Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: May 8, 2018
The X3 is BMW’s cash cow SUV and for good reason. It’s the perfect size for small families, it’s compact enough to navigate through small city streets, and rugged enough to handle unpaved cottage roads. BMW would be foolish to risk any radical changes, so you won’t find anything revolutionary with this 2018 model. Rather, they have perfected what made the X3 so attractive in the first place.
It all starts with the updated sheetmetal. Looks are subjective but I think the new X3 is a handsome thing. Think of a burlier and more muscular X1 with gigantic (and I mean gigantic) twin kidney grills, an upright stature, and toned lines out back. It doesn’t stand out from the crowd but doesn’t appear too civilian either. Classy and reserved is an appropriate description.
Aesthetically speaking, the X3 definitely appears more “off-road” capable than before with its longer wheelbase, high ground clearance, and for the first time, an optional factory-installed trailer hitch that can tow up to 2,000 kg (4,400 lbs). BMW seems to really be marketing their SUVs to be more outdoorsy, with the ability to go anywhere and do anything - just watch their new commercials.
The interior also gets some new features, like a reshaped steering wheel, mildly redesigned center console layout, a larger infotainment screen, and a 75% larger head-up display. The X3 also comes with the optional Gesture Control, a gimmick passed down from the halo 7 Series where you can wave your fingers in front of the display to command certain actions, like changing the radio station, volume, or accepting a phone call.
The overall cabin design doesn’t give off the same “wow factor” as the Mercedes-Benz GLC or even the simplistic feel from the Audi Q5, but it is definitely the most functional of the three, with a plethora of shortcut buttons, quality finished knobs, and one of the best display units on the market (it is controlled by a touchscreen and rotary dial). That being said, the X3 does carry some standout features like an air fragrance system that pipes through smells of your choice through the fans. Yes, air fragrance, and you can load up the cartridges in the passenger-side glovebox. That’s stuff normally reserved for the $100,000 7 Series, and now it’s on your X3.
The manual thigh extension is also a welcome addition, as is the steering wheel that can telescope incredibly close to the driver - the latter makes a huge difference for taller folks with long legs. Overall cargo space is impressive as well, with standard 40/20/40 rear folding seats and generous second row headroom. I stand six-feet tall and have absolutely no quarrels with sitting in any of the five available seats.
The 2018 BMW X3 comes in two trims: 30i and M40i. Both are mated to an 8-speed transmission with a rear-biased all-wheel drive system, but what makes them different is the powertrain. The 30i comes with a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder that produces 248 hp and 258 lb-ft. This is the same two-litre you will find in the X4, 330i, and 530i. 0-100 km/h comes in 6.3 seconds.
The M40i is new for the X3 lineup (joining the X4 M40i), and for the first time is offered with the 3.0-litre turbocharged straight-six that generates 355 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. That power is routed through a sport-tuned 8-speed with Launch Control, and an AWD system that is even more rear biased. In all, this six-cylinder allows the X3 M40i to bullet from 0-100 km/h in a brisk 4.8 seconds. That’s faster than the Porsche Macan GTS (5.2 seconds), the Audi SQ5 (5.3 seconds), and even the Mercedes-AMG GLC 43 (4.9 seconds). Impressive.
The M40i also receives a sportier body kit, M Sport exhaust system with rectangular black tailpipes (30i has circular chrome pipes), external finishers in Cerium Grey Metallic (same as other M Performance models like the M550i and M760Li), larger brakes, a firmer suspension with adaptive capabilities and uprated springs, dampers, and anti-roll bars, variable sport steering, and 21-inch wheels. Of note, many of these upgraded features are also available on the 30i model for a pretty penny. Inside you also get sport seats and a gallery of M badges.
I had the X3 M40i on test with summer performance tires and immediately I noticed that it felt lighter, more nimble, and less top heavy than before, possibly due to the reduction in unsprung mass compared to the outgoing model. In fact, I think this is one of the best handling SUVs to come out of BMW in the past few years, M models aside. Throw it into a corner at high speeds and the X3 stays flat and level, and on top of that the steering rack provides phenomenal feedback, something I felt this generation of BMWs was always missing. The ride isn’t terribly firm but impacts do shake up the cabin quite significantly, even in Comfort mode. Best to stick with the 20-inch wheels if possible.
The X3 M40i is happy when cruising along at low speeds, and just as delighted when at its upper limits. That engine is sublime and rockets the X3 forward with verve and vigour. Gear shifts are snappy quick (almost dual clutch speeds), smooth when left to its own devices, and it provides all the performance you would ever need out of a family SUV.
The X3 M40i notably feels quicker than the GLC 43 and not only that, it feels more dramatic and emotional too. I would take this over a Porsche Macan GTS any day of the week, and much of that has to do with the popping and burbling exhaust (which really comes in alive in Sport Plus mode). I didn’t think the X5 M sounded very good with its V8 and surprising to say, this X3 M40i has the better soundtrack. Much of this noise is piped through the speakers but I’ve stopped caring. Authentic or not, my ears dig it.
A few gripes I have with the vehicle: the placement of the heated steering wheel button is smack dab on the center of the wheel - it looks out of place but I guess it’s for good reason. The outgoing BMW models had that button stealthily hidden on the left side of the steering wheel column. In fact it was so well hidden that even my brother-in-law who had leased a 328d Touring did not discover it until he serendipitously and unknowingly clicked it two years into his ownership. Furthermore, that gigantic M badge situated beneath the center stack is a bit of overkill if you ask me. Of note, the X3’s signal stalk doesn’t revert back to the center position when you flip it up or down anymore, something that I am sure many previously annoyed BMW drivers will applaud.
The 2018 BMW X3 makes a compelling case for everyday comfort and usability, and it offers so much performance in M40i trim that it pretty much renders the 340i Sedan obsolete unless you want a manual transmission. Combine that with its spacious second row, generous trunk space, heavenly exhaust note, and sublime body control, and you finally have an SUV that holds no compromises. Forget the overly expensive Macan or the monotonous GLC. The X3 is the way to go.
Model: 2018 BMW X3 M40i
Paint Type: Alpine White
Base Price: $61,500
Price as Tested: $74,895
Engine: 3.0-litre turbocharged inline-six
Horsepower: 355 hp @ 5,500 - 6,500 rpm
Torque: 369 lb-ft @ 1,520 - 4,800 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 12.8