When we inspect a car, we often find ourselves at the mercy of the elements. In the case of the 2018 BMW X3, that’s a good thing. A quick succession of bitter cold, unusually warm (for Chicago), rain, snow, snow, and then more bitter cold over the course of seven days has taught me that the X3 is an excellent cold weather car. The interior heats up very quickly for a car of its size (with a heated steering wheel that’s warm to the touch), handling in snow and ice is exemplary, and it’s a great car if you need to give someone a start. fly. But that’s part of the picture for the X3.
The next generation
The 2018 model year marks the start of the third generation for BMW’s mid-size crossover-slash-SUV. And the X3, with its high driving position, definitely feels like more of an SUV than a crossover.
Externally, there are not many differences between the 2017 and 2018 X3. The 2018 model is two inches longer and a half-inch wider. The added length appears to be between the axles, as the wheelbase is 2.2in (5.6cm) longer this time around. The model we tested, the X3 xDrive30i, sports a turbocharged 2.0L 248hp (185KW), inline four-cylinder engine capable of 258lb-ft (350Nm) of torque. If the four-banger isn’t enough for you, you can upgrade to the M40i, which offers a 3.0L, six-cylinder engine with 355hp (265KW) and 369lb-ft (500Nm) of torque. There’s an eight-speed transmission that responds differently depending on driving mode—and paddle shifters if you want to go the manual route.
The 2018 X3 starts at $42,450, but to make the car fun and enjoyable to drive, you’ll need to stock up on some extras. The Explorer comes with a $2,850 Convenience Package (keyless entry, panoramic moonroof), a $1,300 Parking Package, an $800 Driving Assist and a $1,400 Dynamic Handling Package (which also leaves me without automatic cruise control or lane-keep assist ), and $3,300 premium heated steering wheel, heated seats, satnav, and head-up display). Pile on a few more things (CarPlay compatibility, wireless charging for a Qi-enabled smartphone, and a Harmon Kardon surround sound), and the sticker price is $57,620. And that’s it no pain no gain full driver-assistance package.
In my review of the Audi Q5, I rightfully took some flack from readers for not commenting on how Audi charges a pretty penny for its driver assistance technology. You have to spend $8,000 for the Prestige package in order to pay another $1,800 for the Driver Assistance package. The BMW isn’t really that high, as you can get adaptive cruise control and steering-assist for $2,700 on top of the base model.
That said, it would be great if luxury sedans would do a little more like the Toyotas of the world and make this thing standard. Unfortunately, the xDrive30i I drove didn’t include the Driver Assistance Plus package, so I can’t see how BMW’s technology compares to Audi’s and Alfa Romeo’s. (However, Jonathan Gitlin discusses it a bit in a recent review of the BMW 530e.)
I drive iDrive
The most notable improvement to the X3 from the 2017 model year is iDrive, BMW’s infotainment technology. The X3 comes standard with a 6.5-inch display, which protrudes from the front of the dashboard above the center console. The Premium Package boosts the display to 10.3 inches (and adds the aforementioned heads-up display).
iDrive offers three ways to interact with it. I used the rotary dial and buttons on the center console, just to the right of the gear shift lever, mostly. Pressing it lets you go through menus and menu options; clicking down is equivalent to clicking the mouse. For things like entering an address, you can trace the letters on top of the dial with your finger—a nice touch. There are also buttons above and below the dial that act as shortcuts, including satnav and media. You can still make selections on the touchscreen display if you’re not wearing gloves, but I found it easier to use the dial and buttons, in part because the display is out of reach from my natural sitting position.
Finally, iDrive has a powerful voice assistant, courtesy of Nuance. You can call on it for directions, traffic events, and to make a phone call. If you have CarPlay capability (and it’s an extra $300; there’s no Android Auto support), the voice assistant will turn you into Siri for calls.
I recently took a 2017 X3 for an overnight road trip, and BMW has made some significant improvements to iDrive from last year’s model. The screen is much better, and the graphics are crisper. Although you’ll sometimes have to navigate through three or four layers of UI to get to certain settings, the interior design makes it easy. iDrive defaults into a split-screen layout with radio, phone, and navigation tiles when you turn on the car. You can customize the screen so you can have a GPS map — or anything else — get the whole show with the push of a button.
BMW’s $300 wireless CarPlay support will cost even more. The company plans to charge an annual fee for CarPlay support starting with the 2019 model year, which means you’ll be renting part of the car you otherwise would. If you have an Android smartphone, you are out of luck, as it is not supported by BMW. (And since we’re on the subject of smartphones, BMW offers an $800 wireless charging option, which uses the Qi standard.)
I’m not sold on BMW equipment. It’s a combination of physical and virtual indifference, as you can see in the image above. The panel doesn’t offer much of an old-school analog panel would, aside from the bottom bit, which can display a compass, basic travel information, and fuel capacity. Audi’s way of going all-in with the HD display is an excellent use of space. The rest of the X3’s dashboard looks sharp, even with the wood trim.