The Review Garage

Rating the best and worst in cars, SUVs, trucks, motorcycles, tools and accessories.



2018 BMW X3 xDrive 30i: A DriveWays Review…

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.


  • 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.

2018 BMW 230i xDrive Coupe: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

With automobiles, especially an expensive sport coupe like the 2018 BMW 230i xDrive, it’s all about the return on investment.

It is the same in business as well, but there the focus is on profits measured in dollars. With cars, it’s about the tangibles and intangibles they deliver.

Buy a minivan and you get practicality for family vacations. Buy a BMW 230i xDrive and practicality flies out the window. The return on that investment comes in driving enjoyment, preferably with two people on board.

This compact two-door coupe, though it delivers strong performance, capable handling and decent fuel economy, has a cramped back seat. And because the front seatbacks move minimally forward, it requires athletic ability to access.

Offsetting that is a large trunk of almost 14 feet that can swallow a couple’s luggage for a week. If the trip is longer or you have a lot of stuff, the rear seatbacks fold to expand the cargo-carrying capability to 53 cubic feet.

Arguably, the 230i xDrive, which is the lowest-price sedan in the BMW lineup, is the lineage successor to the 1967 BMW1600-2, which had a bigger and more accommodating back seat. Car and Driver Magazine  trumpeted it as “the World’s Best $2,500 Car.” It was a boxy two-door with a cavernous trunk that in this writer’s family was big enough to conceal all of Santa Claus’s gifts for four children.

It had an 84-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that drove the rear wheels through a four-speed manual gearbox. Its independent suspension system and rack-and-pinion steering delivered great handling and the capability to hammer steadily over railroad tracks at 100 mph, all while delivering fuel economy in the mid-20s.

P90258121Contrast the 1600-2 (later joined by the more powerful 2002) with the tested 2018 230i xDrive and you see a great deal of price creep. The writer’s 1600-2, with options, had a $2,850 price tag, which has inflated over the years to $20,920 in 2017. The 2018 230i—the lowest-priced sedan in BMW’s expensive lineup—starts at $34,145, much of the difference because of modern emissions, safety and convenience requirements.

The tested xDrive, which is BMW-speak for all-wheel drive, started at $37,795. With $12,520 in options, it ended up with a $50,315 price tag.

Whether that investment delivers a substantial return depends on the individual owner’s delight and involvement, and whether he or she concludes that it merits the “ultimate driving machine” label. But the 230i xDrive is a sweet piece of machinery.

Its tidy size—three inches shy of 15 feet long—and quick steering makes for confident moves in city and freeway traffic. Need to make a quick lane change or dodge a clueless and careless driver intruding into your lane? A flick of steering and tap on the throttle and the troubles are gone.

Open highway cruising is relaxing. A supple ride, supportive sport seats with good seatback bolstering and a quiet interior means you can put on many miles without fatigue.

The engine is a 248-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 258 pound-feet of torque, or twisting force. Power gets to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually with paddles on the steering wheel. For traditionalists, the 230i xDrive can be ordered with a six-speed manual gearbox.

Though the engine slurps premium gasoline, city/highway/combined fuel consumption with the automatic works out to 24/33/27 mpg.

The test car was well equipped with optional leather upholstery (leatherette is standard), navigation system, rear-view camera, adaptive cruise control, motorized glass sunroof, power front seats with memory settings, SXM satellite radio, wireless smart phone charging, WiFi hot spot and Apple CarPlay. A $2,300 track handling package included an adaptive suspension system, sport brakes and variable steering.

Still, there were shortcomings. On the automatic settings, the air conditioning could not keep up on a hot day. Fortunately, BMW included a knob that delivered a manual maximum air conditioning blast. However, with a capable system it should not be needed.

In addition, the infotainment system is needlessly complicated, sun visors did not slide on their support rods to fully block sunlight from the side, and there was no blind spot warning, though it is not needed if the outside mirrors are properly adjusted.

For those drivers who value a car for visceral entertainment as opposed to pedestrian competence, the 230i xDrive returns a bonus on the investment.


  • Model: 2018 BMW 230i xDrive two-door coupe.
  • Engine:0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged, 248 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 90/14 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,483 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 24/33/27 mpg. Premium fuel required.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $37,795.
  • Price as tested: $50,315.

