By on November 26, 2018

Before we go any further, I just want to point out one thing — I hate the BMW X3. I loathe even the idea of it. I grew up on the E30 3 Series and the E23 7 Series, both of which were in my father’s driveway well before most people in Suburbia knew what the hell a “Bimmer” even was. I find the concept of an Ultimate Driving CUV to be a blight on the brand itself, a disgrace of the highest order.

The last generation of the X3 was total trash. It was a rough-riding, fuel-guzzling exercise in badge whoring. Its sole purpose was to impress other moms in the school pick-up line. There was nothing the previous X3 could do that literally any other entry in the small CUV sector couldn’t do better. I’m including the Kia Soul in that comment, by the way.

So when I saw a 2018 BMW X3 on the Emerald Aisle at MIA, I was excited to rent it. Not because I thought I would enjoy it, but because I thought it would give me the chance to write a hateful screed about another automotive abortion from Spartanburg. Alas, it was not to be. Because the new X3 is likely the best car BMW makes today.

I know, it hurts to type that. If you’ve ever driven any of the “E” M3s, you may have just vomited upon reading it. But BMW today isn’t BMW of yesteryear. BMW will sell more X3s than anything else in 2018 — by far. By definition, this makes it their most important car. Therefore, it has to be good. And it is.

Visually, there isn’t much to differentiate this X3 from the ones that came before it, and I have to suspect that this is somewhat intentional. After all, the X3 has been a raging sales success for much of its life, so why change the way it looks?

[Get new and used BMW X3 pricing here!]

Thank the deity of your understanding, BMW didn’t apply that philosophy to the remainder of the car. Driving dynamics are flat-out enjoyable — and not just for a CUV. Straight-line acceleration is strong, thanks to a 248-horsepower turbo-four that feels much stronger than its predecessor, and the braking, while a little spongier than you would want for any sort of competitive driving (I know, nobody is running an X3 in a time trial), is perfectly suitable for daily battle on the highways and surface streets.

The transmission is also vastly improved. Granted, Miami is flatter than a surfboard (I’m so proud of myself for not saying Cameron Diaz there), but the X3 never seems to be in the wrong gear. It’s quick to downshift under acceleration, but the paddles are there for you if you want to be even faster — and they don’t entirely suck, especially when in comparison to what you’d find in other entries in this class.

The steering wheel succeeds in its primary function of, you know, steering the car. Steering feel in Sport Plus mode is downright, well, BMWish. As far as controlling the infotainment, there are a few too many scroll wheels and not enough buttons for my liking, but we’ll get there in a moment.

Visibility in all directions is excellent. The X3 has one of the nicer greenhouses in any car I’ve driven this year, with more headroom and shoulder room than most in its class.  My rental was equipped with BMW’s 3-D surround view, which I never knew I wanted so much in urban situations until I had it in the X3. Knowing your proximity to the other crazy sons of bitches on the streets of Miami-Dade is incredibly helpful.

The instrumentation on the dash is more complex than it needs to be — while the previous generation’s dash looked like something you’d find on a Power Wheels (or a Honda S2000), this one is somewhat difficult to read. The speedometer gets lost a bit in all of it, mostly because the dash consists largely of digital gauges. If you’re using anything on your phone — say you’re recording voice memos for an upcoming review of your X3 — you lose the tach. There is a heads-up display available, and I’d recommend using it.

My rental was also equipped with the available CarPlay option, and one cool feature is that you can connect to CarPlay via WiFi instead of being forced to use USB cables, which is always a dicey proposition with an iPhone. Also, somebody sitting in the back seat would also be able to pair his or her phone to CarPlay, too. I can just imagine how much my son would enjoy torturing me by pairing his phone and playing Weird Al at full volume.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work very well. Pairing wasn’t an easy process, and sometimes the music wouldn’t turn off after I shut off the car and opened the door — I would have to restart the car and turn it off again for the infotainment to stop. It’s a great idea, but the execution fell a little short in my rental example. Also strange is the fact that the default view for infotainment is street-map view, as shown in the picture above, and if you use Apple Maps, both maps show up. Very confusing.

