BMW X3 prototype review: an early go in BMW's global bestseller

Published: 15 April 2024 Updated: 15 April 2024
New 2024 BMW X3 prototype review
  • At a glance
  • 4 out of 5
  • 5 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5

By Georg Kacher

European editor, secrets uncoverer, futurist, first man behind any wheel

By Georg Kacher

European editor, secrets uncoverer, futurist, first man behind any wheel

► We drive new fourth-gen BMW X3
► An early prototype drive of SUV
► Testing the BMW X3 M50 and 30e PHEV

After three generations and over 3.5 million units sold, the BMW X3 is about to enter its fourth generation. While the X3 Mk1 was built by Magna in Graz, Austria, the latest version will be assembled in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) version in Rosslyn, South Africa. CAR magazine secured an early drive in production-ready prototypes of the new 2024 BMW X3.

Dubbed G45 and due to go on sale in October 2024, Munich’s bestseller is again based on the familiar CLAR WE architecture which underpins all combustion BMWs from the 3-series upwards. The shortlived electric iX3 imported from China, which launched in 2021, switches to the bespoke Neue Klasse matrix later this year. 

While 5-series and its electric namesake the i5, plus the 7-series/i7 twins look virtually identical, X3 and iX3 EV get markedly different designs this time. Parallel platforms will in the future also be used for the future versions of the 1-series/i1, 2-series/i2 and 3-series/i3. The bigger SUVs are to join the Neue Klasse DNA at a later stage.

We drove a pair of heavily camouflaged pre-production X3s on the company’s Miramas proving ground near Marseille and on surrounding country roads. Read on for our BMW X3 prototype review.

At a glance

Pros: Still a great all-rounder, dynamic polish, improved electric range of PHEV, extra space
Cons: Humbler models appear to be quite dour inside, pricing likely to be punchy

What’s new?

The G45-generation BMW X3 is a little longer, wider and lower than its predecessor. As a result, it offers a slightly bigger boot and a somewhat roomier cabin. Sporting a drag coefficient of 0.27, the new arrival is also more slippery and aerodynamically more stable, to the benefit of fuel economy and refinement.

New 2024 BMW X3 prototype rear three quarters

Engineered during the Covid pandemic when the world almost ground to a halt, the X3 was – like the 5-series developed around the same time – significantly de-contented in a rushed move to curb costs, CAR can reveal. It’s worth noting the features the newcomer doesn’t have, as much as what it does.

Our pick of the day were the M50 xDrive and the 30e xDrive plug-in hybrid. The M50 comes with the tacky Iconic Glow kidney grille illumination, sports suspension and 20in wheels as standard equipment. Quips Matthias Richter, the young project engineer strapped into the passenger seat: ‘The more powerful new model fields an extensively revised chassis, a notably more precise and communicative steering and a selectively beefed-up body structure for much improved handling, an even more tenacious cornering grip and a nicely compliant softer-edged ride.’ 

That was the official line, anyway. Time to check if it delivers on that promise…

What about the interior?

The interior of lower-rung BMW X3 models looks accordingly pared-back: it’s sombre in here, with large slabs of man-made materials, a choice of generic displays and an extra pair of quirky touchsliders popping up in the door panels. On the credit side, we must thank the designers for letting us keep the intuitive iDrive controller which went missing in the latest X1 and X2 twins. The convenient rotary MMI tool connects to the ninth-generation operating system which learned a bunch of new comfort and safety enhancing tricks along the way. 

Among them are automated lane change, active lane guidance, adaptive cruise control with traffic light recognition and various collision avoidance strategies complete with brake intervention. Additional cameras and more intelligent software allow the system to identify and respond to a wider variety of stationary and moving objects – from child to moose, bicycle to truck. Apparently, steering intervention is next on the wishlist of the BMW active safety wizards.

Disguised interior of new 2024 BMW X3 prototype

Also thanks to BMW OS9, the new X3 can switch from ultimate driving to ultimate parking machine. Simply hit a button on the My BMW app to kick off a sequence of fully automatic moves which stows away this family-size SUV in a designated kerbside space, presto. More impressive still is the chip’s ability to memorise and repeat up to 10 different hardcore parking manoeuvres which may even include extreme stunts like a 600-metre reverse escape from a super-tight underground storage maze. 

All the driver needs to do is brake, accelerate and marvel at the technological progress. On the open road, the car uses a mix of short- and long-range radars as well as four 3D cameras to run a permanent 360deg scan of the car’s environment, which now also covers cross traffic, cycle lanes, oncoming vehicles and objects approaching from behind. Despite these high-tech upgrades, the fourth-generation X3 is not yet deemed smart enough to be classified as Level 2-plus ready in the hierarchy of autonomous driving.

How does it drive?

Time to get into the driver’s seat and test more traditional BMW attributes. Although some sources claim that the new BMW X3 M50 will get a mighty last-minute power boost to 421bhp, other channels suggest that the output will be kept below 400bhp. In any case, we expect the M50 to accelerate in 4.5sec from 0-60mph, match the outgoing model for top speed (no 175mph Drivers Package for the M50, though…) and better its efficiency by 10%, give or a take a point. 

