The BMW X3 is the latest compact crossover to get a plug-in powertrain.
BMW has ambitious plans to launch 25 new electrified models by the year 2023. Some of those will be fully electric vehicles like the new i4 sedan, but the majority will be plug-in hybrids, like the 330e, the 530e or the subject of this review, the X3 xDrive30e.
LikeEnough electric range for short commutesPlenty of room for people and thingsWireless CarPlay works great
Don’t LikeNot as powerful as its competitorsAll the good driver-assistance features are optional
The X3 30e borrows the powertrain from the 330e: a 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 combined with an 80-kilowatt electric motor. This combination is good for 288 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque, with electricity stored in a 12-kilowatt-hour battery pack located underneath the rear seat.
Different hybrid drive options are accessed via the eDrive button on the center console. Max eDrive reduces speed and power delivery, for the most efficient use of electricity. You can even configure Max eDrive to be the default setting — assuming there’s sufficient battery power. The eDrive button also allows you to control your battery options, so you can maintain a set state of charge, in case you want to save your EV operation for a jaunt in the city and run the gas engine exclusively on the highway.
Auto eDrive blends engine and battery use on its own, and can use GPS data from an active navigation program to alter the powertrain’s characteristics based on the route ahead. It’ll use the battery for an uphill stretch if it detects a downhill stretch long enough to recapture some of the energy. Pretty cool.
However, don’t think the X3 xDrive30e is all only about efficiency, as there are some other driving modes as well. Comfort is great for just toddling around town and Sport gives this plug-in hybrid a bit more punch. When Sport Plus is activated, this crossover genuinely gets rather spunky, combining the best efforts of the gasoline and electric powertrains for maximum boost.
The eight-speed automatic transmission does a great job of downshifting under braking before a turn, and keeps the revs high in Sport Plus. I love the little burbles the exhaust makes when the transmission shifts — it’s uncharacteristically sporty for a hybrid SUV, and I like that. In this mode, even the bumpy pavement doesn’t wobble the chassis, and body roll is kept to a minimum. BMW says that the X3 30e can accelerate to 60 mph in under 6 seconds when launched, and this SUV feels every bit as sprightly from behind the wheel.
My only gripe about the X3 xDrive30e is the squishy brake feel. The brakes don’t have linear action, and they don’t seem to bite until about halfway through the pedal’s stroke. There’s a lot of regeneration power built in, but I wish the overall action were smoother.
The EPA says the X3 30e should result in about 60 miles per gallon equivalent, using the maximum battery charge. The X3 can drive solely under electric power for about 17 miles, which is enough for short commutes or runs through the city.
The X3 comes with a lot of driver-assistance features, but you have to pay for them. Blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning and front collision warning are all part of the $500 Driving Assistant Package. That’s not a lot of money, but come on, compact economy sedans come standard with these things. My car has the $1,700 Driving Assistance Plus Package, which adds adaptive cruise control and BMW’s Highway Driving Assist, which combines the ACC action with lane-keeping tech. The system quickly slows me down from 75 mph when I hit traffic, and keeps me steady in stop-and-go situations. I wish the steering assist were better, though, as it occasionally ping-pongs me back and forth inside a lane.
The interior is typical BMW, with nice leather surfaces and iDrive tech.
In-car tech is managed by BMW’s iDrive infotainment system, housed on a 10.2-inch center screen, which can be operated by touch, voice or the controller on the center console. Apple CarPlay is on hand, but Android Auto isn’t available (yet). I do like that CarPlay is wireless here, which is kind of tricky to connect initially, but then a breeze to use every subsequent time I get in the car.
Overall iDrive is easy to live with, though I find its structure of submenus to be a bit of a downer. However, there are eight programmable buttons for favorite functions that take some of the hassle out of clicking through those menus, which is nice. iDrive has apps for weather, news and even ParkMobile to pay for metered parking online, and the navigation system can search for locations by keyword, telling me where the nearest place is to get ice cream. Chocolate chip cookie dough, here I come.
Inside, the X3 xDrive30e’s cabin is typical BMW, with a tan-on-black color scheme and plenty of reflective surfaces. The leather is luxurious and the material quality is excellent, but I much prefer the more elegant vibe of the Mercedes-Benz GLC350e plug-in hybrid.
The X3 PHEV starts under $50,000 but can get expensive when you load it up with options.
Since the battery is stored under the rear seat, there isn’t too much of a difference in cargo capacity between the hybrid and the standard X3. Behind the rear seats is 27.2 cubic feet of space, expanding to 59.4 cubes when the seats are folded, compared with 28.7 and 62.7 cubic feet in the standard X3. The X3 hybrid does better than the Audi Q5 PHEV, too, which has 25.1 and 53.1 cubic feet. The Volvo XC60 T8 splits the difference with 25.8 and 63.8 cubic feet.
The X3 xDrive30e starts at $48,550, but my fully oaded tester comes in at $65,020, including $995 for destination. I’d likely cut that price down by knocking off the $5,000 M Sport package, and I’d go for the $4,000 Premium Package instead of the $6,750 Executive Package, the latter of which gets gesture controls and parking assistance, neither of which I really need.
Of course, the BMW isn’t the only plug-in luxury crossover on the market, and the competition is compelling. The Volvo XC60 T8 offers a turbocharged, supercharged, electrified powertrain with 415 hp and 494 lb-ft of torque. The Mercedes GLC350e is more expensive, as is the Audi Q5, but both have more power.
The X3 might not be as powerful as its rivals, but it can certainly match or best them when it comes to efficiency and fun-to-drive character. If you like what you see with the standard X3, the plug-in offers very little in the way of compromises.