2018 BMW X3 30i Review: This Small Luxury SUV is Still All That (and More)

Bmw X3 Small Luxury Suv

You Need Luxury. You Like to Drive. You Have Kids. BMW Gets It.

Here’s the thing about BMW drivers: We are a tribe. We may dally with other brands and even love a few, but our heart is always with the ultimate driving machine.

A BMW tribe member, no matter the car she’s driving, will get behind the wheel of A BMW and it’s ‘ahhhh. I’m home.’

This posed a difficult decision for so many BMW owners when the company only produced sedans and sports cars. Fans would be forced into mini vans and SUVs to accommodate their own growing tribes and complain every step of the way. BMW solved that in 1999 with the X5, and in 2004 added the slightly smaller BMW X3 to the mix. Now the company produces a slew of X models and will soon reveal the X7 based on the ultra-luxe 7 Series sedans.

2018 Bmw X3 Small Luxury Suv

My family in the BMW X3. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Who This Car is For

  • Singles, couples or small families
  • Dog people; it’s not hard for dogs to get in and out
  • Luxury SUV buyers
  • SUV buyers who want a dynamic drive experience
  • First time luxury car buyers
  • Drivers who need flexible cargo and passenger capacity
  • Drivers who need all wheel drive

Further Reading: The Other BMW X series we love. And why you’ll love it too.

2018 Bmw X3 Small Luxury Suv

The front seat in the 2018 BMW X3. Photo: Scotty Reiss

What this Car Costs

  • Base price, which includes run flat tires, roof rails, wifi hot spot, power seats, power rear seat adjustment, enhanced USB and Bluetooth: $42,450
  • Convenience package, which adds panoramic sun roof, keyless entry and 1 year of SiriusXM Radio: $2,850
  • Dynamic driving package, which adds M Sport performance brakes, sport steering and performance control: $1,400
  • Parking Assistance package adds surround view camera, park assistant plus (you control speed and braking and the car finds the spot and does the steering): $1,300
  • Premium Package, which adds heated seats and steering wheel, head up display and navigation: $3,300
  • Harman/Kardon Surround Sound: $875
  • Apple Car Play: $300
  • Price of the model we test drove, including delivery charge: $57,620

Further Reading: The all new BMW X2 will look better on you than it does on him.

2018 Bmw X3 Small Luxury Suv

Just a little badass going on here: look closely you can see the blue M Sport brakes and the side air vents. Photo: Scotty Reiss

The X Series is So Popular it Tops Sales and Inspired New Models

Moms and families proved that you can love your kids and your drive experience at the same time. Since the first X was introduced these SUVs have become BMW’s top sellers. They have been so popular that BMW added X-series DNA to other models, spawning the X 2, X4, X6 and others.

And after spending a week in the X3, I understand why.

First, the X3 is what it is: A BMW focused on drive experience and luxury. What it isn’t is a car that tries to be all things to all drivers. It’s not over sized, tricked out or tapping trends for the sake of being on trend.

And, while it’s an all wheel drive SUV, it’s not oversized. It’s easy to drive, park and wrangle people and gear in and out of. Center seats fold for extra cargo space and with a comfortable ground clearance it’s easy enough to get in and out of.

Then, it takes the best that BMW offers and packs it into this family-focused SUV. The drive experience is tight. The tires are run flats (and yet, the ride is comfortable). The twin turbo 4 cylinder engine is ample. There are three drive modes—comfort, eco and sport, and the X in the car’s name indicates it has BMW’s X-drive all wheel drive system.

Further Reading: Looking for the Ultimate Luxury Machine? The BMW 530i may be the thing.

2018 Bmw X3 Small Luxury Suv

All that light! The panoramic sun roof in the BMW X3 is worth the investment. Photo: Scotty Reiss

A Roomy, Slightly Larger Interior in the New Design

Getting more space out of a car’s existing framework is one of the challenges that designers have before them. BMW takes this seriously, coming up with ways to make the interior feel more spacious and comfortable without adding a lot of heft to the car.

During our test drive I packed the family and a friend into the car for a trek to New Jersey. I’d been driving the BMW X3 for a few rainy days, so I’d kept the sun roof screen closed. But with so many people in the car, I thought it feel more spacious with the screen open.

I pushed the button and the screen retracted, much to the delighted gasps of my kids. “Wow,” my daughter said. “That makes such a difference!”

The light from the sunroof was complemented by the Canberra Beige leather and streamlined design, giving the cabin a clean, fresh feel. The front seat is spacious and roomy, and even though this is a compact SUV, the second row is roomy, too.

During my test drive I often found myself putting my handbag on the rear passenger’s side floor or the center of the rear seat. Both were close enough to reach from the driver’s seat, but the thing that prevented me from putting it in the center of the rear floor—a favorite place to put it if possible— is that the center of the rear floor is slightly raised. Not enough to bother a passenger in the center seat but enough not to be able to accommodate my handbag.

2018 Bmw X3 Small Luxury Suv

The gear shift took getting use to but has very, very smart feature: Once you take off your seatbelt and open the driver’s side door it automatically shifts to park. Photo: Scotty Reiss

That Gear Shifter. Yes, Let’s Talk About This

BMW was among the early group of car makers to move from a physical gear shifter to electronic ones that, despite the presence of a shifter, function at the push of a button that is disguised as a shifter. The shifter only takes a gentle push forward for reverse or pull it back for drive while pushing a button on the side to put it into gear. However, since the lever’s position doesn’t physically change, it’s hard to tell what gear you’re in without looking closely to see which light is lit—the R or D. Add to that the need to push a button to put the car in park and you can easily see how what seemed like a logical progression quickly became the thing of controversy. These shifters confused new car buyers.

