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- Highs Graceful driving dynamics, powerful optional engine, surprisingly good fuel economy results.
- Lows Tiny exterior mirrors don't help with blind spots, unrefined auto stop/start behavior, dowdy interior design.
- Verdict The X3 is tailormade for buyers who yearn for some of that old-BMW driving magic.
Even though it's an SUV, the 2021 BMW X3 will surprise with its fun-to-drive nature, a hallmark of the brand's sports sedans through the years. A trio of available powertrains provide plentiful performance, especially the gutsy turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six in the sportiest M40i model, which helped it earn an Editors' Choice award. While rivals such as the Mercedes-Benz GLC-class and the Volvo XC60 offer a slightly more elevated interior design, X3 occupants are treated to a nicely-trimmed cabin of very conservative design that offers plenty of space for adults in both the front and rear seats. A host of tech features make the X3 a well-connected SUV, and behind the folding second row there's plenty of space for all manner of luggage, groceries, home-improvement items, and any of the other gear an SUV is expected to haul.
What's New for 2021?
BMW has added several standard features to the X3 lineup for 2021, including both Android Auto smartphone connectivity and SiriusXM satellite radio. All models now come standard with the Active Driving Assistant package, which includes driver assistance features such as lane-departure warning and blind-spot monitoring. The plug-in hybrid xDrive30e and the high-performance M40i models both now come standard with a digital gauge display.
Pricing and Which One to Buy
Regardless of the exact power output, all BMW engines exude a similar strong and refined character. While the M40i's 382-hp six-cylinder motivates it to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds, we suggest buyers stick with the standard 248-hp four-cylinder, which is plenty powerful. The turbocharged four-cylinder collaborates with the excellent eight-speed automatic to make easy passes in traffic and sip fuel on the highway. The entry X3 sDrive30i only drives the rear wheels. That won't be a problem for anyone living in the Sun Belt, but buyers in snowy states will want to upgrade to the all-wheel-drive xDrive30i model.
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
With the 248-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder under its hood, the rear-wheel-drive sDrive30i and all-wheel-drive xDrive30i provide enough power to comfortably negotiate almost any traffic situation, but they're hardly exhilarating. At our test track, the xDrive 30i required 6.2 seconds to reach 60 mph; we haven't tested an sDrive30i model, nor have we tested the plug-in hybrid xDrive30e. The Porsche Macan S and the Audi Q5 are both quicker in our testing—the Porsche substantially so. Those seeking a performance-oriented crossover will find the X3 M40i more to their liking. Its 382-hp turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder engine provides almost brutish power, outaccelerating all but the most potent version of the Macan Turbo and the Mercedes-AMG GLC43 with a 4.4-second zero-to-60-mph time. A plug-in hybrid model with up to 31 miles of electric driving range will join the lineup soon. The X3 still feels more competent than some of BMW's current sedans; it's fun to drive and willing to arc around corners better than expected, although it doesn't quite offer Macan levels of athleticism. The ride quality is well balanced with just enough firmness for an inspired feel without resulting in a rough ride over bumpy road surfaces. Our test vehicle came with an option we highly recommend, the adaptive suspension. Called Dynamic Damper Control, it adds Comfort, Sport, and Eco Pro driving modes to the xDrive30i. An adaptive M suspension, available on the M40i, lowers the chassis 0.4 inch.
Fuel Economy and Real-World MPG
Judging the X3 by its EPA ratings places it only midpack among its rivals. But both of our test cars, an xDrive30i and an M40i, outperformed their efficiency estimates in our real-world testing. The higher-powered M40i (29 mpg) came in surprisingly close to the four-cylinder xDrive30i (31 mpg), meaning there's little highway fuel-economy penalty for all that extra power.
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
The X3's stylish interior comes well equipped before you check a single option box; 10-way power-adjustable front seats, which include adjustable side bolsters, make it easy to find a comfortable position. Rear-seat occupants are treated to reclining seatbacks, and the cushioning on all seats is plush enough for long journeys. The rest of the X3's cabin is handsome and put together competently, with well-chosen materials and tight panel gaps. The glossy woodgrain trim on our test vehicle looked and felt real despite being plastic; the stitched faux-leather dash and door coverings add an extra element of luxury, as do the nickel-finish metal trim. The X3 is about average for the segment in our carry-on suitcase test. Seven carry-ons fit behind the second row—enough for each occupant to have one, with room left over for two extras— and 20 fit in total with the rear seats folded. The cargo-hauling champ in this segment, however, is the Cadillac XT5; heavy haulers should put that one on their short list.
Infotainment and Connectivity
BMW's iDrive interface provides everything a modern luxury car's infotainment system should. A 10.3-inch infotainment display is standard and features in-dash navigation as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Bluetooth phone connectivity, a Wi-Fi hotspot, and one USB port are standard, but every other infotainment feature is offered as an optional extra; for those looking to juice two devices at once, a second USB port is optional as is a wireless smartphone charging pad.
Safety and Driver-Assistance Features
Overall Safety Rating (NHTSA)
The 2021 X3 earned a five-star safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and it was not named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). A full suite of driver-assistance features is available, but BMW offers the basics as standard equipment. Key safety features include:
- Standard automated emergency braking with forward-collision warning
- Standard lane-departure warning
- Available adaptive cruise control
Warranty and Maintenance Coverage
BMW's warranty offerings on the X3 don't stand out among its rivals; a four-year or 50,000-mile basic warranty is basically par for the course in this segment. Three years of complimentary scheduled maintenance are nice, but it's something that the Volvo XC60 and the Cadillac XT5 also offer.
- Limited warranty covers 4 years or 50,000 miles
- Powertrain warranty covers 4 years or 50,000 miles
- Complimentary scheduled maintenance covered for 3 years or 36,000 miles