Purchasing a BMW is often considered a sign of status. It’s ownership of a sedan, sports car or sport utility vehicle possessing superior qualities on the open road.
The luxury carmaker offers vehicles, including the newly designed 2018 BMW X3, that uniquely ease the burdens of highway commutes and long hauls across state borders. It’s what Bavarian Motor Works has always done well.
But the once-dominant German manufacturer has increasingly been challenged by automakers wanting more of a share of the SUV sales deluge. Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, Jaguar, Alfa Romeo, Audi, Infiniti and Acura all have debuted worthy offerings in recent years.
With sales down, BMW altered the X3 for 2018. Changes include a longer wheelbase and a three-bumper opening, one less than offered one year ago. Separate fog lights are gone in favor of a one unit light panel. Eighteen-inch alloy wheels are standard, but wheel options are available up to 21 inches.
The four-door hatchback BMW X3 begins with an attractive starting price, 42,450. A 2.0-liter, 16-valve, twin-powered turbo inline four-cylinder, front-drive engine with 248 horsepower is matched with an eight-speed automatic transmission.
Manual and sport mode shifting is included as are steering wheel paddle shifters. All-wheel drive is standard. Gas mileage averages are 22 miles per gallon in the city and 29 miles per gallon in freeway driving.
The engine mechanics marriage is the SUV’s strong point. Acceleration isn’t immediately swift but the turbo then kicks, and the X3 then impresses and advances occupants in style and comfort. The Alfa Romeo and Infiniti Q50 are quicker. But the X3 achieves the 0-60 miles per hour standard in 6.3 seconds. It’s a satisfactory pace for most driving circumstances except for the performance-obsessed.
Overall, the driver’s and passengers’ experiences combine a welcoming atmosphere, adequate seating for five large digital displays in a modern gauge cluster. The car is quiet.
The premium package includes a vast collection of technology features. But there’s little sense of technology overload with features requiring an advanced engineering degree to operate. The head-up display is equally impressive. It projects full-color details of highway off-ramps and top-down views of intersections.
The navigation system is the best in the industry and it showcases its functions on a 10.3-inch display. It works via BMW’s Drive system controls or touchscreen. Smartphone and smartwatch and Amazon Echo compatibility are available, but not Android Auto. Harmon Kardon supplies the stereo system, but it’s marginal for the size and prestige of the car it occupies.
Cargo space isn’t impressive. The manufacturer lists 28.7 cubic feet behind the back seats. The BMW’s 40-20-40 split-folding rear seat reclines but doesn’t slide, and with the back seats folded, cargo space expands to 62.7 cubic feet.
The SUV’s interior is a combination of attractively grained plastics and oak wood trim (part of the $3,300 premium package) and soft leather (a $1,700 upgrade). Price additions in five packages, a few individual mark-ups, and a standard destination fee boosted my review vehicle’s out-the-door tally to $57,470. That’a $15,000 boost that warrants a long pause. A $2,500 convenience package includes keyless entry, panoramic sunroof, lumbar support and a SiriusXM radio subscription.
In addition to its hefty price, two annoyances hamper the BMW’s otherwise overall attractiveness. The manufacturer charges $300 charge for Apple CarPlay. It’s standard on vehicles like a Chevrolet Spark and Volkswagen Golf.
More problematic is the odd, teardrop-shaped shifter. It’s creative but inefficient to maneuver around the gearbox. Considering BMW’s reputation, it’s a feature the manufacturer should have gotten right.