Road Test: BMW X3 xDrive30e M Sport
Plug-in tech promises low tax and running costs for the appealing X3. Jonathan Musk drives.
SECTOR Premium mid-range SUV PRICE £57,540 FUEL 134.5mpg CO2 48g/km
One of the most enjoyable aspects of driving a plug-in hybrid is its Jekyll and Hyde ability to either perform as a serenely luxurious electric car, or to combine its power plants into tyre-shredding torque-heavy machines offering rapid on-road performance. And yet, they have a tendency (when driven correctly and plugged in frequently) to reward with fuel-sipping qualities and low CO2 emissions outputs.
Happily, the new BMW X3 plug-in hybrid performs well in both respects, with its 28-31-mile official electric range easily allowing for most minor journeys to be undertaken using spark power alone, while stretching its legs on a long motorway jaunt is taken care of by its smooth 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine.
However, the sheer size of the car make its electric performance feel a touch underpowered, with only 109hp on tap, despite this being ample to carry the car all the way to its electric top speed of 84mph. Official acceleration takes 6.1 seconds from 0-62mph too, again reliant on its petrol engine to combine with the motor to propel it along its path.
Fundamentally, customers of the new xDrive30e won’t be all too interested in this, however, with the real allure being reserved for its sub-50g/km CO2 tax bracket and consequent 12% Benefit-in-Kind (BiK) headline figure for the 2020/21 tax year. However, its P11D value of £51,100 in M Sport guise offsets cost savings but still equates to an annual fee of £1,236 for a 20% tax payer rising to £2,472 for a 40% tax payer. Hardly nothing. And keep in mind that when it arrives, the new iX3 will offer 0% BiK despite its more than £60k list price.
Consequently, the X3 xDrive30e is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand its sums equate to decent savings for the company car driver, while its split personality both rewards and detracts from the ownership and driving experience.
As one of BMW’s most appealing models, plug-in hybrid power certainly makes a case for itself over the equivalent diesel, which will see you pay around three times the tax annually for the privilege.
BMW’s integration of the plug-in system has been well done, with only a minor reduction in luggage capacity due to its 12kWh battery. Internally and externally, there’s little to tell this apart from a non-plug-in X3 too, which means that it’s high-tech attributes go under the car park radar.
Unfortunately, the plug-in system cannot hide its weight and the car feels less sprightly on the road than its conventionally powered cousins. It isn’t bad, but it isn’t great either, making for that weird mix of power meets rolling ride characteristics.
Overall though, there’s really little to complain about and it feels every bit the premium offering BMW intends it to be. It rewards in the right places (namely the wallet) and its foibles are acceptable given the vehicle type. However, BMW’s comprehensive plug-in range includes the hard to ignore 5 Series, which gives you better handling and slightly lower tax with similar amounts of prestige.
Appealing economics arrive with the plug-in X3 making it the obvious fleet choice, but other plug-in BMWs offer even more appeal.
Key fleet model: BMW X3 xDrive30e
Strengths: Decent 30-mile EV range and power
Weaknesses: Expensive, drive modes can be confusing
Fleet World Star Rating