The widespread electrification of BMW's SUV range not only helps reduce tailpipe emissions, but also improves the environmental image of the company. Of them all, it is the mid-size BMW X3 xDrive30e that seems to hit the sweet spot.
In the metal
How the BMW X3 has grown in size could almost make you think you're looking at an X5 - although that too has swollen considerably over the years. Nonetheless, there's little to tell the X3 xDrive30e apart from other non-hybrid versions of the X3. Other than the addition of a battery charge port on the front left wing, there's little else to signify that this SUV is packing an electrified powertrain. That's sure to prove popular with buyers that don't especially want to stand out from the crowd.
The X3 is an attractive SUV, and this current model is a huge step forward in terms of design over the previous two generations. It's built on the same platform as the BMW 5 Series, and that means it also uses many common parts inside the cabin. That's no bad thing. In fact, it is one of the best cabin designs in this class, with a mix of digitalisation through a 12.3-inch instrument cluster and 10.2-inch touchscreen. You can have a full-colour head-up display too, which looks very modern. There is a high level of quality throughout the cabin, with the fit and finish suitably reflecting the BMW's premium standing. There's room to make it better still if you're willing to opt for the Merino leather and choose from the various decorative trims.
Due to the placement of the 12kWh battery beneath the rear seat, boot space takes a 100-litre hit, though at 450 litres it remains reasonably practical. The rear seats have a 40/20/40 split as normal and, when folded forward, there's 1,500 litres of cargo capacity. Better still, there is no noticeable difference or impact on rear passenger space, which means generous amounts of head and legroom.
As we have mentioned in past reviews of the BMW X3, it is a refined car with little in the way of engine and road noise. The plug-in hybrid builds on this and in electric mode in particular it's very quiet. In a typical urban setting, the electric motor delivers adequate performance, with its 109hp moving the X3 along at a sufficient pace up to a top electrical speed of 135km/h. There's little in the way of electric motor whine either. With a full battery, the X3 is capable of travelling as much as 54 kilometres in WLTP test cycle conditions. In realistic terms, buyers could typically see close to 50 kilometres in fine weather, though that range will likely drop a bit lower in colder conditions. Availing of cabin pre-conditioning to warm the car while it is plugged in and charging can improve range by as much as ten per cent, says BMW. However, as is the case with all plug-in hybrids, you do need to be charging it as frequently as possible to get close to the official economy figures.
If you want to extract the most efficiency from the hybrid drivetrain then you will also need to use the built-in navigation. The system first calculates your route and takes into account real-time traffic and also the topography to determine when to deploy the electric element of the powertrain. It will know when you're about to arrive at a downhill section and prompts you to take your foot off the accelerator as it harvests kinetic energy back into the battery. Furthermore, when driving into areas with zero-emission zones, the system can calculate how much battery energy it will require inside the area. It automatically switches over to EV mode once it passes the pre-set boundary - something that all new BMW plug-in hybrids will be capable of going forward.
The X3 switches between its electric motor and the petrol engine quite smoothly, and you would barely notice it at lower speeds. When you begin to drive the BMW with more vigour, its mass does become evident. It holds a line well through a fast bend though you can't help but be aware of the weight and increasing body lean. At times, the turbocharged four-cylinder engine can begin to sound strained, too; clearly, this SUV is more about comfort and refinement than dynamic driving. But if you take that view towards it, you are unlikely to find any fault with how it dispatches its performance. A commanding driving position and steering that ranks among the best in the class increase the BMW's appeal.
What you get for your money
BMW offers plenty of scope when it comes to specification of the hybrid model. Starting with the SE trim grade at €56,409, there are 18-inch alloy wheels and black Vernasca leather upholstery, with additional options available through packs that group items together. The €57,599 xLine version adds a more rugged exterior appearance with matt aluminium detailing on the front and rear bumpers and sills, while sports seats inside lift the look.
From €59,919, the M Sport model is arguably the best looking and best-equipped version. Alongside the sportier body kit, there are LED fog lights, high gloss black trim around the windows with matching roof rails, 19-inch alloy wheels and uprated M Sport brakes. It's a similar story inside with an M-branded steering wheel, sports seats and anthracite headlining. These prices include SEAI grant and VRT rebate.
BMW is out of the blocks early with its plug-in SUV offering, though there are alternative options from its premium rivals. The X3 is a lovely car, spacious, well-built and if you're committed to maximising what a plug-in hybrid can do, you're likely to be happy with one of these.