What is it?
The X3 is BMW’s compact crossover, which has supplanted the 3 Series as its best-selling vehicle. The X3 xDrive30e is the plug-in hybrid version offering 288 horsepower, 310 lb-ft of torque, and 17 miles of EV-only range.
Is it new?
The X3 PHEV is new for the 2020 model year. BMW is pushing to get electrified or electric versions of every model in the lineup, even the M5. BMW does have a full-electric iX3, but is not selling it in the United States.
Why is it special?
The X3 xDrive30e is trying to be anything but special. BMW buyers tend not to be fervent eco-warriors; the strategy with the X3 PHEV appears to be trying not to scare them. The SUV looks almost exactly like the standard X3 without any flagrant blue hybrid frippery. BMW wants to appeal to their practical side instead. The PHEV is sportier than the base all-wheel-drive X3 — and when you factor in a federal tax credit approaching $6,000, cheaper.
How does it drive?
As with most PHEVs, there’s a learning curve. Driving the X3 xDrive30e requires a clear understanding of the complex, not-especially-well-labeled drive modes — and, ideally, a fully-charged battery. Even a sage like myself had to consult the internet to figure out how to drive the car.
First, you set your eDrive mode. You have a choice of three: Auto eDrive is an optimized hybrid mode; Max eDrive is a full-electric mode; Battery Control uses the engine to recharge or preserve battery life. Layered on top of that are your drive modes, like in most Bimmers: Eco Pro, Comfort, and Sport. You can also choose an adaptive setting that lets the car adjust throttle mapping based on both external and driver inputs.
In theory, you have a tremendously versatile compact crossover. The X3 XDrive30e can be sporty; it can hustle from 0 to 60 mph in less than six seconds, shifts smoothly thanks an 8-speed ZF automatic and handles much like the standard X3, despite lugging around an extra 500-plus pounds. The X3 PHEV can also be super-economical, functioning as an EV when you run out to pick up some allergy medicine.
In practice, though, it didn't quite work like I would have liked. Hop in the X3 XDrive30e without thinking, not end up in the drive mode I thought I was, punch the throttle and have not much happen.
What’s it like inside?
Luxurious enough. BMW long advertised itself as building the “ultimate driving machine,” so driving dynamics tend to take precedence over interior opulence. You still get the obligatory Cognac Vernasca leather seats and Fineline Cove Matte Finish wood trim, but overall, think more "smart and functional" than "Russian oligarch’s pleasure den." The combination of vertical height and ample natural light from the panoramic moonroof makes the interior feel spacious. The battery pack cuts into the cargo area, but not aggressively.
BMW does offer infotainment gesture control as an option with the Executive Package. I didn't dive into the gestures too much...but my accuracy when changing the radio station via the hand jive was less than 10 percent, versus a perfect 100% with the convenient button on the steering wheel.
What does it cost?
Base MSRP for the X3 xDrive30e is $48,550, not factoring in the $5,836 potential tax break. My tester worked out to $65,020 with options. Foregoing the M Sport styling package it had would save about $5,000. However, many of the options are the sort of necessities that you would want on a luxury SUV, so don't expect yours to be that much cheaper.
2020 BMW X3 xDrive30e
Powertrain: Turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four PHEV, 8-speed automatic, AWD
Torque: 310 lb-ft
EPA Fuel Economy: 60 MPGe combined