The 2016 BMW X3 manages to keep just the right stride in the crossover market, offering a strong combination of style, practicality, and safety, with loads of technology options, a responsive driving experience, and fuel efficiency that's surprisingly good. For families and all their daily needs, it's a great pick.
At face value, it satisfies the image-conscious in some of the same ways as the related 3-Series sedan, while granting drivers more passenger space. Just don't expect the X3 to look rugged or outdoorsy—it doesn't. Instead, it looks lean, pert, and graceful, like a tall sport wagon—but with just enough visually in common with the larger X5. Inside, the X5 is elegant but soft, calming, and decluttered—actually blending a driver-centric cockpit feel with the brand's warmer interior look.
Last year, the X3 received a mid-cycle refresh, bringing a set of significant changes, as well as some new variants in the model lineup, while for the most part preserving all the fundamentals. New twin-circular headlights (with optional LED lamps) were the most noticeable part of it, plus a more flamboyant version of the BMW kidney grille, exterior mirrors with integrated signal lamps, and some other minor changes to the front and rear appearance. Inside, the X3 manages to be elegant but soft, calming, and decluttered—actually blending a driver-centric cockpit feel with the brand's warmer interior look.
Otherwise, the BMW X3 family continues with its all-turbocharged engine lineup, including the new TwinPower 4-cylinder that makes 240 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. It's the perkiest and most V-6-like of the current crop of German turbo fours, and moves the X3 with no hesitation, foot to the floor. Last year heralded the arrival of a rear-wheel-drive sDrive28i model, for those in warmer-weather climates, that should be even a bit more spirited for the lack of all-wheel-drive weight.
There's also now a xDrive28d model, packing BMW's punchy 2.0-liter TwinPower turbocharged diesel 4-cylinder. It makes 180 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque (with maximum twist available from just 1,750 rpm), the diesel X3 can hit 60 mph in under eight seconds.
With the xDrive35i, you get a 300-hp, 300 lb-ft TwinPower inline-6 that sizzles to a 60-mph acceleration time of 5.5 seconds, and to a top speed of 150 mph. As we've noted in repeated drives of various X3 variants, it's all a little disconcerting how agile and athletic this vehicle can feel—because the seating height is so tall, yet it lacks the squat, nosedive, and excess motions that in this class are quite common.
All X3 versions except for that base sDrive28i come with BMW's xDrive all-wheel drive system, which splits power delivery 40/60 percent. It sends 60 percent of torque to the rear wheels in normal driving but can flex to send 100 percent to the rear; we've found it is especially good for maintaining traction and poise when the road surface is slippery.
You should focus in on the X3 especially if back-seat space, cargo space, and overall versatility are priorities in an upscale crossover. The X3 is sized in the vicinity of models like the Mercedes-Benz GLC, Audi Q5, Volvo XC60, and Cadillac SRX, but it seems to package in a little more usable space than many of the other entries.
With seating for five, the X3 has 19 cubic feet of rear storage area that swells to 56.6 cubic feet when the rear seats are folded down. The rear seats now all have a ski pass-through and 40/20/40 segments for better flexibility and seat back folding. In back, there's space carved out for feet, under the front seat, and headroom soars. We recommend the sport seats in front for their extendable thigh bolsters and more aggressive side bolstering; they may feel firmer at first but they're better in long-distance support. Throughout the cabin, BMW has paid close attention to the details.
The X3's standard-equipment list is quite good on its own, and if you can hold back on some of those other high-test options, you get a lot, including a power tailgate; dynamic cruise control; power front seats; automatic climate control; a garage-door opener; fog lamps; rain-sensing wipers; Bluetooth calling and audio connectivity; and an audio system with 205 watts of power, 12 speakers, HD and satellite radio, and a USB port.
For 2016, a new Enhanced USB and Bluetooth connectivity kit bring mobile-office capability, Bluetooth sync for a second phone, and voice control for contacts and music. And X3 xDrive35i models get the Harman Kardon surround sound system.
Many of the desirable extras are in major packages. The Technology Package brings many of the top-tech items, including navigation, the head-up display, real-time traffic info, Remote Services, and BMW Apps. Then there's a Cold Weather Package that brings a heated steering wheel, heated front seats, heated rear seats, and headlight washers, while the Dynamic Handling Package includes the Dynamic Damper Control and variable sport steering.
There's no X3 M, but the M Sport does a long way toward looking the part, with a unique aerodynamic package, high-gloss Shadow Line trim, a choice of six paint hues, and two exclusive 19-inch or 20-inch alloy wheel options; the interior of the X3 M Sport gets an Anthracite roof liner, sport seats, and other M-bred touches.
EPA ratings for the xDrive28i now land at an impressive 21 mpg city, 28 highway, 24 combined. Rear-drive sDrive28i models earn the same numbers. The 300-horsepower xDrive35i earns 19/27/22 mpg highway ratings, while it's the new diesel model, the xDrive28d, that's the efficiency leader in the lineup at 27/34/30 mpg highway.