2018 BMW X3: Improved in all the Right Places

Strong points
  • Muscular new look
  • Refined interior design
  • Sportier character (M40i)
Weak points
  • Higher entry price than the competition
  • No more diesel engine option in Canada
  • Stiff ride (M40i)
Full report

SINTRA, Portugal – The third-generation X3 will arrive in Canadian dealerships late this year, and although it looks quite similar to the outgoing model, the brand’s compact crossover has changed quite a bit.

The 2018 BMW X3’s overall shape is obviously an evolution over the previous generation, and it’s easy to criticise designers for not taking any styling risks. There is a fine line between transforming the shape of a vehicle to make it look contemporary, but not too much so the loyal customer base doesn’t feel offended. Add a brand’s mandatory styling cues to the equation, such as BMW’s trademark kidney grille, for example, and the task at hand becomes all that more challenging.

However, after discussing with 32-year-old Calvin Luk, responsible for the new X3’s exterior design, there’s a lot of thinking that went behind the SUV’s redesign. At the front, the grille is taller and is no longer connected to the headlight clusters, making it more prominent. The round fog lamps have been replaced by flatter, LED-type units and the bumper air intakes are more aggressive. At the rear, the taillights are similar in shape, but have been given a 3D-style design for a more detailed effect. The biggest change, although it isn’t immediately noticeable, is the bulge added right below the X3’s greenhouse, giving it a more muscular, broad-shouldered stance.

Inside, the X3’s instrumentation layout is typical BMW, but the overall design has been modernised with silver trim and switchgear. The dash top sweeps downwards while the infotainment system screen is now perched on it, giving a greater sense of airiness. Said screen now measures 10.2 inches and is touch-sensitive, and the BMW Gesture Control technology is now available as well. The latest version of the iDrive system has a few menu layout changes, but remains easy to use thanks to the multifunction knob and its surrounding buttons.

Photo: Michel Deslauriers

The 2018 BMW X3 is 59 millimetres longer compared to the 2017 edition, and rides on a 54-mm longer wheelbase. Cargo space is unchanged at 550 litres with the rear seatbacks up, and 1600 mm with the seats folded flat. While we initially though the extra wheelbase would benefit rear-seat room, it’s actually the front occupants that benefit from more legroom, in addition to more head and elbow room.

The panoramic sunroof—included in the optional Premium Package—is now 250 mm longer, so that’s good, too. BMW says the acoustic glass windshield now makes the cabin much quieter. It is quiet, that’s for sure, but by how much would require us to drive a 2017 back to back with a 2018 and see the difference.

Like with the current BMW X4, whose redesign will likely follow next year, the new X3 will now be offered in a performance-oriented M40i variant, set to rival the Mercedes-AMG GLC 43 and the Audi SQ5. It’s equipped with a turbocharged, 3.0-litre inline-six that dishes out 355 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque. It’s managed by an eight-speed automatic transmission, and as usual, the company’s xDrive all-wheel drivetrain is also included in every X3.

The M40i stands out with its standard 21-inch alloy wheels as well as M Performance-specific touches such as dark chrome exhaust tips, more aggressive lower-body trim. An M Performance suspension and steering calibrations are included as well.

On the roads and highways of Portugal, the X3 M40i quickly flaunted its newfound character. Engine torque peaks between 1520 and 4800 rpm, so it’s always there when you need it. BMW claims a 0-to-100 km/h time of 4.8 seconds, which we have no reason to doubt after flogging the M40i in Sport and Sport Plus modes. When the latters are activated, the exhaust system also pops and burbles during full-throttle upshifts and when we lift our foot from the gas pedal. Music to our ears.

The ride is slightly harsh, although less so in Comfort mode, but that is to be expected in the M40i. We must admit that the previous day, we were driving on the same roads aboard the silky-smooth 2018 BMW 6 Series Gran Turismo, so that may have clouded our judgement. Just a little.

Photo: Michel Deslauriers

We also hopped in a diesel-powered X3 and hit the off-road course set up by BMW. What looked like a simple trail to the cottage at the start became a much more challenging path, creeping up and down the mountainside while getting a spectacular view of Portugal’s landscapes.

As we crossed over some fairly serious ruts on the trail, we could feel the xDrive system briefly spin a tire, and get the vehicle moving along by sending power to the wheels with the most traction. No driver intervention is required here, but we can activate the hill descent control system when the trail is steep. By flicking the cruise control rocker switch, we can set a fixed speed at which the vehicle will limit itself to, allowing us to concentrate on safely steering the vehicle.

