It's funny to think of a BMW SUV as an almost default choice in a segment, but the 2021 BMW X3 sure seems like exactly that. With a diverse range of models including the mass-volume xDrive30i, the plug-in hybrid xDrive30e and uber-performance X3 M, BMW's compact crossover represents a good place to start regardless of your needs, wants and expectations. There's even the X4 "coupe" version for those willing to sacrifice some practicality (and dollars) for a different look.
Now, besides offering greater variety than anything in the segment apart from the Mercedes GLC, the X3 is also well-rounded with an agreeable balance of ride comfort and handling acumen, a high-quality and competitively spacious interior, and superlative powertrains that boast compelling acceleration and surprising efficiency. If there's an obvious downside, it's that the X3 costs more than most competitors and it's not entirely clear what you get for the extra cash. And, although this is certainly a subjective observation, BMW's compact crossover just doesn't seem as special or distinctive as some of its competitors. It's hardly a looker on the outside, and the interior isn't as overtly luxurious in appearance. This BMW also is far from the segment's ultimate driving machine. But sometimes losing one's distinction is the price paid for success and ubiquity.
What's new for 2021?
The X3 now comes standard with forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking and lane-departure warning, features previously optional but that many competitors included. Android Auto is finally also standard, having not been available at all, as is satellite radio. Pricing goes up by $1,050 for the 30i and 30e models, but remains the same for the X3 M. And in a blow to earth tones, the X3 is no longer available in Dark Olive or Terra Brown. Only a token Phytonic Blue remains to break up the grayscale monotony of three shades of black, two whites and two shades of gray.
What's the X3 interior and in-car technology like?
The BMW X3’s interior boasts an attractive, clean design and is assembled with premium materials. However, even when extensively optioned, it doesn’t quite rise to the obvious luxury you’ll see in a Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class, the ultra-cool modern design of the Volvo XC60, nor the futuristic spaceship aesthetic of an Acura RDX. Frankly, it's a bit dull. At least the colorful flourishes of the X3 M (the smaller photos above) manage to spruce things up.
BMW offers three-zone climate control, eight-way power front seats with memory, and a 10.25-inch infotainment system as standard equipment. All models use the previous-generation of BMW’s iDrive infotainment system redundantly controlled by touchscreen or a center console knob. Despite not offering the latest-and-greatest iDrive 7 found in the BMW 3 Series and other newer models, you're not really missing out on much in terms of functionality. This system is also perfectly competitive in the luxury space. Agreeably, Android Auto finally joins Apple CarPlay as standard equipment.
The base upholstery is synthetic leather (typical for luxury brands), but leather can be optioned from the base sDrive30i model on up, and special variants such as the M models get unique interior options to further set them apart from their peers. BMW’s front seats offer ample support and adjustment and can be had with both heating and ventilation; rear seat heaters and a heated steering wheel are also available.
How big is the X3?
The BMW X3 has been a key player in the compact luxury CUV/SUV space from the very beginning, and along with the Audi Q5, has helped shape the segment as it exists today. Like its European competitors, it boasts a wheelbase roughly as long as a typical midsize family sedan’s and offers ample passenger and cargo room.
The rear seats are roomy and comfortable, and the available cargo space behind the second row is competitive, though not class-leading; the x30e model makes do with less due to the placement of its fuel tank beneath the rear load floor.
Those who want something the size of the X3 but would prefer a less conventional look (and don’t mind the accompanying hit to practicality) should check out the BMW X4, which is the X3’s coupe-like mechanical twin.
What are the performance and fuel economy?
The base sDrive30i and xDrive30i are powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four making 248 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. The sDrive models are rear-wheel drive; xDrive denotes all-wheel drive. Every X3 has an eight-speed automatic transmission. The sDrive30i is rated at 25 mpg city, 29 mpg highway and 27 mpg combined; xDrive models are rated at 23/29/25. BMW estimates zero-to-60-mph times of 6 seconds for both.
The next step up is the X3 M40i (pictured below), which uses BMW’s glorious 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six, which makes 382 hp and 365 lb-ft of torque. This turbo-six is paired to standard all-wheel drive. This model is EPA rated at 21/27/23 mpg. Its 0-60 time quickens to a scant 4.4 seconds.
From here, the line diverges. Those who want an efficient, electrified model can opt for the xDrive30e plug-in hybrid, which offers 288 total system horsepower and a 0-60 time of 5.9 seconds. BMW indicates an electric range of 17 miles, which seems paltry and perhaps it is, but is consistent with its plug-in hybrid crossover rivals. We also managed to eke out 20.9 miles, and like all plug-in hybrids, how much you're able to drive using that electric range is key. Those with shorter commutes will rarely need to fill up. Once the EV range is depleted, you can expect an also-competitive 24 mpg combined.
