Whether you like it or not, hybrids and full electric vehicles are the foreseeable future. But BMW is a bit late to the electrification game. While it has had the i3 and i8 for a while now, those cars didn’t really have many competitors. Their most popular models, like the X3, had tonnes of competition from Volvo, Mercedes-Benz, and Lexus. Those other models also had hybrid variants of their respective models. However, now BMW has started offering the popular X3 with a plug-in hybrid powertrain.
Engine – This BMW X3 30e slots in between the base X3 30i & the more powerful X3 M40i. This 30e utilizes a 2.0L turbocharged gasoline engine along with a starter/generator sandwiched in between the engine and transmission for extra power or electric driving. The total system output is 288 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque (215 kW & 420 Nm). Due to the instant torque of the electric motor, the BMW X3 30e feels quick off the line despite its extra weight from the batteries. Almost 200 kg (440 lbs) more at 2,080 kg (4,585 lbs) curb weight. It’s the same story when overtaking a slower vehicle on a highway. The electric motor provides instant torque and fills the gaps in between shifts for an instant boost in power.
However, the electric motor is there to do a bit more than just provide power. It also aids in fuel economy. During my time with the X3 30e, I averaged 6.3 L/100km (37.3 MPG). That’s very good for an SUV that tips the scales at 2 tonnes. This was in part due to the electric motor aiding the gasoline engine as well as driving on electricity alone.
Battery & Charging – The battery is small at just 12 kWh which only provides around 27 to 30 km (16.5 – 18.5 miles) of driving range. But the X3 can be plugged in and recharged from a 120 Volt wall outlet or a level 2 charging station. From the wall outlet, it’ll take around 6 hours for a full charge. From the level 2 charging station, the charge time is reduced to around 3.5 hours.
When driving in the Auto Hybrid mode, the X3 can go up to 110 km/h (68 mph) on electricity before the gasoline engine takes over. Switch to Max Battery mode and the SUV will use as much of the juice that is available from the battery before turning on the gasoline engine. Top speed in this mode is bumped up to 140 km/h (87 mph). Finally there is Battery Control mode which recharges and holds the battery charge to a set level. The charge level can be set by the driver and the car will use the gasoline engine to charge the battery – in addition to driving the X3. In this mode, fuel economy takes a nosedive with highway numbers hovering around the 10 to 11 L/100km (21.5 – 23.5 MPG).
If the battery is depleted and you’re in the Auto Hybrid mode, the engine will take over driving duties. When it doesn’t need to charge the battery, fuel economy is a bit more normal at around 7 to 8 L/100km (29.5 – 33.5 MPG) on a highway.
Transmission – An 8-speed automatic transmission is responsible for shifting duties in the 2020 BMW X3 30e. As far as automatics go, this is one of the very best in the business. Shifts between gears are not only smooth, but they are also very fast; almost dual-clutch transmission fast. If you want to take over shifting duties, there are steering wheel mounted paddle shifters which are very responsive to driver inputs.
Braking – Like many hybrid vehicles, the 2020 BMW X30 30e xDrive recoups some electrical energy when slowing down. When lifting off the accelerator pedal, the recharge needle indicates that only about half of the energy is recuperated. Lightly apply the brakes and full regen braking is provided before the car engages the disc brakes if more braking force is required.
This particular X3 30e came equipped with the M-Sport package which added upgraded brakes. The 4-piston front brake calipers provide a lot of stopping force on their own along with a solid pedal feel. Automatic emergency braking is a standard feature on the 2020 BMW X3 30e.
Handling – Despite the extra heft from the batteries, the BMW X3 30e still retains the sporty handling characteristics that BMWs are known for. It’s not going to outpace a sedan per se, but for a family hauler and daily commuter, the X3 30e feels solid around the twisties. The steering weight is more pronounced when in the Sport mode as is the quickness. This particular demo vehicle came equipped with winter tires so the limits of grip can be quickly reached. The M-Sport package adds standard 20-inch wheels & run-flat tires while 21-inch wheels & tires are optional.
When the roads get treacherous, the BMW X3 30e is equipped with xDrive AWD. This is a mechanical AWD system and not an eAWD system like you’d find in the Volvo XC60 T8 where the rear wheels are driven by an electric motor. Both systems have their own advantages & disadvantages but this is a more traditional setup.
Ride Comfort – Driving the BMW X3 on city streets is not as bad as you may think. The suspension absorbs bumps very well – however – if you hit a large enough pothole, some of the noise gets translated through the suspension and into the cabin. At higher speeds, the X3 feels heavy & stable when driving on a highway.
Interior Space – The passenger space in the X3 30e remains relatively unchanged from the gasoline only version. However, that means that it still has the least front & rear legroom when compared to the Mercedes GLC & Volvo XC60. Adults over 6-feet will have enough space in the front seats but the rear seats can be a bit tight if you’re as tall as myself at 6’4”. The Volvo XC60 can boast the most rear legroom. When it comes to cargo, the floor of the trunk had to be raised to accommodate the batteries. As a result, the X3 30e has 770 L (27.2 cu-ft) of cargo behind the second row and 1,682 L (59.4 cu-ft) of cargo with the second row folded.
Noise, Vibration, & Harshness – The cabin of the 2020 BMW X3 30e is very well insulated from not only engine noise, but also wind and road noise. In full electric mode, there is zero noise coming from the powertrain. Once the engine does kick in, you have to look down at the instrument cluster to see if it’s powering the car or not. It is that quiet under normal driving conditions. Put the drive mode in Sport and there is some engine and exhaust noise pumped into the cabin through the speakers. But overall in everyday driving situations, the X3 is very quiet. Also thanks to the starter/generator electric motor, the auto start/stop of the engine is almost imperceivable.
Odds and Ends
Gadgets – With a starting price of $59,990 CAD ($49,600 USD), you’re basically paying for a luxury plug-in hybrid SUV with heated seats, heated steering, LED headlights, parking sensors, backup camera, and auto dimming mirrors to name a few. However, that price is a couple thousand dollars less than the Mercedes-Benz GLC 350e and significantly less (over $10,000 CAD) than the Volvo XC60 T8.
This demo X3 is not a base model. It has a few extra packages on it such as the M-sport & Premium Enhanced packages. These add features like upgraded brakes, 20” wheels, M aerodynamics, panoramic sunroof, rear sun shades, head-up display, heated rear seats, and ambient lighting. This demo vehicle also had surround view cameras and wireless phone charging as standalone options.
Interior Design – If you’re familiar with the controls from BMW vehicles over the last couple of years, then you should feel right at home in the BMW X3 30e. It has the same dashboard & center console layout as a vast majority of other BMW models. The only minor differences are the extra eDrive button on the center console near the drive mode selector and the slightly different instrument display for the hybrid drive mode. Everything else remains and is very simple to use. The interior may not have the flashiness of the Mercedes or the ultra-modern look of the Volvo but you get the feeling that it will stand the test of time a bit better than the other two.
Exterior Design – Apart from the charge port on the driver’s side front fender, the X3 30e looks identical to the non-hybrid variants. That is to say, a pretty good looking and somewhat conservative design when compared to the new 7-series, X7, and 4-series with their oversized grilles. The X3 looks grown up and almost elegant. I particularly like the styling of the taillights.
In the end, the 2020 BMW X3 30e is an almost perfect luxury PHEV SUV. It’s priced competitively against its competitors, it drives really well, it’s quiet, and it’s fuel efficient. Obviously I’d like it to have more electric driving range – without sacrificing any more cargo space – but for their first plug-in hybrid SUV, BMW did a very good job.
Thank you to BMW Canada for providing the vehicle. www.BMW.ca