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Redesigned 2018 X3 to showcase BMW’s next wave of style, tech, and performance

Updated June 30th, 2017

2018 BMW X3 M40i

2018 BMW X3 M40i

What changes make the 2018 BMW X3 different?

Everything. The all-new third-generation of this premium compact crossover arrives with more aggressive styling, new engines, and a more modern interior. It gets its first high-performance “M” variant, and will eventually add a plug-in hybrid model.

The ’18 X3 lineup goes on sale in November with turbocharged four- and six-cylinder models, both with all-wheel drive as standard. The 2018 X3 xDrive30i replaces the xDrive28i, the new suffix denoting its slightly more powerful 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. The six-cylinder X3 at launch is the M40i, the first X3 under BMW’s M Performance banner. Boasting unique styling inside and out, it has 355 horsepower and supplants the 300-horsepower XDrive35i as the top X3 model.

Features new to this crossover include BMW’s Gesture Control, which allows drivers to adjust the infotainment system with a wave of the hand, and an app that supports Amazon Echo’s Alexa voice service, so owners can monitor and control some vehicle functions from inside their home.

A rival for the Alfa Romeo Stelvio, Audi Q5, Mercedes-Benz GLC, Porsche Macan, and Jaguar F-Pace, among others, the X3 again fits in BMW’s crossover lineup between the subcompact X1 and midsize X5. And it remains the more practical counterpart to BMW’s X4, a crossover of similar size but with a less practical fastback body.

Should I buy a 2018 or wait for the ‘19?

Buy the 2018 X3 to get BMW’s newest entry in one of America’s fastest-growing vehicle classes. Buying an ’18 gets you basic styling, engineering, and key features that won’t change for several years.

This third-gen X3 has an all-new substructure and retains its rear-wheel-drive-biased design, although the ’18 launches without the outgoing X3’s rear-drive-only sDrive model. Spread over a slightly longer body and wheelbase, the sheet metal is a sleeker evolution of the gen-two look. Both ’18 X3s are faster than the models they replace, and have more cargo space and expand comfort, connectivity, and safety features.

If neither 2018 powertrain suits your fancy, wait for the 2019 X3 on the chance it’ll be the model year BMW introduces the plug-in hybrid variant. It could also mark the resurrection of a lesser-powered six-cylinder as a middle ground between the XDrive30i and the M40i, or even the return of the lower-cost rear-wheel-drive model. Don’t count on a revival of the diesel-engine option. And note that while returning 2019 versions of the X3 won’t be notably different from their model-year ’18 counterparts, they are almost certain to cost more.

The outgoing X3 remains a strong seller, despite a basic design dating to model-year 2011, making it among the oldest crossovers in the segment. Demand was up 30.5 percent through May 2017, and it’s BMW’s second-most popular U.S. vehicle, behind the 3 Series car.

Is the styling different?

Yes, and it’s both more contemporary and more aerodynamic. In profile, the hood appears longer and the body has sharper creases, for a sportier look. The new nose wears BMW’s latest styling, including its “three dimensional” kidney grille and LED fog lights set in hexagonal lower-fascia openings. The reshaped rump and larger wraparound taillamps emphasize the vehicle’s width and are complimented by a tapered spoiler and dual-exhaust outlets.

The base xDrive30i has BMW’s xLine trim, with satin-aluminum and silver-matte accents and 18-inch alloy wheels (19s are optional). New to the X3 line is a Luxury Package option that adds chrome grille bars and two-tone bumper trim. The M Sport package mimics some elements of the M40i, adding the M Aerodynamic Kit with enlarged front air intakes, side-skirt trim, and a diffusor-style rear apron. It also includes Shadowline exterior touches and 19-inch alloys. M Double-Spoke 20-inch wheels with wider rear performance tires are optional.

The X3’s first real challenger to high-performance rivals such as the Audi SQ5, Mercedes-AMG GLC43, and Porsche Macan, the M40i has slightly flared fenders and BMW’s M Performance-specific touches. These include the M Aerodynamic kit enhanced with gray metallic accents, darker tailpipe embellishers, and blue-painted aluminum front brake calipers. Nineteen-inch alloys are standard, with 20- and 21-inch cast light-alloy wheels optional.

The ’18 X3’s redesigned cabin again places no-nonsense round analog-style gauges in a binnacle before the driver. But the new dashboard adopts BMW’s latest practice, with a far more horizontally oriented central stack of infotainment-, climate-, and audio-system controls. Again governed by BMW’s iDrive center-console knob-and-button array (and supplemented by available voice and gesture control) the infotainment touchscreen is liberated from the instrument panel to become a tablet-like display. With the available navigation “professional” system, it’s a generous 10.25 inches in
diameter. And at night, with the Extended Ambient Lighting option, BMW says the screen appears to float above the dashboard.

