The BMW X3 xDrive30e plug-in hybrid offers the brand’s characteristically sporty driving dynamics in an SUV body style with an official electric driving range of up to 34 miles.
BMW was a leader in the area of electric cars a few years ago, with the all-electric i3 and the plug-in hybrid i8. Since then various other manufacturers have come to market with pure electric models, but BMW has been focusing instead on widening its plug-in hybrid model range, and the X3 is one of the latest to offer a PHEV powertrain.
The BMW X3 xDrive30e looks pretty identical to any other X3 on the outside, and in the interior, which means that it offers a practical and spacious SUV body style, however there is a significantly raised boot floor (although there’s still a decent luggage capacity of 450 litres). An electric motor works in conjunction with the four-cylinder, two-litre petrol engine, to give a total power output of 252hp.
Drive is transmitted – both in hybrid and electric modes – via an eight-speed Steptronic gearbox and xDrive all-wheel drive.
The X3 xDrive30e offers the usual BMW qualities of a sporty, premium driving experience – in an SUV body style. A good driving position can be found, and all the control weights are well-judged.
There are drive modes of Sport, Comfort and Eco Pro. You can also then select additional menus – for example under Sport, there are options of Sport Plus and Individual – just in case you want an added level of complexity.
There’s also an eDrive button, which again leads to further options of Auto eDrive, Max eDrive and Battery Control. To drive on pure electric power, you need to select Max eDrive. If you want to maintain a specific level of battery charge, then that’s done via the Battery Control option. This is somewhat hidden away compared to similar controls on some other PHEVs, and the whole PHEV drive modes system is fairly complex.
Virtually all PHEVs are better to drive in electric mode than on the petrol engine, but the X3 is an exception, as there’s just not much power in EV mode (and it changes gear in EV mode, unlike a pure EV). In contrast, Sport mode – using the petrol engine – gives good performance, as well as generating a (synthesised) sporty sound.
The X3 xDrive30e is also equipped with XtraBoost, an on-demand performance system that increases the power output of the hybrid-drive system by 41hp at the touch of a button, helping to achieve an acceleration time from zero to 62mph of just 6.1 seconds.
For an SUV, the X3 is good to drive. However for a BMW, it’s not as much of a rewarding driver’s car as, for example, the 330e Touring. The X3’s ride quality is good, and of course the xDrive all-wheel drive system gives impressive levels of grip as well as having a rear-wheel drive bias for enjoyable handling. Even with the standard road tyres, the X3 coped with some mild off-roading.
As well as their rewarding driving experience, BMWs are also set apart by their effective dashboard controls, in particular the excellent iDrive infotainment system. Having a rotary controller – together with menu shortcut buttons – between the front seats is a much better system than just touching buttons on a screen. The X3’s screen is also wide, and satnav guidance appears between the instrument dials as well as on the centre screen, making it an excellent system.
The X3 also has separate controls under the touchscreen for the radio and climate, maintaining traditional rotary dials that you twist to change the cabin temperature, which is much better than the switches that you have to repeatedly press in the 3 Series.
One experiment that hopefully won’t be repeated is the use of black lettering on silver buttons rather than the traditional BMW approach of white lettering on black buttons – the silver buttons aren’t nearly as clear.
The BMW X3 xDrive30e has an all-electric range of up to 34 miles and offers a combined economy of 128.4-117.7mpg along with CO2 emissions of 49-54g/km. During a week with the car, the real-world electric range after a full charge was actually quite disappointing, typically varying between 15-22 miles. A range of 415 miles on petrol was displayed, and the average economy over a week was 54.1mpg.
It’s worth noting that SUV plug-in hybrids aren’t the most efficient option due to their extra weight and poor aerodynamics.
A full charge for the X3 using a 7kW home charge point will take just a few hours.
The BMW X3 xDrive30e M Sport costs £49,310. Our test car had the options of Technology package (£1,900), Premium package (£1,930), Comfort package (£890), Sun protection glass (£320), Driving Assistant (£670), Parking Assistant Plus (£500), taking the total price of our text car to £56,415.
The X3 xDrive30e has a Benefit in Kind (BIK) company car tax liability of just 12% for 2020/21.
The X3 xDrive30e is offered in the same model configurations as other X3 variants – SE, xLine and the range-topping M Sport trim as tested.
The BMW X3 xDrive30e M Sport is a very capable all-round car, offering a good driving experience, all-wheel drive traction, premium quality, a spacious SUV body style, and the ability for electric-only driving. However there isn’t much power when driving in electric mode, and the real-life electric driving range was disappointing. The BMW X3 xDrive30e gains a Green Car Guide rating of 8 out of 10.
SUVs may be a fashionable choice for car buyers, but if you don’t need an SUV, then the excellent BMW 330e Touring, with its lower centre of gravity, is a more rewarding driver’s car, as well as being more efficient.
And our standard plug-in hybrid advice remains: plug-in hybrids are designed to be primarily driven on electric power, ie. less than 30 miles between charges, with occasional longer journeys. A PHEV used like this could deliver over 100mpg. However driving a plug-in hybrid SUV up and down the nation’s motorways without charging is likely to result in fuel economy in the mid-30’s.