I’ve had a string of BMW vehicles to test out, which has been really fun as I don’t often get behind the wheel of this well-known premium German brand. BMW, in case you don’t know, stands for Bayerische Motoren Werke AG or, in a happy coincidence of translation, Bavarian Motor Works. The company was actually founded in 1916 and started out making aircraft engines, of all things. The first BMW vehicle wheeled out of the factory in the early 1930’s, actually a rebranded Dixi Austin Seven. But that’s another story. Suffice to say that in the modern era, BMW has always taken its “ultimate driving machine” slogan seriously and the cars have always been high performance with inspiration from racing vehicles, tight, road hugging suspensions and zippy engines to offer up, well, a fun driving experience.
I reviewed the 2021 BMW 330e plug-in hybrid but found that while the drive was fun, the car wasn’t actually that comfortable for a tall driver. I’ve become less a fan of sedans and much more appreciative of the room and better design of SUVs. That comfort is one reason that SUVs are such a popular category of vehicle throughout the world at this point, I’m sure. BMW kindly offered me a chance to drive one of their SUV style vehicles as a comparison, and so I found myself behind the wheel of a terrific 2020 BMW X3 xDrive30e M-Sport. It’s also a plug-in hybrid, so has a lot of the same odd design limitations of the 330E, including a best-case EV range of about 21 miles. Why bother with the plug-in tech for such a short range?
Having said that, I really enjoyed driving this luxury SUV and found that this model resolved a number of the other issues I had with the 330e sedan. Most notably, it was more comfortable with its higher seat and commensurate changes in design. You can see above that it has the electric charger plug door just above the driver’s wheel: The gasoline intake is behind the rear passenger wheel. It’s not like you could mistake the two, however!
The engine is a surprisingly modest 2.0L TwinPower Turbo inline 4-cylinder with integrated all wheel drive, but particularly when in sport mode, the X3 can really zip along. There are three driving modes, as you can see with the buttons on the center console:
The three modes are Sport, Comfort and Eco Pro. I generally am a less demanding driver so mostly had it in Eco Pro mode, which produced okay, but not astonishing fuel efficiency once the 21 mile EV charge was consumed. Prior to that, of course, the car is able to run in all-electric mode, and if your daily commute was under 20mi, you could likely go weeks and weeks without needing to add any gasoline to the vehicle. Nice!
But what is that fuel efficiency? You can see on this display:
My fuel efficiency while using electric is 99.9 mpg (really it’s infinite, but who’s counting) then part of the trip required the gasoline engine, meaning that overall I saw a 46.0 mpg fuel consumption rate. You can see on the graph, though, that it’s all about that battery and the EV mode. I know, since it is a factor, it’s only fair to count the electric mode into the equation, so it is indeed reasonable to praise its 46mpg for this journey!
Below that you can see big, central air vents. Below that is a CD player / audio control strip with 7 input presets. Along the bottom are environmental controls, always important and doubly so in cold weather. But BMW surprised me there, with some really slick conditional settings for seat and steering wheel warmer:
In other words, when the outside temperature is below 40F automatically turn on the seat heater for the driver, and if it’s below 32F then turn on the steering wheel heater too. Very impressive, I want this sort of conditional setting option on my car too!
The overall front driver’s cockpit design is surprisingly simple (for a modern car, at least):
I know you’re admiring the beautiful seats. This interior color scheme is known as Cognac Vernasca Leather with contrast stitching and the dashboard shows off Fineline Cave Matte Finish Wood Trim too. The outside color is Dark Graphite Metallic, by the way, not black. The combo is quite beautiful and when people looked into the interior they were quite impressed. It looks and feels luxurious, for sure.
The one thing that surprised me with the dashboard and gauge layout, however, was the extremely limited options for the center of the main gauge display. In the above you can see it’s black, but you can basically choose between that and a map insert. I feel like there was some secret way to have other options for engine components, fuel consumption or similar, but the Settings certainly didn’t offer additional choices. Perhaps an X3 owner can comment below on what other options I could have switched between?
As has become quite normal now, the BMW X3 xDrive30e has a clean and useful heads up display:
This is really the kind of simple tech that seems a bit goofy if you’ve never tried it but then quickly becomes a huge win if you actually like to keep track of your speed and the current speed limit as you drive. I’ve been a fan for years, though do think that this is probably about as much information as I’d want displayed to ensure I don’t focus on that instead of the situation around me.
Being an SUV format, the X3 also has more storage capacity than its sedan brethren, as is clearly obvious:
Yes you can fold down the second row if you’re so inclined, but even without it, there’s plenty of space for sports gear, lots of shopping, or whatever else you like to load up in your vehicle. Notice that the tonneau cover is also part of the configuration. I really don’t get why it isn’t standard for all car manufacturers, actually.
And finally, another exterior view:
For the first time in my driving experience, I had New Jersey plates! Definitely a long drive from New Jersey to Colorado, but the vehicle was still in pristine condition, as you can see.
Truth be told, I really enjoyed driving the X3 and while I would like to try the larger X5 too, this was a really sweet luxury and sporty SUV from a company with a wonderful reputation for driver-centric vehicle design. While in Eco Plus mode the pickup from zero was a bit wanting, switching into Sport mode fixed that problem and put me into a comfortable SUV that drove really well, handled tight corners and offered a really good road feel while in motion. Would I prefer to see the EV system offer 30 miles as a daily range instead of 21? Yes. The average daily drive is 25mi, after all. But even without it, there’s really a lot to like with the 2020 BMW X3 xDrive30e. It’s definitely worth checking out before you purchase your next SUV.
CONFIGURATION: 2020 BMW X3 xDrive30e M-Sport plug-in hybrid in Dark Graphite Metallic and Cognac Vernasca Leather. MSRP: $48,550. Options included Driving Assistance Package, Driving Assistance Plus Package, Dynamic Handling Package, Executive Package and Harman-Kardan surround sound system. AS DRIVEN: $65,020.00.
Disclosure: BMW kindly loaned me the X3 for a week of driving in return for this writeup. Thanks BMW!