There’s more interior storage space and even the base X3 now comes with front sport bucket seats with power-adjustable side bolsters. The Luxury and M Sport packages add faux-leather dashboard trim, with the M Sport also featuring a unique leather steering wheel. The M40i sprinkles about “M40i” logos. Backrest sections of the 40/20/40 split/folding rear bench seat are individually adjustable and can be released remotely from the cargo compartment. Luggage space increases to 28.7 cubic feet behind the rear seat, a gain of 1.1 cubic feet, but overall cargo volume decreases 0.6 cubic feet, to a still-competitive 62.7 cubic feet.

Indeed, despite a 2.1-inch stretch in both wheelbase (the distance between the front and rear axles) and overall body length, the redesigned X3 is hardly larger inside than its predecessor. Front headroom, legroom, and shoulder room are up marginally, but the X3 could have benefitted from additional rear legroom. Instead, rear legroom decreases fractionally – an unexpected result, given the wheelbase stretch.

Any mechanical changes?

Yes, starting with the new architecture. The new state-of-the-art platform gives BMW an opportunity to recapture a measure of the driving and steering precision it’s sacrificed chasing mainstream notions of luxury and comfort. Thankfully, it hasn’t cut many corners on powertrains, and the new ones build on an already impressive roster of turbocharged engines.

The four-cylinder in the X3 xDrive30i again displaces 2.0 liters, but it’s a member of BMW’s smoother-running TwinPower turbo family. Horsepower increases by 8, to 248, though torque is unchanged, at 258 pound-feet. BMW says 0-60-mph for the four-cylinder X3 drops to 6.0 seconds, from 6.2. Gone – for now – is the 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder that motivated the xDrive35i; it had 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque and did 0-60 in 5.3 seconds.

The M40i’s 3.0-liter inline-six is borrowed from the X4 M40i and has the same 355 horsepower, but 369 pound-feet of torque versus the 2017 X4’s 343 pound-feet. With a claimed 4.3-second 0-60 time, it’s a foil for the 354-horsepower SQ5, 340-horsepower Porsche Macan S, and 362-horse Mercedes-AMG GLC43. To enhance its throaty sound, the M40i has a flap-controlled M Sport exhaust system.

The X3’s sole transmission remains an 8-speed automatic, now BMW’s latest Steptronic Sport gearbox with steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles. In the M40i, it’s tuned to M Performance specifications, with sharper shifts and calibrations that maximize engine rpm and throttle response on twisty roads. It also features launch control.

BMW says the gen-three X3’s suspension carries less unsprung weight, benefitting ride and handling. The firmer M Sports suspension, standard on the M40i and available on the xDrive30i, features specific springs, dampers and antiroll bars.

A new Driving Dynamics Control toggle switch adjusts steering, powertrain, and suspension within modes BMW calls Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport, and, on the M40i, Sport+. The xDrive30i is available with BMW’s Dynamic Damper Control to help the suspension respond automatically to the road surface and driving situation; the driver can also vary its characteristics between comfort and sport

The M Performance-tuned M40i is a step below the all-out M high-performance stage that characterizes such BMWs as the X5 M and M3. But it does have upgraded brakes and suspension, as well as its own Adaptive M Suspension option with electronically controlled dampers and even sportier suspension settings. It also comes with the variable sport steering system that’s optional on the xDrive30i.

While the X3 isn’t intended for off-roading, all ’18 models have hill descent control and 8.0 inches of ground clearance. That’s less than the 8.3 inches of the second-generation X3 and stingier than the margin afforded by the Q5, F-Pace, even the Acura RDX – and far less than the 9.8 inches available with the air suspension on the Range Rover Velar. BMW says the X3 can ford water 19.6 inches deep. And certainly, xDrive’s ability to automatically distribute power fore and aft is a traction boon on loose surfaces or in snow.

But its focus is enhanced dry-road dynamics and at that xDrive shines, helped by the ability to constantly vary power among all four wheels. The outgoing X3 had outstanding road manners, and the ’18 retains its optimal 50:50 front-rear weight balance. It should handle even better, though, thanks to an xDrive system retuned for increased rear-wheel bias. The M40i’s xDrive has even more pronounced rear bias and its own handling calibrations.

Does fuel economy improve?

EPA ratings for the 2018 X3 were not released in time for this review, but expect some increase, at least for the four-cylinder version. Both models should benefit from improved aerodynamics, including additional underbody cladding and active grille shutters. A transmission designed with efficiency in mind and slight reductions in curb weight should also help.