Disclaimer: This test drive was based on a loan of the vehicle from the manufacturer. It was driven by the author in circumstances similar to everyday driving by consumers.

Photos (c) BMW.

2017 BMW 540i xDrive: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer 

BMW rides the crest of the crossover sport utility wave, but persists in making certain it continues to anchor at least one model in nearly every market cove, as witness the 2017 BMW 540i xDrive sedan.

It is an expensive midsize four-door, nearly full-size by the government’s description, that has been substantially revamped to hang on in the face of declining sales — some of them lost to BMW’s own lineup of crossover SUVs.

P90237218_highResOverall, the Bavarian Motor Works offers six sedans and coupes, five crossovers, two sports cars — one of them a hybrid — and an electric car, the i3, with an optional gasoline range extender. Different trim levels and power trains broaden the choices.

Though BMW has always emphasized performance and handling, this new machine tilts more toward extravagance than some of its predecessors. It is quiet and lavishly appointed, though it retains power and solid driving dynamics.

BMW calls the 540i xDrive a “business sedan.” But it is a business steeped in comfort and luxury. With 98 cubic feet of passenger volume, there’s plenty of stretch space for four people in the front and back. A seatbelt is installed for a center-rear passenger but, as with most vehicles these days, the position is compromised by a hard cushion and floor hump.

P90237212_highResOut back, there’s a trunk of 19 cubic feet that would do justice to a larger car. It can easily swallow luggage for a long trip or golf bags for a foursome.

The engine is a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder that makes 335 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque, delivered to all four wheels through an 8-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode controlled by paddles mounted on the steering wheel.

The 540i xDrive has both Sport and Comfort modes that alter suspension settings and shock absorbers automatically depending on inputs from the driver. Slow and easy activates the comfort setting; it switches to Sport when the driving is aggressive.

P90237235_highResIn keeping with its German heritage, the 540i xDrive oozes electronic and engineering wizardry, including a launch control system that enabled Car and Driver Magazine to record a zero-to-60 mph acceleration time of 4.5 seconds. Top speed is governed at 128 mph.

If that’s not enough, BMW is releasing the 2018 M550i xDrive model  in the second half of 2017. It is powered by a twin-turbo V8 engine that delivers 445 hp and 456 lb-ft of torque. BMW says the M550i will get you to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds — six-tenths of a second quicker than the 540i xDrive. But its starting price is more than $13,000 higher.

P90237271_highResIn keeping with BMW practice, an extensive options list augments standard safety and convenience equipment. Some of it, including automatic evasive steering, lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control and collision mitigation, brings the 540i xDrive closer to the eventual goal of the self-driving car. That prompted Consumer Reports to include an alert to buyers to make certain they heed all warnings and keep their hands on the wheel.

The tested 540i xDrive had a starting sticker price of $59,745, including the destination charge. Options tacked on an additional $22,615 for a bottom line price of $82,360. More than $8,000 of the options related to driver assistance and handling functions.

Another option, priced at $750, allows for remote control parking. It only works in straight-line forward and back movements, as in backing into a parking space or garage. The driver controls the movements from outside with a special remote control. It is mainly useful in a space so narrow a driver would not be able exit or enter the car.

P90237268_highResFor another $190, tested 540i came with gesture control, which enables the use of gestures, as well as a controller and voice commands, to activate various functions.

At the higher end of the options spectrum, the test car was equipped with a Bowers & Wilkins high-performance audio system with a price tag of $4,200. An M-Sport package, at $2,600, included suspension system modifications and appearance items.

With a curb weight of more than two tons, the 540i has the heft and feel common to expensive luxury sedans. That, of course, goes to the bottom line of fuel economy. Its city/highway/combined gasoline consumption, as published by the EPA, works out to 20/29/23 mpg — not daunting for anyone who can pay the price or make the lease payments.


  • Model: 2017 BMW 540i xDrive four-door sedan.
  • Engine:0-liter six-cylinder, turbocharged, 335 hp, 332 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 98/19 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,170 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/29/23 mpg. Premium fuel required.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $59,745.
  • Price as tested: $82,360.

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

P90237229_highResPhotos (c) BMW.