Like everything else on the market, the X3 offers several different drive modes. I spent most of my time in Sport Plus mode, and as a result I averaged right at 22 miles per gallon in my four days with the car. Eco Pro mode is available as well, should you choose to save some pennies at the pump. Throttle response and transmission changes significantly for the worse in Eco Pro, to nobody’s surprise. Comfort mode is a nice compromise between the two, but you lose all of the excellent steering feel in Sport Plus. The Bark recommendation would be to drive in Sport Plus and pay a little extra at the pump.

Ah, yes, the pump. 89 octane is required, but the last gen required 91, so…improvement?

The storage space in the back is surprisingly good for a vehicle in this class—downright cavernous compared to some others. You might suspect that is due to bloat in the vehicle, but this X3 actually weighs about 120 lbs less than the previous model.

As you can see, I’m struggling to say bad things about the 2019 BMW X3 sDrive30i — wait, the name is fucking ridiculous, so I can say that. I mean, why is it an “30i?” It doesn’t have a 3.0 liter engine, does it? No, it does not. I’m fully aware that the BMW nomenclature system is just like the points in Whose Line Is It, Anyway? but that doesn’t mean that the X3 needs to have such a stupid long name. It doesn’t. It’s stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Whew. Autowriter credibility restored! I hated something about this horrific, vile, fraudlent blemish on the Roundel.

But if I’m being honest, the only thing to really hate about this car is the price. As my rental was equipped, you’d pay a shockingly high $51,745 for the privilege of taking the X3 home. The good news, of course, is that nobody actually buys these — they’re all leases. And BMW has a $479 a month (with $3k down) lease special going on the X3 right now, although it won’t have all the goodies mine had.

Just don’t tell the other autowriters that I liked it, okay? I’d hate for those hardcore guys who’ve never turned a single timed lap on a racetrack to be able to call ol’ Bark a sellout to the CUV game.

[Images © 2018 Mark Baruth/TTAC]

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70 Comments on “Rental Review—2018 BMW X3 sDrive30i...”


  • avatar
    jkross22

    Post tax, these are over $600/month. $21k for 3 yrs. Just because a lot of people are leasing these doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Now just slap a “Texas Edition” badge on it to convince the soccer moms in the pick up line that yours is somehow “better” than theirs.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    We just had 10″ of snow last night, I’d be curious how the AWD in the “xDrive” model performs

    • 0 avatar
      Lockstops

      Best AWD on the market. But then again the exact same AWD system is on the Alfa Romeo, Maserati, Jaguar and some others too so it doesn’t really differentiate BMW. Still, what a great thing: so many cars having such a stellar AWD system.

  • avatar
    MrGrieves

    Totally in agreement with the reviewer… this is probably the only X-vehicle I’d consider driving. The X1 and X2 are almost unusable due to packaging constraints, the X4 and X6 are horrendously ugly and almost as unusable. The X5 is pretty good but way out of whack on price.

    Also agree on fuel grade & driving mode – the BMW turbo fours really drive like dogs if you use less than 91 AKI and don’t engage “Sport” or “Sport Plus” mode. I drove an X2 on regular unleaded (87 AKI) and got high teens MPG and struggled with on-ramps. Incentive to join Costco and use their cheap premium!

  • avatar
    Alfisti

    I own the previous model, it’s the wife’s Daily.

    It does like it’s fuel but with 300+ HP and many a torque, it has every right to (we couldn’t find the options she wanted with the 2T, so 3T it is).

    It’s been a very good family car, it’s a little boxy so the kids have excellent sightlines, it’s airy inside, respectable fuel economy on the hwy (a solid 20% better than a friends LR Disco Sport with 50HP less), clean, easy to use and nicely appointed interior. It also handles remarkably well.

    Dislikes; gearbox is clunky (seems par for the course with BMW), boot could be bigger and I despise the auto stop/start.