The button on the side helps; you can’t just push the shifter into gear, you have to be a bit more deliberate. But the push button park mode—well, that one is trickier. Until now.

BMW added a fail safe to keep unwitting drivers from walking away from a car in gear thinking they’d put it in park. Once the driver removes her seatbelt and opens the car door, the car automatically shifts to park. I tried this several times. While the X3 did have a small roll forward, something like you might experience in another car once you put it into park and take your foot off the brake, it wasn’t huge. I loved this feature, with one exception: Drivers who know this and use it regularly might forget in their next rental car or when they’re driving someone else’s car.

Further Reading: How BMW is building an electrified future (and why you’ll love this)

2018 Bmw X3 Small Luxury Suv

The Qi wireless charge pad in the BMW X3 was strong enough to charge through my phone case.. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Technology To Geek Out About

Part of being a luxury car buyer is all the great technology that these cars come with. You get to be the first to adapt technology that will become commonplace in the near future. BMW takes this seriously and as with the auto park safety feature, there are a lot of nice innovations, including Gesture Control:

And Parking Assistant Plus, which locates a parking spot and steers the car into it while you regulate the speed and braking. This is great for parallel parking and in the X3, for tight spots that the car’s height may keep you from seeing curbs, fenders on the cars and other obstacles.

Probably my favorite feature was the Qi wireless charge pad. Yes, a lot of cars have this. But the size and power are what impressed me. The pad is ample and able to hold my iPhone  8+, even with a cord attached, which you need for Apple Car Play. And there is a USB port RIGHT THERE on the charge pad.

When no cord is attached, charge pad works nicely even through my thick phone case and the ring holder on the back of my case. Typically these two things keep my phone from being able to charge with wireless charge pads, but here, not the case. It worked well.

I also loved the infotainment dial and buttons on the center console. The screen is larger and easy to see and the dial is easy to use. This keeps the screen at the proper distance for easy reading and shifting your gaze back and forth between the screen and the road. And, no fingerprints on the scree. Brilliant.

The last bit of tech I loved is the head up display. This projects key driver information onto the windshield in front of you. This is another feature we are seeing more and more of, and I love it. You are able to keep your eyes on the road while feeding information to your brain: Speed limit, your speed, and most importantly, the name of that awful song on the radio (or, that great one that will be the corner stone of your next playlist!).

2018 Bmw X3 Small Luxury Suv

Puddle lights in the BMW X3 light the path when it’s dark. The ‘swoosh’ pattern of the light is also seen several inside the cabin. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Technology to Not Geek Out About

Apple Car Play. I really, really love Apple Car Play, so this was a disappointment: Enabling and using Car Play is not simple. In many cars you simply plug and go. BMW’s infotainment interface, however, requires you select it from a menu and it can be difficult to find. And, after you find it, you have to select it each time. I found it cumbersome and even after using it a few times, found it easier to skip. I hope that in future updates that BMW will make this feature easier to use, and also, that they will integrate Android Auto, which is not yet available.

2018 Bmw X3 Small Luxury Suv

The surround view camera in the BMW X3. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Keeping the Tribe Happy

There are some things that are non-negotiable in a BMW: Technology that sharpens your drive experience, like rain sensing wipers and side view mirrors that tilt down when the car is in reverse; run flat tires; a fun, sporty drive experience; paddle shifters. Just because your kids and dog are along for the ride is no reason to compromise, and happily, the X3 enbraces all these rules.

2018 Bmw X3 Small Luxury Suv

The center console in the BMW X3. Under the roll-top cubby is a storage bin with a wireless charge pad and a USB port. Photo: Scotty Reiss

What We Loved

  • That BMW drive experience, even in a 248 horsepower 4 cylinder turbo engine
  • The size and ground clearance of this mid-sized SUV
  • Head up display
  • Panoramic sun roof
  • Beautiful Canberra Beige leather interior ($1,700 upgrade)
  • Super strong Qi wireless charge pad
  • Auto park safety feature
  • Park Assistant Plus and Gesture Control—fun features that will wow your friends
  • Run flat tires
2018 Bmw X3 Small Luxury Suv

Cargo space in the X3 was plenty for all our shopping, or for luggage for a family of four. Photo: Scotty Reiss

What You Need to Know

  • BMW recommends premium fuel, and specifies mid-grade or higher octane
  • Fuel economy estimates: 22 MPG city/29 MPG highway
  • Seating for 5 but more comfortable for 4
  • Some of the features we loved most are options, including the panoramic sun roof, surround view camera, wireless phone charger pad and head up display
  • The 30i model we drove has 248 horsepower; the larger 6-cylinder turbo M 40i delivers 355 horsepower
  • 2 USB ports one in the front cubby and one in the arm rest; there are no USB ports in the second row
2018 Bmw X3 Small Luxury Suv

The front cabin in the BMW X3 and the center console. I loved the Canberra Beige upholstery, which is more cream colored and gave the car an elegant feel. Photo: Scotty Reiss

What We Listened to in the BMW X3

Every great car deserves a great playlist. This playlist matched our experience in the X3 and enhanced it.

Disclosure: BMW provided the X3 for this review; all opinions are my own.

Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss