BMW X3 M50i xDrive (2024 prototype) review
We get the chance to have an early go in the 2025 BMW X3, well ahead of its launch.
Matt Robinson
Matt Robinson
Pics by Uwe Fischer

Published on April 14, 2024

The BMW X3 is a vitally important model for the German manufacturer. In the 20 years since it launched in 2003, more than 3.5 million have found homes across the globe and, last year, it proved to be BMW's best-selling model worldwide - even outstripping the legendary 3 Series. That means it is crucial that the company gets the all-new fourth-generation car, codenamed 'G45' right. We've been down to BMW's testing grounds in the south of France to have an early go in pre-production X3 prototypes and see how the engineering team is getting on with the driving set-up.

In the metal

There's not a lot we can say here about the aesthetics or the interior, because BMW is releasing those details later - so the cars we drove were clothed in extensive camouflage on the outside, while their cabins were draped in lots of obfuscating cloth. That said, there are a few things we can pick up on through all the disguise, such as the fact the X3 looks, well, vaguely X3-ish in profile. It's not a million miles away on size or angles from the car it replaces though the eagle-eyed will spot that the rear number plate is no longer on the hatch but mounted down in the bumper. The high-power M Performance model, unofficially called M50i, also gains the usual M signifier of quad exhausts, while inside all cars is the large 'Curved Display' infotainment screen (bringing the X3 into line with the larger X5, X7 and iX SUV models) and, praise be, an iDrive rotary controller is retained between the front seats.

BMW has released a few other snippets of information. For example, this generation of X3 is more aerodynamic than the old one, with a drag coefficient of 0.27 outplaying the old car's 0.29 figure. This has been achieved through the use of active air vents at the front of the new SUV, 'Air Curtains' leading into the front wheel arches on the M Sport and M Performance variants, a flatter undertray beneath the X3, an 'aero-blade' on the D-pillar (which was covered up by the company on the demo vehicles, but explicitly mentioned in presentations), and of course the usual aerodynamically optimised alloys, ranging in size from 19 to 21 inches in diameter - although regular wheels, available on certain variants, can be as small as 18 inches or even as goliath as a set of 22s.

Finally, this is a BMW geared up to have the latest levels of active safety, something we'll come onto in the next section, so it has two forward-facing cameras mounted up near its interior mirror - one for augmented-reality (AR) projection and the other an eight-megapixel affair for object detection. It also has a long-range radar at the front with a range of 300 metres, while shorter-range radar sensors are mounted two at the front and two at the rear, positioned to look out from the corners of the X3 and deal with any field-of-vision blank spots. There's a full surround-view camera system as well, plus 12 sensors for the parking systems - 6 front, 6 rear.

Driving it

We have been given very scant details on powertrains and range make-up, but again, what we do know is the following. There will be petrol and diesel X3s in this generation, and a petrol-electric plug-in hybrid (expected to be called the xDrive30e). Whether the diesels will ever make it to our market or not remains to be seen, but all the regular petrol models in the first wave and the PHEV will use four-cylinder engines.

The only six-cylinder launch model will be the performance flagship, which BMW was happy to call the M50i in front of us. That alone would indicate it will have more power than the old X3 M40i it is replacing, with a ventured "will it have something in the region of 400hp?" not completely rebuffed by BMW's staff on this event. However, BMW will likely have to leave headroom for a full-on X3 M later down the line, so the M50i, fitted with a developed version of the familiar turbocharged 3.0-litre straight-six engine, an eight-speed torque-converter automatic transmission and xDrive all-wheel drive, will not be allowed to run unfettered as the wildest X3 of all.

The first X3s launch in their 'native' USA in October of this year, while the European market launch will be a month later (all purely internal-combustion-powered models will continue to be built at Plant Spartanburg, in South Carolina, but the PHEV will instead be put together at the Rosslyn facility in South Africa ). What's not entirely clear at this stage is the future of the iX3. A full battery-electric model is planned for 2025, but while all the versions with some form of petrol or diesel power - be that electrically augmented or not - will sit on BMW's CLAR underpinnings, the fully-electric one will not. BMW's executives refused to even confirm if it would again be called iX3, but they did mention the recent Vision Neue Klasse X as something to take note of when thinking about this incoming electric version of the new X3.

All models of the new X3 have had much work done on their chassis componentry. Both the kinematics and the elastokinematics (that's bushes, primarily) of the axles and the front/rear subframes have been uprated, while the mounting points for the anti-roll bars are stiffer. This means you can have a 'softer' anti-roll bar itself, something which helps the SUV's secondary ride comfort without sacrificing body control in the corners. The steering is now a belt-driven system, to give better weighting and feedback just off-centre, while there's a new generation of low rolling-resistance tyre that should improve refinement on the versions with it fitted. And although the X3's wheelbase is the same as before, its track widths have increased to bless it with greater stability.

The M50i goes even further. It gains another mounting point to the rear subframe just behind its trailing axle, while it naturally gets its own specific, more focused state of tune for the suspension. There are also stronger braces around the top mounts of the front suspension struts, giving it greater torsional rigidity than any other X3, and it is the only model to benefit from a limited-slip differential on its rear axle - something which can split torque to the rear wheels as required.

BMW allowed us a brief blast on its test track in the M50i to ascertain its handling capabilities, and then a short journey out on the road in the PHEV to get a feel for its ride comfort and rolling refinement levels. And the early signs are incredibly encouraging. The old X3 remained a very decent premium SUV right up to the end of its life, yet there's little doubt the German company has improved things for the new one. The steering has notably more heft and bite to it, with a pleasing accuracy and rate of response the minute you apply even a few degrees of lock. Also, the steering wheel of the M50i wasn't ridiculously fat, so we hope this feature makes it through to production.

Body control is excellent, too, so while there's a degree of lean in the corners, the way the X3 loads up on its outside suspension is progressive and natural feeling, rather than abrupt and with a sensation of 'falling' onto its springs. This means it feels eager to turn in and lighter than it is. Get on the power out of tighter corners and there's a notable swing from the rear axle as the BMW apportions torque to the outer-rear wheel. It's very enjoyable to drive.

Even so, in this high-performance derivative, it is remarkable how smoothly it rides on poorer surfaces. So, heading out in a hybrid later, both cars on (likely optional) adaptive dampers and fitted with 20-inch wheels, only confirms what we already suspect: this X3 rides even more assuredly and comfortably than the car it replaces. There are nice, languid movements of the body in the wake of larger compressions, yet the SUV never feels like it is wallowing or bouncing down the road. Sure, it will pick up larger imperfections and big transverse ridges in the road, but these never crash through the vehicle's superstructure.

Indeed, praise must go to the mechanical isolation of the X3. You hear nothing of the springs and dampers doing their work to soak up the worst tarmac, while wind noise is beautifully muted - even with GoPro cameras attached to the outside of one of our test cars, it's quieter at a high-speed cruise than the old X3, thanks no doubt to that new aerodynamic body. And the latest tyres have helped with road chatter, of which there is a minimal amount.

Even the advanced driver assist technology is better. The X3's clever new autonomous emergency braking (AEB) system is far more organic-feeling and cleverly calibrated than usual AEB set-ups, so even in full emergency stops it doesn't give the sensation of being as dramatic a near-miss as these auto-braking systems usually are. It is also incredibly smart at working out whether it is going to hit or miss an obstacle if an inattentive driver has switched off to its surroundings, so it won't unnecessarily warn its human controller with a lot of 'false positives'. That should mean more owners keep the system engaged, therefore either avoiding entirely or at least seriously mitigating any collisions.

We've obviously got a lot more driving to do in the finished vehicles to come to a definitive verdict on the latest X3, but these early indicators suggest this is going to be the company's best-driving SUV yet.

What you get for your money

We don't know Irish prices or specifications this far out, nor do we know the official launch line-up of the new BMW X3. With it slated for showrooms at the tail-end of autumn this year, we'll of course bring you full details on it as and when we have them.


We've only had a brief taster of the new BMW X3 so far, in pre-production prototypes that are not quite finished. However, we're also assured they're about '99 per cent' where the production models will be, and if that's the case then BMW has probably served up the class-leading midsized SUV on this showing. Quiet and comfortable on the one hand, and yet agile and enjoyable on the other, the new X3 will clearly have the dynamic chops to truly merit that blue-and-white roundel on its nose - because all evidence suggests it is going to be brilliant to drive in showroom form.


Tech Specs

Model testedBMW X3 M50i xDrive (pre-production prototype)
Irish pricingX3 currently starts at €71,735
Powertrainpetrol - 3.0-litre turbocharged six-cylinder engine
Transmissionautomatic - eight-speed gearbox, xDrive all-wheel drive
Body stylefive-door, five-seat SUV
Rivals to the X3 M50i xDrive (2024 prototype)