Expect the four-cylinder X3 to beat its 2017 counterpart’s EPA ratings of 21/28/24 mpg city/highway/combined. The 300-horsepower 2017 xDrive35i rated 19/26/21 mpg. It’ll be a feather in BMW’s cap if the 355-horsepower 2018 M40i comes within 1 mpg of those ratings. BMW recommends at least 91-octane gas for both engines. Incidentally, the four-cylinder turbodiesel xDrive28d available for 2017 rated 27/34/30 mpg.

Will it have new features?

Yes, highlighted by improved connectivity and availability for the first time of every semi-automated-driving technology offered by BMW. Autonomous emergency braking returns in the form of the automaker’s City Collision Mitigation, which is operational at around-town speeds. Unlike top rivals, however, BMW continues to make its most advanced driver assists optional rather than standard.

The optional Driving Assistance Package includes blind-spot, rear cross-traffic, frontal-collision, and lane-departure warnings. It’s also contains City Collison Mitigation, which can stop the X3 to avoid a low-speed frontal collision with another vehicle, object, or pedestrian. BMW had not announced 2018 prices for this package, but it cost $950 on the ’17 X3.

Also optional is the Driving Assistant Plus Package, a less comprehensive version of which was a $1,700 option on the ’17 model. The ’18 package introduces semi-automated driving via active cruise control to maintain a set distance from traffic ahead, even in stop-and-go congestion. It contains lane-maintaining autonomous steering that corrects for unintended lane departure and can also follow the road for limited periods without the driver touching the steering wheel. It includes enhanced side, front, and rear alerts, as well.

Despite good performance from its autonomous emergency braking system, the 2017 X3 didn’t earn coveted Top Safety Pick status from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Addition of optional steering-linked LED headlamps for 2018 should help it in IIHS testing. Standard on all ’18 X3s is a system designed to anticipate a collision and automatically close the windows and moonroof.

The newly available gesture-control infotainment interface is accompanied by upgraded “natural voice control.” The BMW Connected system supports iOS and Android devices, including certain wearable gear like the Apple Watch. And it enables owners to perform tasks like locking the vehicle and activating its ventilation system from home using Amazon Echo Alexa commands.

Full details on 2018 X3 features weren’t released in time for this review, but expect leather upholstery to be optional on the xDrive30i and standard on the M40i. Available on both is a WiFi hotspot with internet connection for up to 10 mobile devices.

Newly available wireless linking to Apple CarPlay allows you to project your mapping app on the dashboard screen. But for real-time guidance where there’s no cell signal, you’ll need imbedded navigation. The automaker’s Navigation Professional version now links your X3 with other inter-connected BMWs, for car-to-car communication that shares information about traffic and weather hazards and adjusts navigation guidance accordingly. In cities with compatible parking-spot-locator service, the X3’s available ParkNow and On-Street Parking Information systems can project on the nav screen the probability and location of available parking.

The size of the optional Head-Up Display increases 75 percent. And BMW claims a class exclusive with its Remote 3D View function, which uses the BMW Connected App to transmit a 360-degree, three-dimensional view of the X3’s immediate vicinity to a smartphone.

How are 2018 prices different?

They’ll increase, but how much won’t be known until BMW releases 2018 X3 pricing later this year. Estimated base prices in this review include the automaker’s destination fee, which remains $995 for 2018.

Expect base prices of around $43,000 for the 2018 xDrive30i and around $60,000 for the new X3. Bank on little difficulty adding $6,000-$9,000 in options to either model to achieve your X3 luxury or performance ideal.

When will it come out?

Release date for the 2018 X3 is November 2017.

Best competitors

Acura RDX, Alfa Romeo Stelvio, Audi Q5, Cadillac CT5, Infiniti QX50, Jaguar F-Pace, Range Rover Velar, Mercedes-Benz GLC, Porsche Macan, Volvo XC60.

What change would make it better?

BMW doesn’t appear to be altering its approach to equipping X3s in a way that compels buyers to spend extra for true premium-grade amenities. To its credit, it doesn’t skimp on design or engineering: even base-level models uphold the brand’s reputation for focused driving machines. Still, that reputation has been tarnished by numb steering feel and some handling foibles. A return to benchmark status for road manners would be this third-generation X3’s No.1 achievement.

Enthusiasts would no doubt welcome a full-on 400-plus-horsepower X3M to take on the 442-horse Macan Turbo with Performance Package, 380-horsepower F-Pace S, even the new 505-horsepower Stelvio Quadrifoglio.

Environmentalists are likely encouraged by reports of an impending X3 plug-in hybrid. It would borrow its powertrain from the X5 xDrive40e. That model teams a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder with electric power for a net 308 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque. It can travel about 13 miles on battery power alone and with no tailpipe emissions. Expect an X3 xDrive40e to rate at least 56 mpg-e (equivalent), the EPA’s calculation of the miles vehicle can travel on a quantity of electricity with the same energy content as a gallon of gasoline.

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]