2017 BMW 330e iPerformance: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

With European cities damning pollution from diesel-engine vehicles, manufacturers there are switching to gasoline/electric hybrids like the 2017 BMW 330e iPerformance sedan.

Currently, about half the automobiles in Europe come with diesels, which are more economical than gasoline engines but send more polluting gunk into the atmosphere. Paris, Madrid and Athens are taking actions to ban all diesel vehicles by 2025.

One result: European manufacturers, including Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, BMW, Volkswagen and Audi are developing new hybrid vehicles. BMW’s new machine borrows technologies from the company’s i3 electric car and its hybrid super coupe, the i8.

P90208218-highResThe 330e is a plug-in hybrid, which enables limited travel on pure electric power. Standard hybrids like the popular Toyota Prius run the gasoline engine and electric motor together, which is the way the BMW 330e operates once you deplete the battery.

In almost every respect, this new four-door is a 3-Series BMW except that it has a port in the left-front fender to plug in the charger. On paper, it can travel up to 75 miles an hour on electricity alone. It also boasts of a range 14 electric miles with a fully charged battery — but you won’t get that if you put your foot in it.

Even driving carefully, you’re not likely to get the 14 miles unless you feather-foot the throttle and puddle along at sub-city speeds. Any time you punch the gas pedal, the gasoline engine kicks on. Because of that, it’s likely that some owners won’t even bother recharging the 330e. They’ll simply drive it like a standard hybrid.

P90208266-highResThe 330e is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine and an 87-horsepower electric motor-generator. A 5.7 kilowatt-hour battery nests beneath the trunk floor, cutting into the luggage space. The total system delivers 248 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque, enough to propel the 330e to 60 miles per hour in 5.9 seconds, according to BMW’s specifications, with a top speed of 140.

The power gets to the rear wheels through an unobtrusive but efficient eight-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode operated by paddles on the steering wheel. If you don’t care much about getting great gas mileage, the 330e comes on as a strong performer with precise handling, supple ride and a tactile steering feel.

Like other 3-Series BMWs, the 330e delivers exhilarating motoring. For the most enjoyment, simply forget that it’s a hybrid — plug-in or not — and drive the wheels off. It is responsive and so capable it inspires confidence.

P90208282-highResIf an owner decides to maximize fuel economy by plugging in, it takes about 2.5 hours to fully charge the 330e’s lithium ion battery from “empty” using a 240-volt charging system. If a standard household outlet is the only power source available, allow six to seven hours of charging time.

Charging consistently and driving carefully should deliver somewhere near the EPA’s 72 miles per gallon equivalent in city/highway driving. The combined mileage on gasoline power alone is rated at 31 miles per gallon, though it should do better because of the electric boost.

P90208267-highResThe plug-in hybrid system incorporates three driver-selectable modes: Auto eDrive maximizes electric driving up to 50 miles an hour; Max eDrive uses electric power exclusively up to 75 miles an hour; and the Save Battery mode uses the gasoline engine to maintain the battery pack’s charge at 50%.

An American Motors executive once famously said that U.S. motorists wanted fuel economy — and would pay anything to get it. Well, the BMW 330e fits that observation. It has a starting price of $45,095 and, with BMW’s long list of expensive options, the test car came with a bottom-line sticker price of $60,645.

P90208258-highResThat includes a navigation system that scans the surroundings and connects to the onboard computer to optimize the split between gasoline and electric power. It also covers full safety equipment, including adaptive cruise control, blind spot warning, rear and top view camera, head-up display, traction and stability control, and parking assist.

The 330e doesn’t stint on luxury — as long as you’re willing to lavishly check the options list. Among many features, you can have a motorized sunroof, soft leather upholstery, sunshades for the backlight and rear side windows, heated front and back seats, and SXM satellite radio.

Skip any of them and still enjoy the drive.


  • Model: 2017 BMW 330e iPerformance four-door sedan.
  • Plug-in Hybrid Power: 2.0-liter gasoline four-cylinder, turbocharged; 87-hp electric motor/generator. Total system: 248 hp, 310 lb-ft of torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode; rear-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 98/13 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,915 pounds.
  • EPA fuel consumption: 72 miles per gallon equivalent on gasoline/electric power in combined city/highway driving; 31 mpg combined on gasoline engine only.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $45,095.
  • Price as tested: $60,645.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

P90208287-highResPhotos (c) BMW.

