From 1 all the way to 7, BMW will soon have an uninterrupted Sports Activity Vehicle lineup. But today’s X-rated review focuses on their freshest SAV: the all-new, 3rd generation 2018 X3.

Built in South Carolina and sized to succeed, the X3 plays in the red-hot luxury small sport utility segment, butting heads with the likes of the Mercedes-Benz GLC and Audi Q5 among others. All run with 2.0-liter turbo engines, come standard with all-wheel drive, start in the low 40s and return about 25mpg on premium gas.  Though its overall footprint hasn’t changed much the 2018 X3 has had its wheelbase stretched, creating an extremely short front overhang communicating the balanced 50:50 weight distribution.  The new 3D grille makes its X Model debut and in this beautiful Dark Olive paint, spawns a brawny, athletic, and sophisticated looking SUV.  It’s not flashy but the subtle styling details simply work for the typically restrained BMW design.  This is the least expensive xLine Design trim, emphasizing sport-ute robustness while Luxury Design models focus on elegance.  Rounding out the trifecta is an M Sport Design with a more muscular appearance.

Mechanically speaking, the X3 xDrive30i  is underpinned by the same platform as the big 7 Series sedan but unlike that car, a rear-drive X3 is no longer an option.  All-wheel drive, known as xDrive at BMW, is standard and is more biased to the rear wheels now with the aim of improving handling dynamics.  Power is routed via an 8-speed transmission mated to the familiar 2.0-liter turbo-4, with a modest power bump now rated at 248 horses and 258 pound-feet of torque.  That output plus launch control allows for a quick enough getaway, hitting 60mph in 6-seconds – 2/10ths quicker than the former xDrive28i model.  Though vehicle weight is nearly identical to before, BMW engineers targeted unsprung mass, specifically the suspension components, in order to deliver an even sportier driving experience without compromising ride comfort.  My tester takes that a step further with the $1,400 optional Dynamic Handling Package with M Sport brakes, variable sport steering that adjusts the ratio and force depending on the wheel’s movement and a suspension geometry that allows for less lean in the corners.  You also get the highly recommended dynamic damper control to vary the basic suspension characteristics.  There are multiple modes including an Adaptive setting that lets the computer sort out the road anomalies for a beautifully balanced ride.  My biggest takeaway from this setup is how wonderfully compliant the ride quality is…just how I like it in an SUV.  Yet, there seems to be a bit of BMW DNA missing from the driving feel that’s confounded me all week.

Sometimes I can immediately tell if I like a vehicle and other times I vacillate, and that’s what I’ve been doing this week concerning the X3’s drive. Other than in a sports car I don’t need a firm ride and this X3 is surprisingly soft in all modes but Sport. Coddling and super comfy the X3 feels truckier and less car-like accentuated by its high seating position…a welcome characteristic but it doesn’t really drive like a BMW. These Pirelli run-flats seem to detract from the connectedness typically experienced in a BMW and in sportier driving there’s more floatiness than I’d like. Plus, the adaptive steering has various degrees of effort but lacks an organic fluidity so driving this model in a sporty manner isn’t that satisfying. But in its typical environment of running errands and the like, the X3 is an ideal companion.

Keep in mind there’s a new M40i model above this if more sporting intentions are desired. And I want to reiterate – I thoroughly like this new X3 and its target audience will embrace its everyday driving comfort but BMW devotees might feel like something’s a bit off from behind the wheel.

Ground clearance remains at a healthy 8” and for the first time you can opt for a factory-installed trailer hitch, capable of towing 4,400 pounds.

The beige colored interior with large moonroof creates a bright, airy environment. Optioned with real leather, the cabin is very well done both pleasing to the eye and touch.  iDrive 6.0 with wireless CarPlay, Wi-Fi  and touchscreen functionality is the best infotainment BMW has ever produced.  You’ve still got the controller with writing recognition but getting to where you want to go is so much easier when you can just reach over and touch the screen.  I loved it in my 5 Series test and it’s more of the same here.  There’s more stuff it space than before, there are fold flat rear seats that can be lever actuated from the cargo area and the front sport seats have adjustable everything to snug you into place.  A head-up display, heated steering wheel, heated front and rear seats and a surround view camera keep the driver cozy and confident.  This is one of my favorite BMW spaces, nicely blending conservative with contemporary that plays perfectly sized for just enough people and cargo space.  Plus, you get a really cool light carpet projection at night.  No gesture controlled tailgate, however.  Not fully loaded but almost, this X3 xDrive30i Premium Tier stickers for $57,820.  BMW executives have demanded that this X3 once again becomes the segment sales leader and there’s no reason to doubt their expectations.

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