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Powerful and fuel-efficient: These are things most buyers want but do not always find in a small luxury SUV. But when they get the new 2021 BMW X3, they will have found what they were looking for. The BMW X3 offers BMW's signature high-end interior styling, so of course BMW fans will not be disappointed on that account. And either of the two available powertrains is powerful enough to make the X3 feel fun to drive.
Last model year introduced a plug-in hybrid variant of the X3, which sits just above the sDrive30i and xDrive30i (which are just rear- and all-wheel drive variants - respectively - of the same trim level). The xDrive30e garnered a lot of positive reviews last year and will likely get more this year.
Now, if you go up to the line-topping M trim level, you are in for a real treat. This sporty SUV might have a super stiff ride quality, but it has an insanely fast acceleration rate. In fact, it hits 60 mph in just 3.8 seconds, which keeps pace with even more high-end luxury SUVs.
The X3 does, of course, have some drawbacks. The most aggravating flaw is that Android Auto is not available for smartphone app integration - just Apple CarPlay. This alienates a lot of Android users who would like to sync their phone apps to their vehicle. The other issue lies with the plug-in hybrid and if it really does pack in as much value as it should. Some plug-in hybrids in this class do better, but some don't, so it might be a tough call here.
The X3 does leave buyers with four solid choices this model year. Which 2021 BMW X3 might be the right trim level for you? Could it be the base trim, or perhaps the super fast M trim level? Or how about the plug-in? Let's take a deeper look at each of the X3's four trim level variants. By the end of this trim level comparison review, we will announce which trim level we think has the most appeal to the average buyer in this segment, so be sure to stay with us until the conclusion.
Compare the 2021 BMW X3 sDrive30i/xDrive30i vs xDrive30e Trim. - What is the Difference?
The 2021 BMW X3 line-up starts off with the sDrive30i and xDrive30i variants. The former is a rear-wheel-drive variant while the latter is all-wheel-drive. Aside from a few minor differences related to their drivetrains, these two variants are otherwise the same. So we are going to compare them with the xDrive30e, which is the plug-in hybrid variant and next trim level above them.
This the sDrive30i/xDrive30i is powered by a standard 2.0-L turbo-charged 4-cylinder engine that is able to generate a power output of 248 hp. This vehicle comes equipped with an 8-speed automatic sport transmission (which has launch control included), an active kidney grille, electronic control throttle, an auto start/stop function, and brake energy regeneration. Driving Dynamics Control includes SPORT, COMFORT, and ECO PRO modes.
The X3's base trim comes with a Dynamic Stability Control system that features Brake-Standby functions, Dynamic Traction Control, a Start-off Assistant, Brake Drying, and Brake Fade Compensation. There is Servotronic power steering assist as well as an electromechanical parking brake, electric power steering, shock absorbers that are double tube gas pressure, spring struts with the multi-link axle suspension up front, the 5-link axle for the rear suspension, stabilizer bars fore and aft, and 4-wheel ventilated disc brakes.
The base trim rides atop standard 18-inch wheels with Y-spokes, which come with run-flat all-season tires. There are heated side mirrors that are power-folding, roof rails done in satin aluminum, exterior trim to match the roof rails, a center brake light on the roof spoiler, chrome exhaust tips, and different non-metallic paint options. Inside, you get upholstery done in SensaTec, an anthracite headliner, dark wood oak trim, and a cover for the cargo area.
Connectivity features on the base trim are about what you should expect: smartphone app integration through Apple CarPlay (although, as we have already mentioned, Android Auto is missing from the line-up), BMW TeleServices, WiFi hot-spot connectivity, and the Connected Package Plus. On the latter system, you get to use handy features like Real Time Traffic, Concierge Services, Remote Door Unlock, and Stolen Vehicle Recovery.
A 12-speaker HiFi sound system with a 205-watt digital amplifier comes standard. AM/FM/MP3 player capability, a 1-year All Access subscription to SiriusXM Satellite Radio, and HD Radio with FM station multi-casting all come included as well.
