Of all the different vehicle types on the road today, I most like compact SUVs. The overall size, the interior dimensions, the high seating, and the space for passengers and cargo, all add up to a great form factor for solo drivers, couples, and smaller families. It’s no surprise then that the 2022 BMW X3 was a fun drive experience with a size almost identical to my daughter’s Audi Q3 and so many other compact SUVs (also known as CUVs) available today. It’s a popular market segment and an easy drive, particularly against the comparison of the far larger 2022 Toyota Tundra 4×4 Limited, which I was driving just a few weeks ago!
For many years Bayerische Motoren Werke (BMW) has advertised its vehicles as “The ultimate driving machines”. The X3? Not so much. You really had to ensure you were in Sport mode to have other than a rather underwhelming and underpowered driving experience. Like most modern automatics, the vehicle has three drive modes, Sport, Comfort, and Eco Pro. After trying them all, it’s only in Sport that the “driving machine” moniker seems to apply. But we’ll get bac to the drive experience.
For now, let’s start with an exterior shot of the Tanzanite Blue II Metallic 2022 BMW X3:
It’s very attractive, and the color looked great in direct sunlight, with a deep, metallic finish. It’s hard to miss that it’s also a pretty typical SUV design with the only true BMW note its trademark front grille. People aren’t buying this vehicle to dream about being a suave, elite superspy or having a second career as an F1 racer, however, they’re buying it because it’s a sensible choice for drivers who want the luxury of the BMW design while still having the space and flexibility of a smaller SUV. Check out the wheels too; I really liked the “Y” spoke design and think it does give the X3 just a bit of racing personality.
Stepping into the vehicle, the dashboard layout is straightforward, highlighting the Canberra Beige Perforated Leather interior and the now-standard BMW dash design:
Everything was in a logical position and I immediately felt in control of the vehicle. One of the features that wanders the most between manufacturers is the cruise control button set. In the X3 they’re found on the left side of the steering wheel cross bar. Climate controls are under the infotainment screen, but the smart climate controls are all accessible from the display itself (and the BMW has a lot of smarts when it comes to interior temperature management).
Adjusting audio volume felt a bit laborious, however, either the +/- buttons on the steering wheel or the tiny rotating knob directly below the map view. Every time I restarted the vehicle, it auto-lowered the volume, which meant that I had to keep turning it up every time I got into the X3 to be able to enjoy my audiobook. Not a big deal, but a bit annoying.
What always surprises me about BMW design is that the main gauge display ends up looking rather austere, with what appears to be a big, empty space down the middle portion of the screen:
Turns out that the center area is actually showing a stylized map of the current location, but if you’re not in a dense urban environment, it can end up looking as empty as shown above. I’m on “Indian Rd” in rural Eastern Boulder, Colorado, but it apparently doesn’t even warrant a line. No surprise, I wanted to display other information in that area, but it’s just not an option.
The other information on this gauge display changes based on drive mode: I’m in “ECO PRO” (as shown on the bottom line), which uses blue as a highlight color and turns the top right area into an instantaneous MPG indication, with a “sticky” indicator of average fuel efficiency. The X3 delivered 24.2mpg as overall fuel efficiency with my mixed driving, which is on par for a vehicle with EPA fuel economy numbers of 21/28, and a combined 24mpg. Not fantastic but not particularly terrible either.
The drive mode controls, among a number of other options, are on the central shift console, which has a great feel and very intuitive layout:
The big knob on the right side controls the infotainment system, with shortcut buttons for Media, Home, Map, Com, and Nav. It’s really easy to use the knob and its built-in push-button capabilities as the infotainment control without ever once having to glance down at your hand. Missing was a volume adjustment feature on this panel (by comparison, the Mazda control knob setup is almost identical but has a second, smaller knob for audio volume adjustment, making it that much safer and easier to adjust while continuing to look safely out the front windshield.
Rear legroom isn’t great on the BMW X3, the smallest of the BMW SUV designs, but it’s still acceptable, particularly if the driver and front passengers aren’t so tall that they force the seat to be pushed to the very back:
There’s a pull-down center armrest with cup holders if you only have two passengers in the back, or it can be folded into the seat to allow a third (albeit rather narrow) passenger in the back seat. Quite comfortable.
Walking around to the back, there’s a nice cargo area with fold-down seats in a variety of configurations and a tonneau cover, offering space for a lot of grocery bags but not so much for skis or a bicycle:
You could pop off the cover and fold down the seats for more space, but even then it might hold a child’s bike but you’ll be hard-pressed not to utilize a roof rack for adult bicycles, skis, and similar equipment and sports gear. Lift up that lower base panel, however, and there’s a hidden storage area!
This area is plenty enough space to store a computer bag, briefcase, or other valuables, and if you had a few items on the panel it’s a good bet that almost any thief would miss this compartment. More importantly, they wouldn’t see the valuables in the first place, so it really is a good security option as may be needed.
Let’s talk a bit more about the driving experience before we wrap up. After experimentation, I found that the default of “Comfort” worked in most instances, switching to “ECO PRO” when I was up to speed on the highway for maximum fuel efficiency. Any time I needed power, like merging onto the highway, however, it was time for “Sport” mode, which made the X3 really peppy and a very fun drive (although it still had that brief hesitation from a stop common to so many internal combustion engines). This is with the 8-speed sport automatic transmission. I don’t believe there’s a manual transmission option with this vehicle. Given that I felt I did need to switch modes, I’m not sure “ultimate driving machine” quite fits, but it was still quite pleasant and fun to drive.
This isn’t a vehicle that’s going to turn heads in a parking lot, but it’s a fun, comfortable drive. Notably, it also features a really quiet interior, allowing for easy conversation between people in the front and back, something that’s not true in many vehicles in the SUV or CUV category. The seats are plush, the audio system sounded great, and it had a nimble suspension system with responsive brakes, letting me feel quite safe even when driving fast. I really liked the 2022 BMW X3 overall and would recommend potential SUV buyers check out the X lineup from BMW to see how a “Ute” can still be luxurious.
2022 BMW X3 xDrive30i in Tanzanite Blue II Metallic with a Canberra Beige interior. Powered by a 2.0-liter twin-power turbo inline 4-cylinder engine with 8-speed sport automatic transmission. MSRP: $45,700. OPTIONAL ADD-ONS: Exterior paint (a $1500 upcharge!) and Premium Package. AS DRIVEN: $51,390.00.
Disclosure: BMW loaned me the X3 for a week of driving in return for this candid writeup. Thanks, BMW!