by Frank A. Aukofer

The most important and difficult thing in the automotive business is an institutional ability to predict the future. Bavarian Motor Works has actually managed some of that soothsaying, of which the 2018 BMW X3 xDrive 30i is a prime example.

Starting with the X5 in 1999, the German manufacturer has expanded its lineup of crossover sport utility vehicles to plug every size and power niche in the premium category—to the point where there are now seven distinct models: X1, new X2, X3 reviewed here, X4, X5, X6 and the upcoming X7, plus higher performance versions.

BMW_X3_Performance_Center-001Whether the company was reacting to a trend or sucking its collective thumb contemplating where the market was headed, it has caught the wave of buyer infatuation with crossover SUVs, which are proliferating in every price class.

It remains to be seen whether this is a passing fad, but no matter. BMW also has a garage full of sedans, coupes, convertibles and sports cars in case there’s a course correction. We’ll skip self-driving cars for now.

Meanwhile, the company, which manufactures many of its crossovers at its plant in Spartanburg, S.C., entices high-end customers with machines like the new X3 xDrive 30i and the higher-performance — and higher-priced — X3 M40i.

P90263768_highResA note about BMW nomenclature: a lower-case i identifies a sedan like the 330i or 550i, the i3 electric car, or even the i8 hybrid sports car. If a capital X precedes a number, it is what BMW calls a “sports activity vehicle,” known in the business as a crossover SUV. A lower-case x, as in xDrive, designates any BMW with all-wheel drive. Oh, there’s also the Z4 two-seat sports car. And if there’s an M somewhere in the title, it’s a higher-performance or better decorated model. Write it down.

The model numbers actually don’t mean much anymore. You might assume that the tested X3 xDrive 30i comes with a 3.0-liter engine. Nope. Because modern engines with turbocharging are getting smaller, this one actually delivers 248 hp and 285 lb-ft of torque from a 2.0-liter four-cylinder motor.

Step up to the higher-performance X3 M40i and the engine actually is a 3.0-liter V6 with twin turbochargers that makes 355 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. Enough said.

BMW_X3_Performance_Center-003Back to the subject, the U.S.-built X3 30i. This is a nicely executed compact crossover with the power and features expected in this category. However, as with other automakers, BMW has an extensive options list and charges extra for equipment that is standard elsewhere.

For example: The $3,300 Premium package includes a heated steering wheel, navigation system and head-up display. Tack on another $350 for the heated front and rear seats. The $2,850 Convenience package gets you a panoramic sunroof, keyless entry, lumbar support and SXM satellite radio.

Continuing: The $1,400 Dynamic Handling package includes M Sport brakes, dynamic adaptive shock absorbers and variable sport steering, while the $900 Driving Assistance package covers blind spot and lane departure warning. The Parking Assist package covers a surround-view camera, active parking assist and distance control.

P90263747_highResThere also are individual options, including $1,700 for Vernasca leather upholstery, $875 for a premium Harman Kardon audio system, $300 for Apple CarPlay, $500 for wireless device charging and $550 for metallic paint.

You get the picture. All of that brought the test X3’s base price of $43,445 up to $57,620. Of course, there also were many desirable items that were part of the standard equipment, including the eight-speed automatic transmission, driver-selectable driving modes, hill-descent control, automatic stop/start, garage-door opener, dark oak wood interior trim, leather-covered steering wheel, tri-zone automatic climate control, 19-inch alloy wheels, LED low-beam headlights and fog lights, and a power tailgate.

P90263757_highResMuch of that, of course, is frosting that doesn’t affect the basic driving goodness of the X3, which hews to BMW’s traditional dedication to performance, handling and braking. The X3, however, also delivers a luxury ambiance enhanced by a quiet cabin. You hear the engine under hard acceleration but highway cruising at a steady speed is almost tranquil.

Overall, however, this is an inviting modern conveyance that delivers a competent, pleasurable and comfortable driving experience with a dose of excitement. With sales of 40,691 in 2017, it is BMW’s third-best selling model, behind the 3-Series compact sedan and midsize X5 crossover SUV.

X3 competitors include the Alfa Romeo Stelvio, Audi Q5, Jaguar F-Pace, Land Rover’s Range Rover Evoque and the Mercedes-Benz GLC.

BMW_X3_Performance_Center-006Specifications

  • Model: 2018 BMW X3 xDrive 30i four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine:0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged, 248 hp, 285 lb-ft of torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 6 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 101/29 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,156 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 22/29/25 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $43,445.
  • Price as tested: $57,620.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

P90263762_highResPhotos (c) BMW.