2021 BMW X3 Review

This crossover leaves a memorable impression with its robust powerplants and keen handling

Warren Clarke
Contributor
PROS
  • Multiple potent engine choices
  • Leading fuel economy
  • M-models offer thrills
CONS
  • Exterior styling doesn't stand out from competition
  • Packages and options can add up quickly
  • Big engine comes tied to multiple features

The 2021 BMW X3 is a compact luxury crossover SUV that seats five passengers. The X3, which made its debut with the 2004 model, is currently in its third generation that was launched in 2018. Today’s X3 gives buyers a choice between a turbocharged inline 4-cylinder, a turbocharged inline 4-cylinder with an integrated electric motor (hybrid), and a twin-turbocharged inline 6-cylinder engine. Rear-wheel drive is standard, but BMW’s all-wheel-drive system, which is marketed as xDrive, is optional. 2021 BMW X3 pricing starts around $43,000. 

X3 Exterior

The compact luxury crossover genre is more popular than ever, and growing, which encourages carmakers to innovate to get attention. If you’re a fan of BMW’s design language, you’ll likely appreciate the X3’s styling cues. The crossover’s sheet metal bears many of the design elements seen in other BMW models. BMW’s signature grille leads the way up front, overlooked by a sharply creased hood. The X3 is based on BMW’s Cluster Architecture (CLAR) platform, which is the same one used by the 3 Series; with its steeply raked windshield and sculpted lines, the X3 is just as sporty-looking as its 3 Series sedan sibling. The current X3 was crafted by Australian designer Calvin Luk, who also penned the most recent 1 Series facelift. 

Base models ride on 18-inch Y-spoke wheels and arrive with features including roof rails, a roof spoiler and heated power-folding side mirrors. The list of available exterior options includes a panoramic sunroof and adaptive headlights.

X3 Interior

Modernity rules within the X3’s cabin. A 10.25-inch touchscreen rises from the center stack to hold court over the interior. The buttons and knobs that grace the center stack look up-to-date and contemporary, and we’re fans of the way the center stack’s air vents blend with the car’s HVAC and stereo controls (the design gives the cabin the look of a spaceship’s cockpit). Standard SensaTec synthetic leather or optional Vernasca leather (with contrast stitching) interior upholstery provide luxury look and feel.

The X3 is fitted with a 12.3-inch digital instrument panel that can be configured to the driver’s preference. It is upgraded to Live Cockpit Professional on X3 M40i and X3 xDrive30e. A full-color head-up display (HUD) is available. The BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant can be summoned by saying “Hey, BMW” or with a personal activation word. SiriusXM is standard on all X3 models, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available (standard on M40i and xDrive30e). The X3 gets iDrive 7, the latest version of BMW’s interface, which responds to a rotary controller in the center console, steering wheel controls, touchscreen inputs, voice commands, or a combination of inputs.

The X3’s interior is pleasantly spacious. There’s generous legroom in the second row — enough to give leggy passengers plenty of room to stretch their limbs. 

The X3 also delivers when it comes to cargo space. You’ll find 28.7 cubic feet of room for your belongings with all seats in place. When you flip down the rear seats, cargo capacity expands to 62.7 cubic feet. Those numbers make the X3 one of the roomiest picks in its class, with more cargo space than many close rivals and it’s capable of towing up to 4,400 pounds. 

2021 BMW X3

X3 Powertrain

X3 buyers can choose between three very capable powertrains. The standard model features a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine (248 hp/258 lb-ft of torque). The second engine in the lineup is a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder powerplant (382 hp/365 lb-ft of torque in M40i, 473 hp/442 lb-ft of torque in M). 

A plug-in hybrid (PHEV) powertrain comes with the X3 xDrive30e. It uses a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine and an electric traction motor mounted within the transmission housing. The combined gasoline/electric system (288 hp/310 lb-ft of torque) works together and can run on battery power alone up to speeds of 84 mph. The vehicle has a range of up to 18 miles on electricity alone.  

An 8-speed automatic transmission drives the action on all three powertrains. Rear-wheel drive (RWD) is standard on the X3 sDrive30i model, and all-wheel drive (AWD) is standard on “xDrive” models. 

According to EPA estimates, the X3 gets gas mileage of up to 27 mpg combined with the base engine. The optional 6-cylinder powerplant gets mileage of up to 23 mpg combined. With the base engine, the X3 is one of the most fuel-efficient crossovers in its class (even more efficient is the X3 xDrive30e PHEV model, which is rated up to 60 MPGe). Premium gasoline is recommended.

2021 BMW X3

X3 Driving Experience

If you’re looking for a compact luxury crossover that’s fun to drive and spacious, the X3 is a spectacular choice. When you get behind the wheel of a BMW, you expect an entertaining driving experience, and the X3 doesn’t disappoint. The capable 8-speed transmission casts the base engine in the best possible light, and the crossover feels quick and peppy in travels around town. Even though the X3 is a crossover SUV, it feels like it has a low center of gravity, which makes it fun to carve around corners – even more fun with the xDrive models than with the rear-wheel drive sDrive.

