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BMW's latest plug-in hybrid combines the urgency of electric drive with the practicality and sporty handling of the X3's platform.

22 Jul 2020


We have tested numerous electrified products from BMW before, from the imperious 7 Series plug-in hybrid to the sporty i8 Roadster and even the dainty little fully-electric BMW i3.

But while these models have performed admirably, they have still remained niche products wherein the peculiarities of an electrified drivetrain add to their unique character.

Additional charging flap separates the xDrive30e from its petrol-driven variants
This BMW X3 xDrive30e, however, is different. And it's potentially far more important than the rest of the aforementioned models, because the car you see in the pictures here utilises BMW's globally popular compact luxury SUV platform as its base from which the firm intends to bring electrified mobility not to a niche market, but to the masses.

And the typical family-owner shopping for a practical SUV is not going to tolerate long charging hours or a limited range on their school-run car.

So does this X3 xDrive30e bring enough to the table to convince the masses to make the switch over to plug-in hybrids?

First impressions

Instrument panel gives easy access to all necessary battery information
Thankfully, first impressions are great. The X3 xDrive30e gives little away on the exterior that it sports plug-in capability, save for its '30e' badging and, of course, the extra charging flap at the passenger side of the car.

Step in and start the car and you'll find that the same discreet approach has been adopted in the interior. The car gets a different instrument panel layout in order to show you the necessary hybrid-car readouts, of course. Save for the additional eDrive button on the centre console and you will be hard pressed to identify this model from its petrol-driven cousins.

Build quality all-round is excellent, and there is space aplenty for all.

At the rear, the X3 xDrive30e surrenders 100 litres of boot space to accommodate its new batteries. While the remaining 450 litres is still plenty, you do lose the added practicality of having the underfloor storage compartments found on the petrol-driven versions of the X3.

And on the go?

To accommodate the batteries, you lose the additional storage compartments under the floor and 100 litres of boot space at the rear
Move off and the X3 xDrive30e impresses greatly. Cabin insulation from noise and vibration is excellent, and takeoff when running on electricity or petrol is smooth and linear.

But being a BMW, you'd naturally expect more than just that, and this X3 xDrive30e delivers. It may do a good job of disguising itself design-wise next to its petrol-driven cousins, but when driven, it will happily flaunt the abilities of its electrified drivetrain.

Drive this car eagerly and it is more than happy to oblige with a keen application of electric torque. The electric motor in the Volvo XC60 T8 plug-in hybrid we tested a few months back may only have a 21bhp (and 25Nm of torque) deficit, but this BMW seems to be far, far more eager to charge ahead with every prod of the accelerator pedal.

Electric eagerness

eBOOST adds a significant surge of acceleration for easy overtaking
Setting the car into its 'Sport' mode naturally gives faster responsiveness, but enthusiastic driving in 'comfort' mode is made equally fun, thanks to a little 'eBOOST' indicator at the top of the right dial which lights up when the drivetrain is receiving additional assistance from the 108bhp electric motor.

And trust me you will feel a difference in acceleration when that little indicator switches on.

At speed, the X3 xDrive30e's ride is on the firmer side when compared against other SUVs in its class, but is still far from being uncomfortable.

Space is generous for all passengers in the rear, while the door pockets can accommodate the largest water bottles
More surprising is the fact that body roll is still kept to a minimum, despite the 275kg gain in unladen weight against the X3 xDrive20i with which the X3 xDrive30e shares its four-cylinder engine.

Taking sweeping turns at speed will reveal yet another surprise: The X3 xDrive30e's steering weighs up by a significant amount, even in its default 'comfort' setting.

So much so that if the missus is no fan of sporty driving I think some forewarning may be due, especially if your early morning school run tends to be a hectic affair.

All buzzed up

47km real-world electric range allows you to make use of the X3 xDrive30e's urgency guilt-free
Set to MAX eDrive mode (which maximises the use of the electric motor), the X3 xDrive30e delivered a real-world range 47km before the battery went flat, not far from the official claimed 55km figure.

Even in its Auto eDrive mode (which optimises the efficiency of both the petrol engine and electric motor), accelerating up to highway speeds on electric power alone is easily accomplished.

The X3 xDrive30e achieved a real-world charging speed of 3.67kW when charged with a Type 2 charger from a 0% state-of-charge, taking three hours and 20 minutes to reach a total charge of 11.94kWh.

For those looking for a flexible drivetrain and a practical body, the X3 xDrive30e is hard to beat
In practice, this means that you should be able to drive to work and back with minimal use of the petrol engine. But if your household likes to wait until the weekend to run all their errands, you can expect a real-world fuel economy of 10.4km/L after the battery has gone completely flat.

That may not be an impressive figure for a hybrid but you do have to bear in mind that this is a two-tonne car saddled with an all-wheel drive system.

The power of choice?

BMW is mighty proud to offer its customers an increasing choice of drivetrains with each model that it sells, and local prices reflect that attitude. The X3 xDrive30e is retailing for $252,888, a marginal $10,000 above the petrol-powered X3 xDrive30i (prices as of 21 July 2020). In return, you get your X3 with a maximum of 288bhp, which is 40bhp more than the X3 xDrive30i.

Couple that with the urgency and flexibility of this electrified drivetrain and it seems to me that for all those with easy access to a wall box charger, their choice is actually quite clear.
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Car Information

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BMW X3 Plug-in Hybrid xDrive30e xLine (A)
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Price

: $252,888

Engine Type

:

4-cylinder in-line 16-valve TwinPower Turbocharged

Engine Cap

:

1998cc

Horsepower

:

135kW (181 bhp) / 6500 rpm

Torque

:

300 Nm / 4000 rpm

Transmission

:

8-speed (A) Steptronic

Acceleration (0-100 km/h)

:

6.1sec

Top Speed

:

210km/h

Fuel consumption

:

35.7 km/L

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