By Barbara & Bill Schaffer
BMW’s entry into the small SUV category, or as BMW prefers, Sports Activity Vehicle (SAV), is the highly regarded X3 model. Since it was launched in 2003, the premium compact has chalked up nearly 400,000 sales in the U.S. market and 1.5 million worldwide.
The 2018 model is all new and moves the X3 in the third generation with evolutionary design elements that enhance the looks with a more rugged off-road demeanor. The size remains the same, however the wheelbase has been extended by 2.2-inches. Like most of the BMW models the X3 has a perfect 50:50 weight distribution between the front and rear axles.
The new front fascia centers on a muscular “three-dimensional” kidney grille flanked by fog lights, LED daytime running lights and the optional Adaptive LED headlights. Aerodynamics are improved by underbody cladding, active shutters on the grille and the downward-sloping rear roof spoiler with Aero Blades on the sides.
We recently spent a week driving the 2018 BMW X3 M40i, which it BMW’s first M version of the X3. M Performance models encompass much more than putting a more powerful engine under the hood. The M models use a specially developed chassis with reduced unsprung mass, sophisticated kinematics and optimum weight distribution.
The standard X3 twin turbo 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine (248 hp) is replaced by a 355 hp, twin turbocharged 3.0-liter in-line six-cylinder engine. It’s attached to the excellent eight-speed automatic Steptronic Sport Transmission which has steering wheel-mounted shift paddles and a launch control function designed to produce outstanding acceleration times. BMW says 0 to 60 mph takes only 4.6 seconds. The top speed is limited to 155 mph. The M40i is only available with all-wheel drive, while the 30i can be ordered with rear- or all-wheel drive. The Intelligent AWD management constantly adjusts the torque bias as the driving situation demands ensuring optimum driving dynamics.
The EPA rates M40i fuel economy at 20 mpg city, 27 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined. The trip computer on our test vehicle showed an average of 22.4 mpg during the week we drove it.
The M Sports suspension, which is standard on the M40i model, adds firmer suspension (springs, dampers and anti-roll bars). An optional Adaptive M Suspension offers electronically controlled dampers and even sportier suspension settings. The driver can vary suspension setting using the Driving Dynamics Control toggle switch mounted on the center console. The standard variable sport steering from the BMW X3 M40i is optionally available on the BMW X3 xDrive30i model.
The BMW X3 M40i seems best suited for quick on road driving, but it’s nice to know that it’s equally at home off road. It has eight inches of clearance, short approach and departure angles and can ford water up to 19.6 inches deep. It’s also the first BMW SAV in the U.S. to have a factory installed trailer hitch which can easily be adapted for bike racks and other accessories.
There is a broad array of electronic driver aids including an Electric Parking Brake Driving Stability Control, Anti-lock Braking System, Dynamic Traction Control, Automatic Differential Brake, Cornering Brake Control, Dynamic Brake Control, Start-Off Assistant, Performance Control, and Hill Descent Control.
Other electronic aids include Active Cruise Control with Stop & Go capabilities, Active Blind Spot Protection, Lane Departure Warning, Daytime Pedestrian Protection, Frontal Collision Warning with City Collison Mitigation, Cross Traffic Alert, and Speed Limit Info (Navigation system required). The Driving Assistant Plus Package offers Active Lane Keeping Assistant with Side Collision Avoidance, Traffic Jam Assistant, Evasion Aid & Cross Traffic alert front and rear.
The BMW X3 is available in three models: X3 sDrive30i (four-cylinder turbo rear-wheel drive), X3 xDrive30i (four-cylinder turbo all-wheel drive) and the X3 M40i all-wheel drive. The X3 Drive 30i models are in three equipment tiers: Convenience, Premium and Executive. The three models have a base price of are $41,995, $44,845 and $55,495 respectively, including the destination charge. All the available options can take the price of the M40i to more than $65,000.
Shoppers with a larger budget looking for a small SUV can’t go wrong with the 2018 BMW X3 M40i. We like the smaller size, the excellent performance and handling and the appointments. It lives up the BMW’s promise of being the Ultimate Driving Machine.