I love diesels as much as I love station wagons and turbochargers. My ideal combination of all of these things is the BMW 328d Touring. I drove the regular 328d last year and liked it quite a bit, but there was no Touring model on fleet available for testing. However, this year, their bread-and-butter crossover has gotten a small refresh with the addition of a new engine – the very same turbodiesel option that powers the 328d. Therefore, I was ecstatic when I was offered a week with the 2015 BMW X3 xDrive28d to determine if this is just as appealing an option as the 328d Touring I crave so much.
Something a lot of consumers don’t know is that BMW still offers the X1. It remains on the same excellent chassis as the previous-generation (E90) 3-series sedan and maintains the hydraulic steering the Bavarians were known for, as well as some of the sharpest driving dynamics in the crossover class. As an enthusiast, I would much prefer this. However, the premium clientele for the BMW X3 doesn’t seem to agree with me. This is for a number of reasons; the X3 is softer, more comfortable, about the same price, and more livable for the non-purist. Let’s face it, crossovers aren’t purchased for their driving enjoyment; they’re purchased to be functional and ideal as family chariots.
The last time I spent a considerable amount of time with a crossover this size, it returned about 12L/100km in combined driving. As versatile as these things are, I much prefer crossovers to be a little bit lighter on the wallet, such as the serene but rather dated Lexus RX450h. BMW seems to agree with me, because the X3 diesel maintains the same premium feeling and materials as the regular model. Yes, it’s quite frugal as well, but more about that a bit later. Under the bonnet of the X3 xDrive28d is the 2.0L turbocharged 4-cylinder diesel engine. It boasts 181 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque, not too far off from the Mercedes-Benz GLK250 Bluetec, its closest competitor.
The 280 lb-ft is what allows the X3 to come alive; peak torque is available between 1750 and 2750rpm, making that the sweet spot for this little ute. This motor has multi-stage turbocharging and common rail direct fuel injection, making it pretty modern and not as smelly or noisy as the 80s and 90s Mercedes-Benz S-Class diesels that were a staple in my family through my childhood. The X3 diesel hustles to 100 km/h in 8.3 seconds flat, and it’s perfectly adequate. I found myself not even trying to make this BMW hustle onto highways though; it seems in its element just cruising along and maintaining maximum comfort.
I have yet to experience a BMW that isn’t a sharp handler, and this one doesn’t differ from that norm at all. It feels very dynamically similar to the current 3-series and that’s a very good thing. Steering is exceptional and the X3 really doesn’t feel large by any measure. At least, it doesn’t feel nearly as large as its big brother, the X5. The ZF 8-speed automatic remains one of the best automatic boxes on the market, and in “Sport” mode, shifts are crisp. I will say though that this diesel engine isn’t quite as seamless as the Audi TDI unit or the Mercedes-Benz Bluetec. It’s a bit noisy and lacks the refinement of the other Germans. This is quite all right, considering this is BMW’s first modern attempt at a 4-cylinder diesel engine in North America. The 6-cylinder diesel as seen in the larger 535d is much smoother.
Efficiency is where the BMW diesel wins. The EPA suggests that the X3 xDrive28d will get 8.7L/100km in the city and 6.9L/100km on the highway. In cold weather testing with temperatures consistently hovering around the freezing mark, the crossover actually demonstrated numbers better than the EPA recommendations. I observed numbers as low as 6.6L/100km on the highway and an overall test average of 7.2L/100km with a 60/40 highway/city split. Not bad in the slightest, considering diesel fuel is still marginally cheaper than premium unleaded.
Our friends at the BMW Group typically equip test cars to the brim, as to allow the media to experience the maximum potential of their products. With a base price of $45,000 for the diesel model, the X3 isn’t particularly expensive and is a great family option. My car had the $6,000 Premium Package that includes Harman-Kardon audio, panoramic sunroof, reverse camera, LED fog lights (particularly sharp!), HID headlights, and comfort access. The $1,600 Technology Package includes Active Blind Spot Detection, Lane Departure Warning, Forward Collision Warning, and High Beam Assistant. Factor in the $350 for rear sunshades and a couple other trinkets and the price of my tester just touches the $55,000 mark.
At this price point, the X3 has a few things worth noting. The iDrive system is top notch here, easily one of the best currently available on the market. The controller also doubles as a touchpad and can be used to handwrite letters and numbers for navigation address input. The seats aren’t Dakota leather; one would need to step up to the Executive Package for those. However, BMW’s leatherette looks and feels just as good as the real stuff; the naked eye would not be able to tell the difference between the two. They’re firm and supportive and the heated seats get very toasty on their highest setting.
Between the X3, the Mercedes GLK, and the Audi Q5, there’s no real wrong answer in this segment. Each of these premium crossovers is exceptional in their own way. They all have their own personalities that make them very appealing. The X3 with its large windows, awesome sightlines, and impeccable on-road manners makes for the perfect family vehicle. If the new-for-2014 X5 is any indication, the upcoming full redesign for the X3 is going to make it one of the best crossovers on the market. A comparable 328d Touring is a bit more expensive, and I rather like the driving position of the X3 as well. If I had a family or a more outdoorsy lifestyle that would allow me to make use of this crossover’s almost endless utility, it just might be on my own radar as well.