2018 BMW X3 XDrive 30i vs. 2018 Volvo Xc60 T6 AWD R-Design: Two luxury crossovers get prettied up for 2018, so let's put them side by side.
This week: BMW X3
Price: $57,620 as tested ($42,250 for the trim level. Yowza, this gets expensive.)
Conventional wisdom: Car and Driver likes the "eager handling, strong powertrain, spacious and pleasant cabin," but not the "staid looks, everything costs extra."
Marketer's pitch: "Versatility without limits."
Reality: I guess fundage might be a limiting factor.
What's new: The BMW X3 is all-new for 2018. It hasn't grown outside, BMW says, but its hood has gotten longer – and press material uses words like muscular and rugged. Rrr-rrr. Unsurprisingly, all that muscle leaves other parts undernourished.
Step inside: Ah, BMW, how I love your interiors. Brown leather, polished silver trim, classic gauges.
Up to speed: The 2.0-liter twin-turbo four-cylinder engine creates 248 horsepower. It motivates the X3 adequately, but I didn't feel the torquey zoom that most luxury brands seem to offer standard. That's not to say it's slow, but if you want that zip, maybe pony up the money for the M Sport.
Shifty: The electronic sport automatic transmission has eight gears with manual mode. It functioned delightfully in either mode.
On the road: The Sport, Comfort, and Eco Pro modes offered varying degrees of performance. The X3 felt a little bouncy in all but Sport mode, although I did choose Comfort on a long highway trip after a long day, so it has its uses as well.
The all-wheel-drive XDrive system worked wonderfully in all kinds of weather, and, lucky me, we had plenty of wintry days to test the X3. My usual testing on the curves can be hazardous to one's health on slippery roads, but the handling still showed a sporty side for a largish SUV.
Driver's Seat: The sport seats (free) were covered in Canberra Beige vernasca leather ($1,700). They were just right – not too firm, not too soft, while being supportive and grippy.
Friends and stuff: Despite the muscularity and ruggedness (or perhaps because of it), rear-seat passengers are limited to the puny. I'm only 5-foot-10 and I found rear legroom quite small, and the middle seat is uncomfortable. Foot room was not a real problem, but getting size 11 shoes through the rear doors was.
Headroom, of course, is phenomenal.
Cargo space is 62.7 cubic feet with the rear seat folded, about the size of a Kia Soul.
Play some tunes: I remain a big fan of the BMW stereo interface, and I'm forever nervous that they'll come up with some "better idea" to replace it. A knob that the operator twists or pushes sideways or up and down moves the cursor around the screen, and five buttons get you to main menus. It becomes easy to use with just a bit of practice.
Fortunately, BMW has focused on improving the display instead. The 10.25-inch head-up display (part of the $3,300 Premium Package, which also warmed tushies in four corners, heated Mr. Driver's Seat's paws, and more) makes an easy system even easier. Use the steering wheel button to call up a list of songs from your phone or a list of stations from the radio and scroll away. I can scroll through the 280 songs on my phone without taking my eyes off the road. (Note to self: Buy some more songs.)
The $875 Harman Kardon surround sound provided excellent tuneage, but the equalizer is a little too fussy and inside-baseball for on-the-road use. BMW engineers should go try a Volvo and then give us a couple of different concert halls and studios.
Night shift: The LED headlights shone brightly enough but sat just a hair low for my tastes. I even tried lowering the Driver's Seat to make sure I wasn't putting myself up too high.
The ambient lighting brightened the cabin nicely without obstructing the view of the road.
Tough move: All the safety devices proved their strength – if not their brains – by becoming convinced that I was about to back into something in my driveway on the final day of testing. I even stepped out of the vehicle and looked – nothing. Thanks, X3.
Fuel economy: I averaged about 23 mpg in the usual Mr. Driver's Seat round of testing. Feed the X3 premium, natch.
Where it's built: Spartanburg, S.C.
How it's built: The X3 gets a predicted reliability score of 4 out of 5 from Consumer Reports.