The X3 sDrive30i/xDrive30i can go from 0-60 mph in 6.0 seconds; shave a tenth off for the X3 xDrive30e. To bump up the thrill quotient, you’ll want to step up to the M40i model with its twin-turbocharged inline 6-cylinder engine. BMW reports 0-60-mph times for that model of 4.4 seconds – very good for a crossover SUV. Top that with the X3 M, which takes just 4.1 seconds to rush from a standstill to 60 mph, and prepare to be intoxicated with power. Thankfully, this crossover’s brakes are sharp and sure enough to inspire confidence on back streets and freeways. 

When it comes to its handling, the X3 expertly walks the line between responsiveness and comfort. The crossover feels taut and alert, yet ride quality is smooth enough to keep harshness at bay during grocery runs and workday commutes. 

2021 BMW X3

2021 BMW X3 Trim Levels and Pricing

X3 buyers can choose from five trim levels. 

  • sDrive30i (starts around $43,000) – This is the base rear-wheel drive model, but still nicely equipped. 
  • xDrive30i (starts around $45,000) – Upgrades the sDrive30i’s RWD to AWD. 
  • xDrive30e (starts around $49,500) – This is the PHEV version of X3, with AWD.
  • M40i (starts around $56,500) – In addition to the bigger engine, M40i adds performance upgrades like a sport suspension and enhanced brakes, and more.
  • M (starts around $70,000) – This is the hot rod X3, loaded with all the goodies. 

If you are looking for a more accurate idea of pricing, you can build and price an X3 on BMW’s official web site. 

2021 BMW X3

X3 Best Features

The X3 has a couple of features that help it stand apart from the pack. One of these is its potent engine range; BMW has equipped this crossover with an engine selection that enhances the driving experience. The base powerplant delivers rewarding performance, but those who crave the zippiest acceleration will want to step up to the 6-cylinder option.

Another thing this crossover has working in its favor is fuel efficiency. The base engine is remarkably economical, and it helps the X3 shine as a top pick in its class for those seeking relatively frugal gas mileage – especially from the PHEV version.

2021 BMW X3

What Is Our Favorite Version of the X3?

To make the most of the X3’s performance and handling strengths, go for the M40i. The upgraded engine helps elevate the crossover’s performance to thrilling new heights. Also, a sport suspension and upgraded brakes sharpen this BMW’s reflexes and make it a more eager and responsive companion. The M40i also steps things up when it comes to content, adding features such as a digital gauge cluster display. 

2021 BMW X3

X3 Notable Safety Features

The base-model X3 comes with safety features that can help you steer clear of accidents on the road. Frontal collision mitigation is standard. This system warns you if its sensors detect an imminent collision, and it will automatically hit the brakes if you fail to respond in time. Blind-spot warning and lane-departure warning are also standard. Options such as a surround-view camera and an automated parking system are available. 

In IIHS crash tests, the 2021 X3 earned a score of “Good” in all crashworthiness categories, but it did not earn a “Top Safety Pick+” score. The 2021 X3 earned a perfect “5-Star” rating for overall crash protection in NHTSA tests.

2021 BMW X3

Who Should Buy a 2021 BMW X3?

The X3 is an excellent choice for singles and couples who are looking for a small, stylish luxury crossover that’s a blast to drive. It’s also one of the most fuel-efficient models in its class, so it’s a good match for drivers with long commutes who’d love to save money on gas. And though it’s a compact crossover, the X3 provides a cabin that’s roomy enough to meet the needs of parents and their kids; as such, it’s a suitable choice for small families.

CarExpert’s Take on the 2021 BMW X3 

Positioned between the X2 and X4 in BMW’s crossover SUV lineup, the X3 makes a memorable impression with its robust powerplants and keen handling. The base engine performs admirably, but true enthusiasts will want to drive home with the optional six-cylinder powerplant under the hood. We love the easy elegance of the X3’s interior design, and this crossover’s roomy cabin provides a comfortable haven for passengers. The 2021 BMW X3 is unquestionably a top pick in its class, excelling in many of the areas that matter most to shoppers in this highly competitive segment.

2021 BMW X3

X3 Competitors to Consider

  • Acura RDX
  • Audi Q5
  • Cadillac XT5
  • Lexus NX
  • Lincoln Corsair
  • Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class
  • Volvo XC60

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OVERALL RATING8.4
Show Breakdown
Cost of Ownership 7.8
Ride Comfort 8.6
Safety 8.5
Fit for Purpose 8.6
Handling Dynamics 8.7
Interior Practicality and Space 8.4
Fuel Efficiency 8.6
Value for Money 8
Performance 8.7
Technology Infotainment 8.5