    I rented a Sante Fe a year ago and it felt cheap, nasty, poorly built and a poorer vehicle in every respect compared to the X3. There was no comparison.

  • avatar
    Boff

    The infotainment turns off when you lock the doors. Or, if you don’t want to announce to the world you listen to Weird Al, you can press the starter button a second time (with your foot off the brake this time) to shut it down before opening the door. Also, the content on the split screen is configurable and the split screen aspect can be turned off. These things take a while to learn, unless you have a decent amount of seat time in a BMW (which your claim that this is the best BMW indicates you haven’t).

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      I always thought it was stupid that the iDrive screen stayed on unless you pressed the power button twice, or locked the doors. I’m sure one of the numerous BMW coders online could do something about that.

    • 0 avatar
      Pete Zaitcev

      The manual says to go from “Standby” state to “Idle” state by pressing the audio on/off button, not the engine start/stop button. This is just one more regrettable integration of a vital function into the infotainment. The same state change used to be accomplished by turning a key from “Accessories” to “Off” position.

      I have mine set to time out and go off by itself, but I tested what manual says.

    • 0 avatar
      Craig Lindberg

      Thanks Boff. My sentiments as well after reading the comments from the audience of the short-attention-span theatre. The X3 is an extremely well engineered vehicle that delivers a load of performance and driver luxury in an intelligent package that requires more than a cursory engagement to fully enjoy. Case in point is yours truly; the first time we test drove our used 2014 X3, I had to ask the salesman how to put it in gear. A humbling moment for a guy who’s been driving on and off road since the 60’s but that’s part of the problem; the quantum leap in tech is fueling an explosion in car operating system evolution in a good and bad way. We’re in month 4 of my wife’s X3 and we love and respect the car for all it offers most especially the full driving experience once you learn what it can do.

    • 0 avatar
      darex

      It is always rather amusing and/or sad when auto reviewers ding the Infotainment and other systems, when it is they that are the deficient ones, who are unfamiliar with the system’s abilities. Anyone who has driven a BMW (or MINI) product since ca.2014 would know about the split-screen, and how to customize it. They’ve all worked consistently in this fashion for 5+ years, maybe longer (since at least iDrive 5).

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I think most of BMW’s non-performance four-cylinder turbo engines (anything badged -28i or -30i) have allowed for 89-octane semi-premium fuel. This means that the X3 has been compatible with semi-premium fuel as early as 2011, with the introduction of the previous-generation “F25” model.

    However, I had a 2015 X3 xDrive28i loaner and there was a huge performance difference between 89 and 91. So…go with 91 or higher.

    Another note: if you had an sDrive30i, meaning one with RWD instead of AWD, it was undoubtedly a 2019, not a 2018. For the current X3’s introduction in MY2018, BMW released only “xDrive” all-wheel-drive models, in the form of the xDrive30i and M40i. The sDrive30i was added for MY2019, in order to lower the base price.

    • 0 avatar
      carguy

      Even the N55 six makes full power on 89.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        I had an N55 in my 2011 X5. It definitely did not. I don’t even think it had a factory-sanctioned provision for 89-octane fuel, and outright required 91-octane or higher.

        The four-cylinder engines mostly do accept 89-octane fuel, albeit on reduced power.

        • 0 avatar
          carguy

          Kyrie – When I took delivery of my M235 I looked up the spec PDF and it stated 89 as a minimum. I have been running it for 50K miles on 89 and it hasn’t missed a beat.

          • 0 avatar
            Kyree S. Williams

            I guess it depends on the version. Your M235i would have been a different iteration of the N55 than my X5, albeit the former should’ve had more power.

    • 0 avatar
      Pete Zaitcev

      In the dealerships around here, the take rate of the RWD version is above 60%, FWIW. In fact, I had to special-order, because AWD was rare and never came with options that I wanted (like the spare tire).

