If you’ve been around the automotive journalism long enough (and by long enough, I mean like three months in total), you’ll begin to realize that a lot of press vehicles you drive aren’t indicative of what most people actually buy. Most test vehicles have five figures worth of options, with features that at most, an auto journalist will expend 50 words on. Meanwhile, on lots across the country, most dealers probably have one or two very loaded cars which end up being discounted heavily towards the end of the quarter.
My experience of full-optioned press cars had to do with a silver BMW 335i xDrive Gran Turismo at a local auto journalist event. While the base price of the car was $47,775, this car had almost $12,000 in options, or enough to buy an E36 M3 in good condition. “Let’s give it the more powerful engine, all-wheel-drive, the dynamic handling package, and the M Sport package” the person in charge of configuring the 3-Series GT must have thought, “at least auto journalists will say it handled very well and forget about the styling.” This car even had head-up display and the $650 M Sport brakes.
Even when I was searching for road tests of the X3 online, I good majority were reviews of the powerful xDrive35i version or for the new diesel model. So when I had access to a 2015 X3 xDrive28i for a few days, I leapt at the opportunity to write a review on it, because it was the version most X3 buyers purchased.
Now, this 2015 BMW X3 xDrive28i that I’m writing about is not a vehicle designated for press people. In fact, it belongs to my dad, and while he chose the color combination, I chose most of the options. As a result, I can’t blame whoever specs BMW’s press vehicles. So the fact it doesn’t have the navigation system, which saves me a paragraph describing it? My fault. That it doesn’t have heated seats? My lapse. The fact that it doesn’t have parking sensors or a rear-view camera? My bad. The fact that I still don’t know what the $500 “Enhanced USB/Bluetooth with Smartphone Integration” option does? I really need to get on that.
As for the things I am proud of, it’s the Deep Sea Blue exterior color and Oyster color interior. (A quick note on the Oyster leather: it’s surprisingly easy to stain, so be careful when wearing jeans or leaving a pen on the seat.) This one also has the Premium Package with a massive moonroof and keyless entry, the xenon lights, and the Harman/Kardon sound system. And all of it was available at an MSRP south of $50K.
Before reading the rest of the review, you might think, “He must have recommended this car to his dad if he’s writing about it! This is totally going to be a love story about the X3!” Believe it or not, I recommended the Jeep Grand Cherokee Ecodiesel, as a very well-equipped one came in easily under $50,000, got good fuel mileage, and I thought it handled very well for its size. But my dad drove it and dismissed it as too big.
Other cars considered were Lexus RX (too soccer mom-ish), Toyota 4Runner (too truck-ish), Toyota Highlander (this is for replacing the minivan). The Mercedes GLK, Audi Q5, and Range Rover Evoque were dismissed as my dad is a BMW person. (For background, the man kept an E39 530i running for 13 years, which is two more than the 1990 Accord he had.) I don’t think he drove any of those alternatives, and neither have I, so I won’t definitively say the X3 is the best out of all those alternatives.
First, I’ll focus on the interior, which is about the same size as the interior of the first-generation X5. It’s a pleasant place with chrome accents and wood trim in the right places. The Oyster interior helps considerably too. The cupholders are usable, which is important when coming from a car in which both cupholders (if you can call them those) are broken. The panoramic moonroof that’s part of the Premium package was great for the scenic photos when driving down Highway 1. In fact, the X3 managed to easily fit five adults and their luggage for a weekend. Moreover, the Harmon/Kardon sound system is a pretty good upgrade from the normal sound system.
However, if you’re over 6”3’, more than 200 pounds, and might need a third seat, don’t consider the X3. Otherwise, when sitting in the driver’s seat, your head will hit the ceiling and you’ll probably find the seat not wide enough. Additionally, while I wrote in the last paragraph that the X3 could seat 3 full-size adults, just make sure the cumulative weight doesn’t exceed 500 pounds. And if you’re a family of four who takes their dog with them on road trips, the X3 is not your car.
Though the options list is long, there’s surprisingly (for a BMW) a lot of standard features. The storage package, which includes cargo nets, a collapsible cargo box, and a reversible mat, is standard. So is the automatic climate control. Even the ambient lighting that I praised is standard. The tailgate and side mirrors are power-operated. However, the tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel is not power-operated, which coming from the 530i, was a disappointment.
Whenever I discuss the exterior, I generally don’t focus too much on styling. But the X3 was facelifted for the 2015 model year, with most of the differences being on the front clip, with the headlights that connect to the grille. BMW offers two appearance packages: the xLine package and the M Sport body kit. Personally, I don’t like the look of the M Sport package (or sport packages in general), while the xLine has the silver trim bits for the faux off-roader look, which I don’t mind. There are also turn signals on the side mirrors. One thing I did like was the exterior lighting beneath the door handles when getting into the car. BMW got the ambient lighting very, very right. Also, the X3 comes with the foot sensor as standard
Regarding performance, I didn’t push the X3 to its limits because a) it belongs to my dad and not BMW of North America, and b) it has less than 1400 miles on the odometer so the drivetrain still needed to be broken in. It has a 2.0-liter inline-four with a twin-scroll turbo that makes about 240 hp. According the BMW website, it can go from 0 to 60 mph in 6.2 seconds, which is quicker than the 530i it’s replacing. On the highway, I never found myself complaining about lack of power, even when it was fully loaded with five people. If you need something faster, the xDrive35i with 300 horsepower is about $5,000 more.
I briefly played with the different powertrain modes, which were: Comfort, Sport, and Eco Pro. Eco Pro makes the X3 rear-drive only and ensures the transmission is in the highest gear possible for the best mileage. I found myself using it in high traffic situations, where quick throttle response wasn’t needed. Sport mode sharpened up throttle response, but I found myself never using it and suspect most owners won’t either. Usually I drove the X3 in its default mode, Comfort, in which I didn’t need to press the throttle closer to the floor and when all-wheel-drive was on.
For those of you contemplating the diesel version of the 2015 X3 (the xDrive28d model), I considered that one too. In fact, I even put a deposit on one until we were informed that Hawaii (no joke!) was allocated the last X3 diesel build slots for a 2014 delivery. However, since the diesel is $1,500 more expensive and the price of premium gas has gone down significantly, the normal xDrive28i is a viable alternative. Also, my dad test drove the diesel X3 (while I was in the back seat playing with the air vents) and found the power deficit noticeable compared to the normal version and noisy at lower speeds.
Ultimately, if you have $50,000 to spend on a luxury five-passenger crossover, you can’t go wrong with the X3. When we were buying the X3 at the end of last year, it became easier to find a 7-Series in a dealer’s inventory in Northern California than any version of the X3. It was even easier to find an Audi S4 than an X3. They’re that popular. So BMW must be doing something right with the X3 (or they’re exporting more abroad for higher profits, or the X4 took up a good portion of the assembly line) that people are snapping them up left and right.
In the end, I understand why. The xDrive28i is surprisingly well-priced as long as you don’t go overboard with the options. It handles nicely, can accelerate quickly, has a pleasant interior, has four years of free maintenance, and can take a lot of cargo. My dad, and not me, made an excellent decision, and neither of us have any regrets. Except for the “Enhanced USB/Bluetooth with Smartphone Integration” option. I still haven’t figured that one out.