BMW’s mid-size premium SUV should prove even more popular with a plug-in powertrain offering performance and efficiency.
How do you create a COVID-19 compliant live car launch? Well one answer is to hold it at a 444 acre aerodrome to ensure a safe environment for press and PR teams to work and meet over a period of five days. Hangar 113 at Bicester Heritage has been used as a backdrop for car launches before but it’s also been used to host car shows and even film blockbuster movies, but the transformation that the venue underwent for the BMW Group Showcase in October (prior to the second national lockdown) was very impressive indeed.
The brief was to showcase around 50 vehicles undercover which enabled the two brands to communicate the product line-up in a distinctive and memorable way. The media and influencer event – by invite only – did this with six distinctive themed spaces including MINI Downtown, BMW M Town, the East Side, Electric City, Drive-in Studio and the Pit Stop Cafe. You can guess which part we were interested in! Of course, a lot of the cars we had already sampled (including the BMW i8 and MINI Electric) but there were a few plug-in hybrids that demanded our attention. You can read all about the 330xe M Sport Touring and 530e xDrive M Sport Saloon review elsewhere on our website, but for now we’re focussing on the X3 xDrive3.0e.
Revealed at the 89th Geneva International Motor Show 2019 before we even knew what COVID-19 protocols were, the world premiere of the X3 xDrive30e illustrated how BMW’s line-up of electrified models were set to grow. Production of the plug-in hybrid variant of the popular Sports Activity Vehicle commenced in December 2019 and it will be joined by the emissions-free iX3 model later this year, making it the brand’s first model to be offered with conventional combustion engines and plug-in hybrid variants, together with an all-electric version.
Let’s deal with the pros first of all. You get all of the X3’s versatile qualities but with exceptional efficiency boasting a claimed combined fuel consumption of between 135-149mpg and CO2 emissions of 47-44 g/km. BMW quote it can be charged to 80 per cent in 2 hours and 36 minutes using regular 230V mains power – which is perfect if you’re able to charge at home or at the office on a daily basis.
The X3 xDrive30e is also offered in the same model configurations as other X3 variants – so SE, xLine and the range-topping M Sport trims – and all boasting a high level of standard features.
The downsides… While the X3 xDrive30e’s lithium-ion battery is located under the rear seat to save space, the petrol tank has been repositioned beneath the luggage, which means boot capacity is 450 litres compared to 550 afforded by its conventionally powered siblings, and with the seats down you’re looking at 1500 litres versus 1600.
It also isn’t quite as good to drive as the diesel or petrol models thanks to the motor and battery adding extra weight.
Based on the CLAR platform, which was developed to support the aforementioned four types of propulsion, the plug-in hybrid system uses a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and electric motor channelling power to all four wheels. The combined system output is 310lb-ft of torque and 292hp, which thanks to the on-demand performance system can be temporarily boosted by up to 41hp at the touch of a button. As a result it will take you from zero to 62mph in a respectable 6.1 seconds before topping out at 130mph.
Not too shabby for a car that weighs almost two tonnes, but Audi’s Q5 55 TFSIe does deliver more power (362bhp) but less torque (273lb-ft), while the other Germanic rival – the Mercedes GLC 300e – offers 316bhp and 516lb-ft. Both cost more or less the same as the BMW but they do have a smaller range. Then there’s the more expensive Volvo XC60 T8 Twin Engine which again is also quicker but has less range – it’s arguably better looking and appointed however.
For starters you’ll notice how much quieter and smoother it is as like all BMW hybrids, it defaults to electric power on start-up. Otherwise, it will run in Auto eDrive mode, with the car deciding on the best combination of electric and petrol power to perform as efficiently as possible.
You can of course choose to run on electric power alone by activating Max eDrive, but anything above typical urban speed limits will see the battery charge rapidly drop. Should you need it, there is a Battery Control mode that lets you preserve electrical energy for another point in your journey.
When you require further performance, the petrol engine is quick to engage but the transition process isn’t entirely seamless with it becoming quite vocal above 4000rpm; especially in Sport mode (other modes include Sport Plus, Comfort and Eco Pro). The sweet spot for the X3 xDrive30e is when it’s cruising in higher gears and at lower revs.
It’s fairly tidy for an SUV but the additional weight from the motor and battery means it’s not as dynamically adept as its petrol and diesel siblings, and despite the firmer damping, ride quality is also affected. What’s more the brake pedal has an over-servo’d feel, which is the result of BMW trying to maximise energy regeneration.
The four-wheel drive system, however, provides outstanding traction and (with the right tyres) makes the X3 xDrive30e the perfect all-season companion, proving solid and planted through the corners when we were test driving the car on a damp, cold day.
As with every plug-in hybrid, if you want to get the most out of the X3 xDrive30e you need to keep the battery topped up, so that if you generally do less than 30 miles a day you'll be able to use electric power alone, or if you do more, the car's hybrid system is best equipped to assist the petrol engine and maximise fuel economy.
Talking of which fuel economy and emissions vary slightly depending on which trim level and wheel size you go for with M Sport (as tested) proving the worst. Of course, as with any car, real-world distance depends on your driving style, but the X3 has the longest range of all its main rivals.
Apart from a charging port door and xDrive30e badging, BMW hasn’t made the hybrid model look any different. There are no showy aerodynamic wheel designs or obligatory blue or green details anywhere, and if you’re a fan of the way modern BMWs look then you’ll have no problems with this one. Being an M Sport our test car had sportier exterior styling, unique interior trim, thicker leather wrapped steering wheel, and an upgraded information and media system.
Inside PHEV-specific features include a unique digital instrument cluster with blue brackets on the speedometer indicating how fast you can drive in all-electric mode (87 mph). The infotainment system’s Intelligent Personal Assistant voice-recognition software can also respond to questions such as “where can I charge?” and with a route set in the navigation system, the X3 will use information about the upcoming journey to decide how to best use the motor and petrol engine to help return better real-world efficiency.
Other than that its business as usual inside with an elevated driving position offering excellent visibility and comfort, materials that exude quality, a control layout that’s modern and intuitive and no shortage of standard and available tech. It’s a delicate balance between form and function that we’ve come to expect from the Munich brand. There’s enough room for four people, or two adults and three kids and there’s a good-size glove compartment, decent-size centre console storage bin underneath the armrest and accommodating door panel bins.
It’s not cheap with a starting price of £49,250 but it doesn't command a big premium over its diesel relation either (costing just £410 more) and the running costs are a lot cheaper, even more so for company car drivers, by offering average CO2 emissions below 50g/km.
Overall, it’s an excellent all-rounder, combining impressive economy with great performance, solid build quality, comfort and tech. The only compromise is the reduction in boot space and the impact of the added weight on the ride and handling, but in all honesty it’s fairly negligible to the average driver. And if you do less than 30 miles a day and you’re able to charge it at home or work, then making fewer stops at petrol stations is well worth said trade-offs.
With a lot of people still not convinced by EVs yet, we think that the X3 xDrive30e will open the eyes of owners to eventually upgrade to the fully-electric BMW iX3.
Top Speed: 130mph
0-62mph: 6.1 seconds
Driving range: 32 miles
C02 emissions: 47-44g/km
Fuel consumption: 135-149mpg
Home charging: 2 hours and 36 minutes (based on a current of 16A, 0-80%)
Insurance group: 38
Manufacturers’ warranty: 3 years
Battery warranty: 5 years/60,000 miles