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    “Because the new X3 is likely the best car BMW makes today…”

    Bark’s right, more than likely, and that’s sad. I’ve been toying with the idea of getting into an off-lease compact sport(ier) sedan, and the current 3-series seemed like an overdog going in. I’d driven the previous-gen 335, and it was a flat out brilliant piece of work.

    I tried a ’15 328xi with under 30,000 miles the other day, and my friends, times have changed. It looks like a proper 3-series, and if you can get past the noise, there’s plenty of power. but the wheel also shakes at idle. There’s tons of cheap plastic inside. Pull the door handle, and it creaks in your hands.

    But it still acts like a BMW in a corner, right? Wrong. I tossed the car fairly hard into a tight turn, and it flopped around. The steering was numb.

    The final indignity? I took the same corner in my Jetta, and the Jetta didn’t flop around one damn bit.

    It’s a solid highway cruiser, and there’s plenty of gee-whiz tech that will no doubt impress a date, like being able to lower the windows and open the sunroof by holding down the “unlock” button on the key fob, but when a freakin’ Jetta feels more rewarding to toss into a corner than a car that stickered for north of 50 grand, that’s a problem.

    There should be no mystery why 3-series sales are down so much. And maybe the X3 is the best thing BMW makes, but that might be faint praise.

    • 0 avatar
      Alfisti

      2 series, that’s what it’s there for. Smaller and more tossable.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      Mike your review, particularly the NVH and interior quality qualms seem to mirror a very recent used-car review of an F30 over at CC, right down to the creaky door handle.

      I suppose Bimmers were never the height of interior quality (Mercedes or Audi takes it for the Germans), but it definitely seems like the E92 or even E46 have superior tactile quality.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        In fairness, the current 3-series suffers by comparison with its’ ancestors. But this thing is still no slouch – we’re talking a car that can do 0-60 in about five and a half, and it’ll still hustle around corners, albeit somewhat awkwardly. If you’re looking to lay out +/- $20,000, it’s about 1,775.1% percent better as a driver’s car than, say, a base Camry. But clearly BMW was coasting on its’ rep with the current 3-series. Better stuff is out there for this money.

    • 0 avatar
      Dingleberrypiez_Returns

      “plenty of gee-whiz tech that will no doubt impress a date, like being able to lower the windows and open the sunroof by holding down the “unlock” button on the key fob”

      Lol, all my cars dating back to a 1996 Avalon have been able to do that.

    • 0 avatar

      Trust me I have your sadz here too. The F30 is an impostor.

  • avatar
    cgjeep

    Not having an AWD model might be why the steering felt so good.

    • 0 avatar
      Featherston

      My admittedly limited wheel time in a friend’s AWD F30 left me thinking, “Hmm, disappointing. I’d like to try a RWD one, though.” And on balance, I kind of like the unloved(?) F30, at least as long someone else is paying for it. I like that it seats four in reasonable comfort, and I don’t mind the turbo four. (I’m old enough to remember when the M10-powered E21 was the default BMW in the US, so in my mind BMWs are not obligated to have I6s.)

      I’m also curious about criticism of current BMWs’ interiors as cheap. What constitutes a good BMW interior? I liked ’80s BMW interiors quite a bit, but my guess is that most 2010s people would find them very austere. What’s the gold standard here? My main gripe would be that they used to come with a good-quality cloth as the base upholstery and that the leather was better than today’s vinyl or first-level leather.

    • 0 avatar
      Pete Zaitcev

      Dunno, I think the AWD version is fine, too. Although I admit that I don’t have the sensitivity.

    • 0 avatar
      VW4motion

      “Not having an AWD model might be why the steering felt so good.”. This is probably one of the dumbest statements I’ve read on this site. And that’s saying something because I’ve read and added some pretty dumb statements on TTAC.

  • avatar
    Boxerman

    I usualy enjoy your writing. The new X3 is nothing more than a sign of how far BMW has fallen, if you think its great then that speaks words about how bad the rest of BMWs lineup is.

    The motor is gravely with a narrow power band, also like Gm of old it likes to stay stuck in high gear too long and as a result vibrate through the steering coluum. Yes you can put it in spoirt mode but then it holds low gears too long.

    The seats on the BMW are at best Ok they cant really be adjusted low esp in the rear. The eps is artificial and has poor on center feel. The ride, have you ever heard the term head toss.

    If you think this car is great, frankly you may be on drugs, because it sure is not the TTAC.

    Try a merc GLC for contrast, great motor, really goods transmission, good eps, and a well sorted ride.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      I disagree. I feel like the GLC-class rides markedly worse.

      Best-in-class, though, goes to the XC60 (transverse layout or not) with the T6 powertrain and air suspension. That said, I have not driven the new RDX, but it doesn’t exactly have a performance-engine option.

    • 0 avatar
      mittencuh

      Have you driven the G01? Because to me the X253 feels markedly worse to drive than the G01 especially in terms of engine refinement.

    • 0 avatar
      Pete Zaitcev

      I did try the 2019 GLC 300 4Matic before getting the 2019 xDrive 30i. The way transmission shifted in it was annoying. I did have to merge in front of an 18-wheeler and it was a rather harrowing experience. I used to deal with slow-shifting, lethargic transmissions. The 9sp auto in GLC apparently has a habit of shifting adequately every time, until you need and expect it work, and then it makes you cut off a semi. The engine was alright, seats were allright. I appreciated the headroom, but then X3 is not worse. The ride was good, and I do think it’s marginally better than X3, but it wasn’t a deciding factor for me.

  • avatar
    Nick_515

    Aren’t you the guy who “despised” the Q3 or something, and the people who drove it? Now you hate the X3? Geez, can’t wait to read your other reviews. [Not].

  • avatar
    SixspeedSi

    I was just in a near identical 19 X3 loaner, but with X-drive. I agree mostly with your review. It seems better in many ways than the outgoing model. Lot’s of room inside, which is great for the families that buy these. Power was strong and as you said, the transmission does it job well in many situations.

    However, there’s just something I didn’t click with. Obviously, I’m not the target demographic, but while the X3 felt nice, it also felt lackluster as well. I think my expectations are too high for this segment (but it’s 51k, shouldn’t they be!), but the interior, while fine, just didn’t set my world on fire. Maybe it was the black on black, but nothing truly radiated “luxury”. I think I would still take the Audi Q5 over this, even if it drives a little more numb and heck, a low option SQ5 is dang near the price of an X-drive one.

    It is good to see BMW building a nice driving vehicle, let’s hope the new 3 can get some of its mojo back.

  • avatar
    Pete Zaitcev

    Before we go any further, I just want to point out one thing: one of a great perks of buying BMW X3 is the realization that you’re smarter than people who are supposed to know a lot about cars, get paid to write about cars, but cannot tell a good car from bad car — but you do!

    Update: Okay, well played, Mr. Baruth. Well played indeed.

  • avatar
    Pete Zaitcev

    Anyone else has suspicions about the Auto-Stop-Start feature in these X3? It’s a turbo (albeit water-cooled and the water pump is electric). Is the lubrication adequate for these constant restarts? How long is it going to last?

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      “How long is it going to last?”

      Long enough to get you past the warranty period, that’s basically been German engineering for a few decades now (and others are starting to adopt en masse).

      Now, onto chasing coolant leaks under my A4’s throttle body that’s crammed up against the firewall…

    • 0 avatar
      amancuso

      On every BMW I have driven with stop/start, it’s fully defeatable via a button on top of the starter button. My M2 has it (why, I’ll never know.)

  • avatar
    carguy

    As much as you hate writing it, I hate to agree with it. I had a new X3 loaner and was fully prepared to hate it and found myself liking it so much that its at the top of the list for replacing my 2 series.

  • avatar
    SkiDad

    “Granted, Miami is flatter than a surfboard (I’m so proud of myself for not saying Cameron Diaz there)”

    The next time you fear that writing some crude sexist comment will make you look like an ass, here’s a tip: putting parentheses around it won’t help.