Those who want performance, well, you’re in for a treat. BMW offers a high-output X3 M variant (pictured below) with 473 hp and 443 lb-ft of torque from the same basic 3.0-liter turbo-six. Its 0-60 time is just 4.1 seconds. If that’s not quite enough, the Competition package bumps the power figure up to 503. All-wheel drive is again standard. The downside is that the X3 M is rated at 14/19/16 mpg, which is not good.
What's the X3 like to drive?
The X3 is generally pleasant and even fun to drive. The 30i variant may not have the zip of the various M-branded X3 models, but it is torquey enough for everyday driving and we found it to be quiet, smooth and undramatic. The step-up X3 M40i possesses that quintessential verve, poise and overall feel we've all come to expect from a BMW. The electric-assisted steering remains a letdown as it's disappointingly devoid of feel, but the throttle is very responsive and the chassis is willing.
The 30e offers the same refined — even fun — experience of its non-hybrid siblings. It is available with the same performance-oriented options offered on other X3 variants and delivers brisk acceleration all the way up to highway speeds. Only when the battery is being aggressively depleted does its performance suffer.
Unfortunately, models with the sport suspension option (including the M40i) come with a firm ride that could easily get tiresome for owners who spend most of their time tooling around a city with poorly patched pavement. The X3 M and M Competition models are more tolerable in this regard as their performance-first mission will likely appeal to drivers who prefer a sharper overall feel at the expense of comfort, and thanks to the X3 M’s adaptive suspension, it can be rendered reasonably docile when a keener edge isn’t necessary. We recommend BMW’s available adaptive dampers if you want to both explore the X3’s performance limits and preserve your vital organs.
We’ve been less impressed with BMW’s adaptive cruise control. While it incorporates some handy features, such as an optional semi-autonomous traffic jam mode, it’s still not as responsive as we’d like for normal operation.
What more can I read about the BMW X3?
2020 BMW X3 xDrive30e First Drive
Our review of the new X3 plug-in hybrid, the xDrive30e. Given the tax rebates that effectively erase its price premium, it sure seems like the X3 to get for those who don't put a priority on max performance.
2018 BMW X3 xDrive30i Road Test
Our review of the most popular X3 model, the xDrive30i. Note that despite being older model years, the cars reviewed here and below all belong to the current generation and our impressions remain broadly applicable.
2019 BMW X4 First Drive Review
Want styling zest? Consider the X4, which is just an X3 with a sleeker roofline, less space and a higher price.
2020 BMW X4 M Competition Review
For a taste of what the X3 M provide, check out of X4 M review. The driving experience should be identical, but the interior more practical.
Comparison test: BMW X3 vs Acura RDX, Audi Q5, Mercedes GLC and Volvo XC60
We drove them back-to-back and picked our favorites. Note that all but the Acura have received updates since this was done, but again, our impressions remain broadly the same.
What features are available and what's the price?
Pricing starts at $43,995 for the 2021 BMW X3 sDrive30i, including the $995 destination charge. The all-wheel-drive xDrive30i tacks on $2,000. The plug-in hybrid adds $6,600 but is eligible for a $5,836 federal tax credit plus additional state credits (where applicable) and will save you money long-term at the pump.
Standard features highlights for all of the above include 18-inch wheels, LED headlights, front and rear parking sensors, power folding and heated side mirrors, a power liftgate, three-zone climate control, eight-way power front seats, driver memory settings, SensaTec vinyl upholstery, a 12-speaker audio system, the 10.25-inch iDrive touchscreen infotainment system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The M40i sport tunes most key mechanical elements, including the all-wheel-drive system, steering and suspension, brakes and the adaptive suspension. It also features a more aggressive looks and gains more standard equipment. Basically, the same can be said of the X3 M, but all to an even greater degree.
The bulk of options come within the Convenience, Premium and Executive packages. There are also a handful of stand-alone options, so BMW has maintained some degree of customizability. A more complete breakdown of features, specs and local pricing here on Autoblog.
What are its safety equipment and crash ratings?
For 2021, the X3 now comes standard with key accident avoidance technologies: forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection, and lane-departure warning. The Driver Assistance Plus package increases the speed range of that forward-collision mitigation system and adds adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability, lane-keeping assist and blind-spot warning.
The X3 received top five-star ratings from the government for its overall, frontal and side crash protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave it the best-possible ratings for crash protection and crash protection. Standard headlights get a "Marginal" ratings, while the Executive package's upgrades get the best-possible "Good" rating.