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BMW X3 xDrive20d M Sport: Smaller than but like the X5

A package that is just as fine but easier to handle

BMW's compact luxury crossover has almost all the goodies of its bigger brother. PHOTO BY SAM SURLA

Whenever I go to my favorite milk tea place, I always have this dilemma when ordering a medium-size drink (or “Grande” in Starbucks-speak). The price difference between it and a large beverage is not really that much, and the latter seems to be of better value because, well, it has more milk tea. It’s only when I finish my drink that I start to think about the extra calories I just put in my body (but that’s another story).

The M Sport add-ons give the X3 a sportier stance. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

This, I think, is the same problem with BMW’s crossover lineup. I’ve experienced the X5, and it’s a fabulous car. But some customers might think that it is too large or ungainly. They want to get something that is just as luxurious but a little more manageable in size. It’s just like my milk tea problem. The medium drink is every bit as tasty as the large one, but its just a little smaller and more affordable.

This is where the third-generation BMW X3 comes in. It is almost every bit as opulent as its bigger brother, but in a package that is easier to handle especially for novice drivers. The German automaker classifies the car as a “Sports Activity Vehicle,” which makes me think that this is another one of those colorful ways of describing things (like Life Cycle Impulse). But does it actually live up to that name?

Tall adults should have no problem relaxing in the back. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

The X3’s design won’t set your heart on fire, but it’s still quite handsome. The M Sport cosmetics (such as the body-colored cladding, the 19-inch wheels, and the revised bumpers) make it look, well, sportier. It even has a well-proportioned kidney grille, for all you nitpickers out there. While the car looks generally good in my book, I just don’t find myself staring at it as much as I did with the 3-Series a few weeks back. Maybe crossovers aren’t really designed to be head-turners in the first place.

The Harman Kardon speakers make any type of music sound much better. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

BMW’s interior looks more or less similar across its range. This may turn off people expecting some variety, but I personally like the consistency. Build quality is excellent, and premium materials adorn almost every surface you can see. Some parts of the cabin have textured aluminum trim, which I prefer over piano-black. Actually, the X3 would’ve been so much better without the gloss-black accents that never cease to be fingerprint magnets.

The cabin’s M Sport touches are subtle but tasteful. You get M badges, blue contrast stitching on the dashboard and the seats, and (my personal favorite) the M tricolor on the seat piping.

The X3's diesel engine is so smooth that it feels like a gasoline-powered unit. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

The front seats are comfortable with excellent bolstering (adjustable for the driver), while the rear seats provide a good amount of legroom and headroom for tall (Filipino) passengers. My parents seemed to enjoy the spaciousness it offered over other crossovers they had been in. Cargo capacity is a generous 550L with the rear seats up. The wide opening makes loading stuff quite easy, and the retractable cargo cover is an added bonus. Longer items can be accommodated when the back seats are folded down, which expands the load area to a cavernous 1,600L.

The radiator grille hasn't been treated with steroids yet. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

The X3’s M Sport trim also features BMW’s Live Cockpit Professional. You get (useful) gesture controls, a large 10.25-inch infotainment screen, and an incredibly crisp and bright 12.3-inch instrument display in lieu of analog gauges. Throw in the excellent-sounding Harman Kardon speakers and you’re guaranteed to enjoy your personal media.

Even though the infotainment screen is touch-sensitive, I still like using the iDrive 7 system’s rotary knob. I did have an issue with the car’s navigation screen, though. It would keep crashing even after a software reset, which disabled several system features. Fortunately, wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay were there to save the day. I cannot stress enough how convenient it is to have device integration, making it hard to go back to conventional Bluetooth connectivity.

When the digital instrument display looks as good as this, who needs mechanical gauges? PHOTO BY SAM SURLA

Driving the X3 reminded me of how confident the 3-Series felt during cornering. There’s very little body roll, and there isn’t too much of the floaty feeling that is usually present in crossovers. The tiller is well-weighted and communicative regardless of the drive mode you’re in, and the brakes are smooth and responsive.

The engine is a 2.0-liter B47 turbodiesel. It has a generous 190hp and 400Nm on tap. Thanks to a smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic gearbox and the excellent NVH insulation (more on this later), this diesel engine felt like a gasoline-fed unit. My friends assumed that the car was petrol-powered. The only time you’ll know that this is an oil-burner is when you hear the car start up from the outside.

The load floor's lip is shallow, which makes it easy to get things out of the car. PHOTO BY SAM SURLA

The X3 is not labored when fully loaded, and it also gets remarkable fuel economy in Comfort mode (with auto start-stop enabled). With the car usually carrying four adults, I was able to get a figure of 13.1km/L on the highway, 9.3km/L within the city, and 10.2km/L in mixed conditions. If you want to eke out even more range, BMW’s excellent Eco Pro driving mode is always there.

On the side note, when I first got the car, I lifted off the accelerator expecting the car to coast like any other vehicle. I noticed the X3 slowing down a bit more than usual, akin to how regenerative braking works in an EV. It turns out that the mild-hybrid system’s 48V battery was charging. It’s something that you’ll have to get used to, but the effect isn’t as obvious in Sport mode.

There is a 48V mild-hybrid system to aid the already efficient engine. PHOTO BY SAM SURLA

The ride quality feels straight out of higher X models. The vehicle’s amazing NVH level caught me off guard. Taking my usual route via Skyway, I noticed that the ride was unusually quiet. I muted the sound system and the patches of uneven tarmac sounded like regular road noise. The only thing I could hear was the muffled swoosh of cars going the opposite direction at 80km/h.

The X3 is more manageable in tight city streets than BMW's larger crossovers. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

So, the BMW X3 does live up to its “Sports Activity Vehicle” moniker. It drives like a taller 3-Series while offering the practicality of an SUV and the comfort levels of more expensive offerings. With its P4,590,000 price tag significantly less than the bigger X5, writing the check is a less daunting experience, too.

Going back to my milk tea problem, I think I’d stick with the smaller BMW. It’s almost as good as the X5, but in a package that is easier to handle and much more appealing to city dwellers like myself.


Engine2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo diesel
Transmission8-speed automatic
Power190hp @ 4,000rpm
Torque400Nm @ 1,750-2,500rpm
Dimensions4,708mm x 1,891mm x 1,676mm
Drive layoutAWD
UpsideIt offers surprising levels of comfort, practicality and driving dynamics for a crossover.
DownsideNot everyone needs the M Sport package (even if it has some really good features).

Sam Surla

Sam is the youngest member of our editorial team. And he is our managing editor (believe it or not). He specializes in photography and videography, but he also happens to like writing about cars a lot.