The 2018 BMW X3 xDrive30i will be the base trim in Canada. It will feature a new turbocharged, 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine that develops 248 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. Again, an eight-speed automatic and xDrive are part of the package. According to BMW, and despite the 172-pound (78-kg) weight gain over last year’s X3 xDrive28i and its 241-hp engine, the new X3 zips from 0 to 100 km/h in 6.3 seconds, or two tenths of a second quicker.

Fuel economy ratings are not yet available, but the 2017 X3 with the 2.0L engine boasted city/highway figures of 11.1/8.5 L/100 km. The 2018 xDrive30i variant should be pretty close to that.

For now, there are no plans to bring a diesel-engined X3 to Canada, which means the current xDrive28d variant won’t be replaced. On the other hand, a fully electric X3 should arrive in 2020, and a high-performance X3 M has been confirmed as well, though exact specifications haven’t yet been disclosed. However, to rival the likes of the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio and Mercedes-AMG GLC 63, it would have to produce close to 500 horsepower. We’ll see.

Pricing for the 2018 BMW X3 starts at $48,000 before freight and delivery charges, a modest increase over the 2017 model. The M40i is listed at $61,500, or roughly the same as last year’s xDrive35i with the M Sport package. In comparison, a Mercedes-Benz GLC starts at $42K, while an Audi Q5 is $45K and up.

As is often the case during a model redesign, the X3’s is more of an evolution then a revolution. However, the newfound features, the more refined cockpit design and the availability of a performance-oriented M40i variant help the SUV stay competitive in a growing market segment. And with new powertrains in the pipeline, the X3 should get a lot more attention in the next couple of years.

Share on Facebook

More on the subject

New Models2018 BMW M5 Finally Uncovered
Three months ago, BMW teased us with a photo gallery of the newly redesigned 2018 BMW M5 . However, the car was camouflaged and we couldn’t really see the specific styling details of the high-performance sedan that will once again take on the Mercedes-AMG E 63 , the Audi S6 …
FrankfurtBMW Concept X7 iPerformance: A First Ever SUV from BMW i!
At BMW, the i Division oversees the electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. I know what you're thinking: But BMW has rechargeable models (like the X5 xDrive40e) that don’t include the letter i in their names! That’s true. But at BMW, as with other German manufacturers, the way models are named …
First Drives2018 BMW 640i xDrive Gran Turismo: The New Face of the 6 Series
SINTRA, Portugal – A lot is going on at BMW these days, including the reorganisation of the company’s midsize product portfolio. After launching the latest generation of the 5 Series sedan last year, the German brand is adding a few more variations for 2018, such as the 530e plug-in hybrid, …
New Models2018 BMW X2 officially unveiled
The German brand will add yet another utility vehicle to their lineup early next year. After presenting the BMW X2 Concept at the Paris auto show in September 2016, the production version of the sporty subcompact SUV has just been revealed. It will be built on the same platform as …
Los AngelesBMW Introduces the X7 iPerformance Concept, a Luxury Hybrid SUV
There’s a lot of choice in the SUV segment. Many automakers, including Porsche and Lamborghini, now rely on this segment to finance more niche models. And now we’re seeing electric powertrains inside SUVs, as both trends gain in popularity. Is this a contradiction? Not according to the BMW i division!
News2019 BMW X4: This is It!
Whether you like it or not, we now live in SUV kingdom. Due to the immense popularity of these vehicles, carmakers are no longer content of selling one model in their lineup—some of them now sell two, three, and in some cases, even four variants! Take BMW for instance. It …
BeijingBMW Concept iX3: a Fully Electric X3!
Last year, the German automaker promised the arrival of a fully electric X3 for 2019 , and it’s now taking form. The concept version of the iX3 just made its world debut at the Auto China 2018 show in Beijing. The eventual production iX3 will benefit from the company’s fifth-generation …
BlogAn Automaker’s Impact on a Community
I’m not big on politics, but my general understanding of the Trump Administration’s view on foreign carmakers is completely whack. Its desire to impose tariffs and stiffer rules on imported cars, to protect domestic carmakers, seems like it will do little to no good, if not the exact opposite. The …
News2019 BMW X5 Unveiled!
In the last year, le German automaker unveiled the new generations of its BMW X3 and BMW X4 crossovers, while the all-new BMW X2 recently arrived in dealerships. We drove a preproduction version of the BMW X7 , whose final design should soon be revealed. Today, it’s the 2019 BMW …
Spotlight on2019 BMW X5: We’re Driving it This Week
The Car Guide is heading to Atlanta this week in order to get behind the wheel of the 2019 BMW X5, which has been redesigned for the 2019 model year. The midsize sport-luxury crossover will be offered in Canada with two powertrains and two seating configurations at launch, although more …
Comments