 has already greatly impressed us with its sharp dynamics in sport-oriented, six-cylinder M40i form, and now we’ve had a chance to test the four-cylinder 30i version aimed at the heart of this crowded and cutthroat segment.
Nimble and Quick
Even without the M40i’s chassis tweaks and sultry inline-six, the X3 remains very good to drive. The latest B48 turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four that powers nearly the entire BMW lineup at this point is a sweetheart, revving eagerly and smoothly and emitting a hushed, refined sound to boot. The all-wheel-drive X3 xDrive30i’s zero-to-60-mph time of 6.2 seconds is unremarkable when stacked up against the Stelvio (5.4 seconds) and the Q5 (5.8 seconds), but the X3 easily gets out of its own way, with almost no perceptible turbo lag and prompt downshifts from the seamless eight-speed automatic. A strong 31-mpg result in our 75-mph highway fuel-economy test (2 mpg better than its EPA highway estimate) is a nice bonus, too.
Given how the punchy engine encourages you to hustle, it’s a good thing that the chassis is up for some fun, too. That magic combination of fluidity and responsiveness that used to be BMW’s hallmark is back in full force here. Look past the high seating position (by our measurements, you sit nearly seven inches higher in the X3 than in the 3-series), and we might go so far as to call the X3 more eager and playful than that sports sedan. There’s satisfying heft to the steering, a near perfect balance of compliance and firmness from the adaptive dampers, and a general feeling of solidity from the rigid structure. These are the BMW dynamics we remember so fondly.
Even though our car had the $1400 Dynamic Handling package that included M Sport brakes along with variable-ratio steering and the aforementioned adaptive dampers (which can be had for $1000 as a stand-alone option), braking performance was a disappointment, with lack of bite from the pedal and a somewhat long 175-foot stopping distance from 70 mph (the Q5 did it in 161 feet and the XC60 in 170).