2017 BMW X4 M40i: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The dictionary definition of an anomaly as a “departure from the regular arrangement, general rule, or usual method” perfectly describes the 2017 BMW X4 M40i.

It’s a high-performance car that’s not really a car. It’s a crossover sport utility vehicle that’s designed to look like a coupe. But it’s not a coupe. Nor is it really an SUV.

What BMW’s designers did was to simply slice off half of the top over the cargo area to give it a fastback roofline, reminiscent of a coupe. The result is a tall, awkward looking all-wheel drive vehicle. Its close garage mate is the more conventional X3, with four doors and a standard crossover roofline.


It is nothing new with BMW, which parks its ultimate driving machines in more niches than anyone in the business. This sloped design started with the X6, a bigger crossover with cramped quarters, little cargo carrying capability and a price tag north of $62,000.

Almost anyone would surmise that would be a non-starter with potential buyers. But there usually are at least a few customers who like to be different, have the bucks to indulge their tastes and probably own another vehicle to do their hauling.

The X4 and X6 actually have a modicum of respectability despite their unusual design. In 2016, Americans bought 7,117 X6s and 4,989 X4s. But BMW’s more conventional crossovers—X1, X3 and X5—each had five-digit sales with all three totaling 119,649.

That said, the new X4 M40i is still a BMW, with all that entails for driver involvement. Its all-wheel drive system, with BMW’s dynamic stability control, is biased toward the rear wheels for improved handling. The setup includes stiffer springs, responsive steering, sturdy anti-roll bars and tuned shock absorbers, resulting in flat cornering with little body roll.


Power comes from a 355-hp 3.0-liter turbocharged in-line six-cylinder engine that makes 343 lb-ft of torque. It gets the power to the pavement through an eight-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode controlled by paddles on the steering wheel.

The combination makes for exhilarating performance, notwithstanding the X4 M40i’s tall profile. Car and Driver Magazine clocked the acceleration time at 4.4 seconds to 60 mph, which is more than anyone could use except occasionally. Top speed is rated at 150 mph. City/highway/combined fuel consumption is 18/26/21 mpg.


There are four driver-selectable driving modes: Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus. They do what they suggest, including enhancing fuel economy, a better ride, more precise performance and handling, and all-out racetrack style driving.

The Comfort mode is the best for daily motoring, yet it has a sporting feel that is lacking in many crossover SUVs. Although 20-inch alloy wheels are a $950 option, the tested X4 M40i, with its standard 19-inch wheels, delivered a ride with sharp jolts on rough pavement.


The interior is accommodating for four passengers, though the sloped roofline — despite the tall profile — requires some ducking for entry. The center-rear seating position is problematical, and the fastback roofline keeps the cargo space to 18 cubic feet, which would be fine in a big four-door sedan but is mediocre in a compact crossover.

Despite its height, outward visibility is not the greatest, especially out back, where the rear window resembles a machine gun lookout in a World War II pillbox bunker. The pillars on both sides of the backlight (called C-pillars in the car biz) also restrict visibility so it’s important to adjust the outside mirrors correctly to eliminate blind spots.


The X4 M40i comes with a starting price of $59,095, which includes an expected suite of standard features: automatic climate control, automatic engine stop-start, adaptive cruise control, motorized sunroof, leather upholstery, remote locking, power tailgate, premium audio system with satellite radio, rain-sensing windshield wipers, power front sport seats and run-flat tires.

Options on the test vehicle included a $2,750 technology package with navigation and a head-up display; $1,950 for LED exterior lighting and automatic headlights; $950 cold weather package with heated seat and steering wheel; $1,150 for a surround view rearview camera, and $750 for the “glacier silver metallic” paint job. The bottom line sticker came to $66,545.

If your priority list requires driving a high-performance machine that handles well, rides hard and is impractical, different and somewhat exclusive, and if you have the wherewithal to buy or lease this anomaly, the X4 M40i should not disappoint.


  • Model: 2017 BMW X4 M40i four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.0-liter six-cylinder, turbocharged, 355 hp, 343 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 95/18 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,272 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 18/26/21 mpg. Premium fuel recommended.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $59,095.
  • Price as tested: $66,545.

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

Photos (c) BMW.



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