The controls and instrumentation setup is pretty extensive on even the base sDrive30i/xDrive30i. For example, this trim level includes Live Cockpit Plus, which gives you a 10.25-inch central information display paired with a 5.7-inch analog instrument cluster. The iDrive 6.0 system that comes with it can be operated via the touchscreen display, voice controls, or the touchpad controller. 2 USB ports, built-in navigation, Bluetooth hands-free connectivity for audio streaming and phone calling, 8 programmable bookmarks, and quasi-annual over-the-air updates all come included with this infotainment system.
You also get a 3-spoke telescoping steering wheel that is wrapped in leather and has multiple controls mounted onto it. A vehicle monitoring system for Expanded Check Control, galvanic controls, dynamic cruise control, a rear window defroster, and a tire pressure monitoring system come equipped as well.
A pleasing ride quality has to be balanced out by a ton of creature comforts, and BMW definitely loads their drivers up to the brim. For starters, BMW equips its base X3 trim level with the Advanced Vehicle and Key Memory system. This system is able to recall the most recently and most frequently used settings for features like the side mirrors, power front seats, air distribution and climate control, radio presets and audio, lighting, central locking, and the push-button start. There is an engine stop/start button for the driver to easily use. The sport driver's seat is 10-way power adjustable with 2-way power bolsters, thigh support, and 2-way manually adjustable head rests. The rear seat is 40/20/40-split folding, and there is rear seatback adjustment. Active charcoal filters in the micro-filter ventilation system can be easily replaced and do a great job at keeping the cabin's air quality clean and fresh. This works well with the tri-zone automatic climate control system and its air recirculation system.
If you need to see the curb more while backing up, the passenger-side side mirror can automatically tilt down for better visibility. Both power front windows have key-off and one-touch auto-up/down on them while the rear windows have one-touch down and an anti-trapping function. The driver's side mirror and interior rear-view mirror are both auto-dimming. The inner courtesy lights auto-dim as well.
Up front, you get an armrest atop the center console, which has a good-sized bin inside of it. Every door has open storage compartments, and there is storage on the front seatbacks too. The cargo area has a remote trunk release in it and is fully finished with nice velour carpeting. You also get a power tailgate, a locking glove box, map lights up front with their own individual controls, illuminated vanity mirrors on each sun visor, two cup holders up front and two in the rear, a rear seat armrest that folds up, privacy glass, the Home Link universal garage door opener, and the storage compartment package.
While that is all well and good, a lot of drivers are still concerned about their safety. Any luxury SUV is going to need to come with a solid amount of standard safety and security features, and the BMW X3 does not disappoint. BMW loads its base trim with a head protection system for the front and rear, LED fog lights, LED daytime running lights that can be programmed, cornering lights with the LED headlights, front and rear park distance control, and a rear-view camera.
You also get the Active Protection System. This system works at detecting forthcoming crashes and prepares the vehicle and its occupants for impact. It will automatically adjust the pretensioners on the seat belts, close the moonroof and all of the windows, and activate post-crash braking capabilities. It even includes a Fatigue and Focus warning feature that detects when the driver's attention is waning and issues them an alert to re-focus. There is also an impact sensor that, when a crash is about to happen, will disconnect the starter, fuel pump, and alternator from the battery and switches on the hazard lights to warn other drivers nearby.
Other standard safety and security features include an anti-theft alarm system, adaptive brake lights, BMW Assist eCall (which has things like an SOS request button and an enhanced automatic crash notification), and the Active Driving Assistant (which bundles together driver aids including active blind spot monitoring, a forward collision warning, and lane departure warning).
The xDrive30e is a plug-in hybrid variant of the xDrive30i. This means that you get the all-wheel-drive system coupled with a hybrid powertrain. It gets a 2.0-L 4-cylinder gas-powered turbo engine with 181 hp and a 107-hp electric motor for a grand total of 288 hp. Aside from this change-up in the powertrain, the rest of the xDrive30i's features carry over on the xDrive30e.