  • avatar
    chiefmonkey

    This is not the best car that BMW makes today. That is all.

  • avatar
    TOTitan

    You should try a X5 diesel sometime. Ours here in Colorado averages 26 mpg despite the fact that it weighs 5200 lbs empty! Best years are 2011-2013 when they were made with two turbos and made a stump pulling 425 lb ft @ 1700 rpm.

  • avatar

    I got X3 as loaners when my car was in the shop. It got to the point I’d ask “do you have anything BUT an X3 ?”

    You found the right car company.
    You had the money.
    You still came away with the wrong vehicle.

  • avatar
    JoDa

    The new X3 is great. Thanks for the review!
    Agreed the last X3 was total trash! :)

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    I would but a 2-series, even an older 228i or the latest 230i, before I got a X3. Yeah, I know, more cramped, smaller, not good for family hauling, etc – but it is supposed to be the most tossable BMW left (not including the M cars).

    Anyone have direct experiences with the 2?

    • 0 avatar
      carguy

      @dividebytube: I have owned an M235 for the past 4 years and have enjoyed a trouble free 50K miles. If you like old school BMW then this car may be for you. It lacks all the electronic gizmos of the other models but that is probably why CR named it the most reliable car that BMW makes. The upsides are performance, great mileage (for what it is), good ergonomics and a great balance of sport and comfort. The downsides are that it is small (a 2+2 at best) and that the interior comes from the current 3 series – which means OK but no wow factor.

      There is also no shame in skipping the six and going with the 4. It’s nearly as fast, lighter in the front but just doesn’t have the same soundtrack.

      I would skip new and look for a low mileage used example.

      • 0 avatar
        dividebytube

        Thanks for the info – would have bought one of these but they seem rare as all get out around here. But I’ll add it to my future want list. Coupes don’t bother me at all – have two of them in the family (a MINI and a Mustang).

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    Ugh. Why can’t designers of higher end cars put the screen in the dash instead of sitting on top? Other people can integrate it nicely.

  • avatar
    swilliams41

    So far this year I have driven a X3, 328 and a 540i. The 540 was by far the best of the three. The handling was decent the rest of the car was amazing. The 5 series interiors are so much better than the 3 series cars. Of course there is a huge price gap there too. The 5 was also quieter and felt stable in the sport modes.

  • avatar
    cognoscenti

    I recently drove a 2018 3-Series for a few days as a loaner, while my E90 M3 was getting a new airbag inflator (Takata recall). What a let-down! I wish they had given me the X3 instead, because my whole family HATED the 330i. I honestly felt bad that BMW had fallen so far. My neighbor’s new Hyundai Sonata is a better car by almost every measure, and the new Accord is absolutely head and shoulders above the Bimmer. I could not wait to give it back, and this is coming from someone who has owned/driven/loved every BMW sedan chassis since the E30 to the present. Maybe, since the X3 is so much more important than any sedan, it got the best engineers and the most fine tuning?

  • avatar
    bufguy

    Don’t buy one of these. If you must have one lease it. The depreciation is horrendous. I bought a CPO 2013 X3 2.8 xdrive, three years ago. It was pretty basic, sunroof, leather, heated seats…nothing else. It only had 18,000 miles on it and I paid $30,000 for what was a $47,000 car when new. In addition the dealership gave me $17,000 for a 5 year old 2011 Element with 40,000 miles. I only paid $24,000 when that was new.
    Less than three years later the X3 starts having “drivetrain malfunction” bugs. Some went away, some required a trip to the dealer, luckily covered under the CPO warranty. Then the glove box “soft vinyl” starts de laminating…no coverage and brakes are done…dealer wants 1,800 for four wheels. The worst part…the vehicle is now worth about $12,000.
    Long story short…I traded it for a new 2018 Golf Alltrack SE. $5,000 off sticker and $15,000 for my X3. 6 year, 72,000 miles and a lower car payment. I love being in a “car” again. The VW has all the quality and more features than the BMW and my payment for a NEW car is cheaper.

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