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

2017 BMW X3

2017 BMW X3

What changes will make the 2018 BMW X3 different?

Everything. An all-new generation of this premium compact crossover is due in early calendar 2017. It’ll have crisper lines, new gas engines, and a bigger, more luxurious interior. A plug-in hybrid and a high-performance “M” variant will follow. At introduction, the ’18 X3 lineup will return four- and six-cylinder models, as well as a diesel-powered edition. The sDrive30i with rear-wheel drive and the xDrive30i with all-wheel-drive replace the sDrive28i and xDrive28i, the new nomenclature denotes their new four-cylinder engine. Similarly, a new six-cylinder engine will power the xDrive40i, a replacement for the xDrive35i. the diesel version will return as the xDrive28d with its engine largely unchanged. A rival for the Audi Q5, Mercedes-Benz GLC, Porsche Macan, and Jaguar F-Pace, among others, the X3 will again fit between the subcompact X2 and midsize X5 in BMW’s crossover lineup. And it’ll remain the more practical counterpart to the X4, a crossover of similar size but with a less practical fastback body.

Why should I wait for the 2018?

For all the right reasons. The outgoing third-generation X3 was introduced for 2011 and shows its age with dated ergonomics and overripe styling. Virtually every rival is newer. The third-gen X3 will make the important transition to the German automaker’s newest vehicle substructure, code-named CLAR. Introduced with the redesigned 2016 7 Series and slated for the next 3 and 5 Series cars, the rear-wheel-drive-based platform employs cutting-edge materials such as carbon-fiber to improve rigidity and cut weight. The next X3 won’t differ much in overall size, but it’ll have a longer wheelbase (the distance between the front and rear axles) for a needed boost in rear-seat room. Sources say it’ll be about 200 pounds lighter, too. Along with improved aerodynamics and other efficiencies, that will benefit handling and fuel economy. It’ll feature the latest connectivity and safety features, have a plusher cabin, and offer BMW’s most modern powertrains.

Should I buy a 2017 model instead?

If you’re cool with what is still a pretty cool crossover. Leveraging its BMW DNA, the ’17 X3 trails only the Macan and Jaguar F-Type as the best-driving SUV in the class. It’s solidly built, has above-average cargo space, and a trio of laudable engine choices. The rear-drive sDrive28i and all-wheel-drive xDrive28i use an overachieving turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 240 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. The xDrive35i boasts BMW’s classic inline-six-cylinder, a turbo 3.0-liter with 300 horses and 300 pound-feet of torque. With its 2.0-liter turbodiesel four, the xDrive28d rewards with 280 pound-feet of torque and segment-topping fuel economy. All team with an unassailable eight-speed automatic transmission. Every model comes with a power liftgate, LED fog lamps, automatic climate control, Bluetooth connectivity, and brushed aluminum or real wood interior trim. On the downside, you need to spend extra for premium-strata stuff like leather upholstery, heated seats, full smartphone integration, and imbedded navigation.

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Will the styling be different?

Yes. Some reports claim the ’18 X3 will introduce a new design language for the brand, but spy shots of camouflaged prototypes suggest a sharper-creased evolution of its predecessor. Retaining the traditional twin-kidney grille is a given but it’ll be bracketed by sleeker headlamp housings and complement a fascia with larger, more pronounced air intakes. Anticipate a leaner-looking body with subtly upswept character lines and an airier greenhouse, despite a slightly lower roofline. The recontoured tail will retain a one-piece power liftgate. The all-new interior will adopt many of the cues seen on the newest BMWs, including a digital-biased instrument cluster and a freestanding, tablet-like dashboard infotainment screen. Expect new alloy wheel designs, though likely in the same 18-, 19-, and 20-inch sizes. A plug-in hybrid would probably have subtle aero enhancements, while an M-group variant would wear even more aggressive fasciae front and rear, unique interior trim and seats, and other performance indicators.

Any mechanical changes?

Yes, starting with the new architecture. The 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 promise to build on an already impressive roster of turbocharged engines.

