For decades, the BMW 3 Series has been the sedan to get if you were looking for something premium but sporty. Not only has it been the sedan, but it was the car, period. Yet, this current generation of 3 Series has lacked that specialness, the perfect balance of sport and comfort. So it might not be the sedan in the segment to get anymore. In fact, it might not even be the BMW to get anymore. That’s because the new BMW X3 exists and it could be the better car.
A few years ago, that comment may have been laughable. A tall-riding, mid-size SUV being a better car than the 3 Series? Yet here we are and I genuinely believe that it is. Before you tune me out, though, let’s check them out on paper.
I went on BMWUSA’s configurator and configured both the BMW 33oi xDrive and the BMW X3 xDrive30i in two well-optioned specs that were as similar as I could get them. So both had M Sport packages, because that was the only package both cars offered, and both were the Premium trims with no other options. So both cars had the same engines, both had automatic gearboxes, both were all-wheel drive and both were spec’d about exactly the same. The 3 Series came out to $49,900 and the X3 came out to $52,000 on the nose.
So for two thousand dollars extra, the X3 provides a newer chassis, far more interior and cargo space, newer technology and better luxury, though the latter is really just due to being part of BMW’s newer models. So it’s clear that the BMW X3 is better value, as only a few grand more gets you so much more car.
Now, the enthusiasts might think this is still a no-brainer and that the 3 Series is the obvious choice for one reason and one reason only — handling. Typically, the 3 Series has been BMW’s best driving car, with the optimum balance of chassis dynamics, comfort and performance. However, this new X3 is even better. That’s right, don’t adjust your TV sets, folks, I’m telling you that the BMW X3 drives better than the 3 Series. It may not beat it on a skidpad or in any objective performance metrics. But from a feel and driver feedback perspective, the BMW X3 is better.
After having driven the new X3 for five minutes, I wanted to pull over, get out and make sure I was, in fact, driving a BMW X3 and not a 3 Series. So it baffled me, too. There was just this delicacy, a fluidity that I hadn’t felt in a normal, non-M BMW since the E46 3 Series. That’s the exact car it reminded me of when I first started chucking it through corners. While it still isn’t as good as an E46, obviously, there are hints of that car in the new X3, signs of the BMW we used to know and love in its DNA. You can feel it immediately. And it’s odd but it’s true.
I remember thinking to myself, “I’d rather drive this than the 3 Series”. And that’s when it hit me that the best ‘3’-badged BMW was actually an X3.
That might change, admittedly. The upcoming G20 3 Series’ arrival is immanent and it’s set to be a massive upgrade over the car it replaces. Not only is it going to be newer, faster and more high-tech but it’s going to be built on an entirely new chassis, the very same one that underpins this new X3. So we’re expecting big things from it and hoping that it takes the little bit of magic the X3 has brought back and amplifies it. Until then, though, the 3 Series is not longer the daily-driving Bavarian to buy. It’s the BMW X3.