Compare the 2021 BMW X3 xDrive30e vs M40i Trim Level. - What is the Difference?
The M40i is the next trim level up in the X3's line-up, and it adds quite a lot on. First and foremost, the engine gets upgraded to a sturdy 3.0-L twin-turbo 6-cylinder engine that has a power output of 382 hp. All-wheel-drive comes standard, but there is a performance control function that gets added on. You also get the M suspension, M sport brakes with blue calipers, and variable sport steering.
The wheels are upgraded to 19-inch M double-spoke two-color wheels with all-season run-flat tires. Also, the exterior gains the Shadowline trim that BMW likes to put on its M trim levels. There is also an aerodynamic kit that improves the vehicle's overall driving performance. The cabin gains more SensaTec on the dashboard as well as aluminum rhombicle trim.
For some reason, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay both come equipped on the M. So if you are an Android owner, you might find yourself spending more in order to get compatibility with your smartphone.
You do get upgraded to Live Cockpit Professional, which takes the 10.25-inch touchscreen and adds a 12.3-inch digital cluster display. You also get upgraded to the iDrive 7.0 infotainment system, which comes with Bluetooth and built-in navigation. The steering wheel is swapped to the M Sport leather-wrapped one, and the front seats become 14-way power adjustable and gains 4-way power lumbar support. Comfort Access keyless entry comes with a hands-free trunk and lid opener. There is a two-panel, fully automatic panoramic glass moonroof that has power lifting and sliding; a power sunshade is also included with this.
Safety features also get a boost as the exterior sees the addition of LED headlights that are full icon adaptive and automatic high beams. However, everything else remains unchanged.
Compare the 2021 BMW X3 M40i vs M Trim. What is the Difference?
The M represents a big step up from even the powerful M40i. This line-topper is a standout when it comes to power, as its 3.0-L V6 twin-turbo engine puts forth a solid 473 hp. In addition to the air curtains, this trim also gets an air breather system. It even receives the M Sport differential. It also has 20-inch double-spoke two-toned wheels in orbit grey, M quad tailpipes, and the M rear spoiler. Carbon fiber inner trim and M driver foot rests and door sills adorn the cabin.
Tech additions are fairly cool and helpful. You get the BMW ConnectedDrive Services and the Connected Package Professional, which equips the Intelligent Personal Assistant which can help you with all kinds of features, including navigation. There is also enhanced smartphone capabilities that allow you to sync two devices at once. The sound system gets upgraded to a 16-speaker Harman Kardon with a 600-watt amplifier. To top that off, you get the M-specific instrumentation panel, which includes displays for M Drivelogic, MDM, and M Drive.
Up front, you gain an auxiliary input on the center console, and there is adjustable multi-colored ambient interior light inside of the M. The front seats gain three-stage power heating, and even more power outlets can be found throughout the cabin and cargo area. Speed limit info gets added to the Active Driving Assistant, and Active Guard now comes equipped too, thereby adding city collision warning and other handy driver aids.
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Which Trim to Choose?
There are a lot of things to enjoy about the 2021 BMW X3 - and a few things we wish the maker would improve upon. When it comes to choosing the right trim, the X3 presents a host of good choices. Among the ones offered, we have to go with the base sDrive30i/xDrive30i. It already comes equipped with a lot of helpful features, and you can choose whether you want rear- or all-wheel-drive.
If you do want something sporty and have the money, venture right on up to the top of the line and get the super-powerful M. We don't really recommend the plug-in since others in the segment offer a little more overall value on their hybrids. But, if you have your heart set on a plug-in, it is not a poor choice as it will save you some money at the pump.
Most people should, however, be perfectly happy with the X3's base trim level.
• Compare the 2020 BMW X3 Trim Levels