The four-cylinder in the X3 sDrive30i and xDrive30i will again displace 2.0 liters, but it’ll be a smoother-running new member of the company’s TwinPower turbo family, with some 248 horsepower, an increase of 8, and likely the same 258 pound-feet of torque. The xDrive40i’s inline six-cylinder will be the newest iteration of BMW’s TwinPower Turbo 3.0-liter. It remains to be seen whether it’ll reflect the 320 horsepower and 332 pound-feet torque of the 3.0-liter in the 3 Series 340i sedan or the 335 and 369 of the one in the 2 Series M240i coupe and convertible. The performance-tuned X3 probably would debut after the mainline grades, perhaps as a 2018 model. Taking its lead from the X4 M40i, it’d likely be badged the X3 M40i and pack a turbo 3.0-liter six with 355 horsepower and 343 pound-feet of torque. That would be a foil for the 340-horsepower Porsche Macan S and 362-horse Mercedes-AMG GLC43, but a full-on 400-plus-horsepower X3M to take on the 400-horse Porsche Macan Turbo is rumored.

The plug-in hybrid would borrow its powertrain from the X5 xDrive40e. It’d team a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder with electric power for a net 308 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque and have the ability to travel about 13 miles on battery power alone. The transmission for all these models probably will be the automaker’s new nine-speed automatic; no manual will be offered. The rear-wheel-drive sDrive30i targets snow-free markets but most X3s will continue with the company’s well-sorted xDrive all-wheel drive. To preserve BMW’s traditional handling balance, it’s calibrated to maintain a rear-wheel torque bias in normal driving and to shuffle power to the front tires to optimize handling and grip. It should continue with hill-descent control, but won’t acquire genuine off-road capability.

Will fuel economy improve?

Almost certainly for the returning engines and definitely in the case of the plug-in hybrid. The new transmission, curb-weight reductions, slipperier aerodynamics, and a host of mechanical advances will all contribute. The four-cylinder should beat its 2017 counterpart’s EPA ratings of 21/28/24 mpg city/highway/combined with both rear-and all-wheel drive. Expect the six-cylinder to exceed the ‘16’s 19/26/21-mpg rating. And the diesel should eke out a slightly better rating than the outgoing version’s 27/34/30 mpg. Look for an X3 M40i to rate around 18/25/21 mpg city/highway/combined while an X3 xDrive40e should earn a rating of at least 56 mpg-e (equivalent), the EPA’s calculation of the overall mileage equivalency of a gas vehicle that can also run exclusively on electricity.

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Will it have new features?

Yes, primarily in the form of cutting-edge connectivity and autonomous driving. Reports hint of an advanced electrical system to handle the next-wave of safety and infotainment features. Think automatic steering, throttle, and braking. Expect maximum scores again in government crash tests, but introduction of frontal-collision-mitigating autonomous braking to a full stop would help the X3 finally attain coveted Top Safety Pick+ status from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. More robust Internet and Wi-Fi service is probable. And we certainly hope BMW sees fit to equip every ’18 X3 with a rearview backup camera; continuing to make it part of a $950 Driver Assistance Package seems chintzy. LED headlamps should join or replace available xenons. You can again anticipate a plethora of performance and dress-up options, from the brand’s “shadowline” themed M Sport package to a panoramic moonroof. Niceties such as heated seats and steering wheel, even leather upholstery, probably will continue to cost extra.

How will 2018 prices be different?

They’ll increase. Estimated base prices in this review include BMW’s destination fee, which was $995 for the 2017 X3. For ’18, expect the sDrive30i to start around $41,000 and the xDrive30i around $43,000. The xDrive40i is likely to be priced from around $49,500. Estimated base price for the ’18 xDrive28d is around $44,500. The high-performance variant, probably an xDrive M40i, would likely begin around $57,000 and the plug-in-hybrid, likely called the xDrive40e, around $56,000. Count on encountering little difficulty adding $6,000-$8,000 in options to any model to achieve your X3 luxury or performance ideal.

When will it come out?

Expect a 2018 X3 release in early 2017.

Best competitors

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

What change would make it better?

BMW isn’t apt to liberalize 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.

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]