BMW sedans have largely lost the dual-personality demeanor that made them both fun to drive and luxurious to own, but the X3 still captures most of the magic. The 2020 X3 delivers strong acceleration, agile handling, and premium interior finishes that make it one of Car and Driver's favorites in a dense field of compact luxury crossovers. X3 30i models with the standard turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder strike a smart balance between power and fuel economy.
Stepping up to the 382-hp M40i version turns the X3 into a seriously quick crossover. (For those who want their small crossover with an even bigger engine, there's also the 473-hp 2020 BMW X3 M.) The X3's upscale materials and build quality are easier felt than seen; the Volvo XC60, the Mercedes-Benz GLC-class, and the Audi Q5 offer more stylish cabins.
The 2020 X3 receives minor packaging changes for this year. Navigation is newly standard, and some of the switchgear is now silver instead of black. LED headlights with cornering lights are also new on 30i models.
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.
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. 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, out-accelerating 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.
Judging the X3 by its EPA ratings places it only mid-pack 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.
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 seat-backs, 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 wood-grain 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.
BMW's iDrive infotainment system provides almost a full complement of features except for Android Auto compatibility; Apple CarPlay comes standard. A small, 6.5-inch infotainment display is standard, but opt for navigation and a much larger and crisper 10.3-inch display replaces it atop the X3's center stack. Bluetooth phone connectivity 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 also optional.
Safety and Driver-Assistance Features
The X3 earned a five-star safety rating from NHTSA and a Top Safety Pick+ award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. A full suite of driver-assistance features is available, but few of them are standard. Key safety features include:
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
Power-train warranty covers 4 years or 50,000 miles
Complimentary scheduled maintenance covered for 3 years or 36,000 miles.