BMW X3 review: we test the prototype of the Mk4

But outright performance is not the decider here. The key improvements are made to the BMW X3’s steering and suspension. There are three variants to choose from: base, Sport and M Sport. They can all be paired with VDC which is BMWspeak for variable damper control. Unlike in the latest BMW X1 and X2, the VDC-equipped X3 actually offers two clearly different calibrations labelled Comfort and Sport. The same dual-mode philosophy was applied to the steering, but thankfully not to the brakes.

BMW replaced the trad dual-pinion steering set-up with a brand-new so-called axially parallel design (APA) which is claimed to advance handling, response and controllability to a more rewarding level. Supporting the trick steering are the wider rear track, a more rigid body structure, stiffer anti-roll bar attachment points, revised pivot bearings, beefed-up wishbone mounts and an uprated front axle geometry with more camber. 

‘It’s a scalable system, tailormade to match different axle loads,’ explains Stefan Gress from the vehicle dynamics team. ‘Benefits include improved directional stability, enhanced turn-in grip and reduced understeer all the way to the limit. The new steering literally puts the road in the driver’s hands.’ Fact or fake? To find out, we take to the track one last time in the M50 xDrive.

The outer loop of the flat-as-a-pancake single-track Miramas handling section is mainly second-, third- and fourth-gear turf. Devoid of run-off areas, the ancient sun-bleached tarmac dotted with a few freshly surfaced sections here and there leaves zero room for error. Only at the very end of the vast site where a small off-road section is tucked away behind unkempt shrubbery does the course go up and down a couple of times before curling back past the old pig farm and a block of stables. 

New BMW X3 due to launch in autumn 2024

Instead of leaving all systems in Sport, the steering is now locked in Comfort and DSC Off is only one more nudge away. This gives us a bit of extra drama at the exit of the slow corners and also allows a more playful attitude through the long 70-80mph bends where the electronic rear diff permits a broader scope of sidesteps. For cost reasons and to protect the more profitable X5, the smaller X won’t be available with air suspension or rear-wheel steering.

What are the specs?

The new BMW X3’s CLAR underpinnings mean the usual wide breadth of models derivatives will be available at launch later in 2024. It’s not yet confirmed, but insiders predict up to eight different models are in the pipeline, among them two diesels (the BMW X3 20d and 40d) and the still unconfirmed cream-of-the-crop X3M codenamed G97.

We also had a go in the plug-in hybrid X3, bound to be popular with company car drivers and those intent on lowering their CO2 emissions. After lunch, we set off on a 90-minute tour de force of the Miramas hinterland in the BMW X3 30e xDrive PHEV. 

While the previous version was rated at 292bhp and had an electric range of only 28 miles, insiders are predicting a mild increase to 299bhp for the 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, while the zero-emissions range is expected to increase to 60 miles thanks to a bigger battery. Although this is by no means a light vehicle, the combustion engine and the e-motor keep up the flow with commendable verve and stamina. 

BMW X3: we test the fourth-generation SUV in disguised form

As long as the state of charge does not drop below 10%, there is always enough ballsy instant torque on tap for one more pedal-to-the-metal overtaking manoeuvre. Going nine- or ten-tenths is always a challenge on these bumpy and winding ancient mountain roads which are dotted with blind corners, question-mark crests and sudden bottlenecks. Dampers in Sport? Not really. For maximum compliance and control, Comfort is the only viable option. The steering also feels more relaxed and better connected in Comfort. All other systems can be left in Sport.

Before you buy (trims and rivals)

The UK trim levels of the new 2024 BMW X3 have not yet been confirmed, but we can pick out a few recommendations after our prototype drive. While the M50 performance version ran on Continental Sport Contact tyres, the VDC-equipped PHEV was shod with same-size Goodyears (255/45 R20 and 285/40 R20) featuring slightly softer sidewalls and a less extreme rubber compound for smoother breakaway characteristics and a friendlier response to transverse ridges and potholes. 

Thus equipped, the X3 does a remarkable job soaking up bumps, balancing along crumbling hard shoulders and straddling all sorts of evil physical speed limiters. Downsides? The e-motor occasionally still struggles to fill the turbo hole, the steering feedback is at times not quite as clear and linear as expected, the brakes need a fast and firm foot to reel in the reported 1980 kilos of mass and momentum. 

New 2024 BMW X3 prototype side profile

There will be four wheel and tyre sizes to pick from, including for the first time extra-wide aftermarket 22-inchers. Our advice? Stick to smaller rims to protect ride quality at all costs (not to mention cheaper replacement tyre bills).

Verdict: BMW X3 prototype

All in all, the new X3 feels more mature, grown up and dynamically classier. If our early drive was anything to go by, the fourth generation of the most popular BMW does a convincing job defending its trad middle-ground position against the sportier and even more entertaining Porsche Macan, the more relaxed and somewhat cushier GLC, and the gracefully ageing Audi Q5.


Price when new: £0
On sale in the UK: Late 2024
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder plug-in hybrid, power estimated at 299bhp
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Performance: Performance figures tbc, electric range of PHEV 60 miles (est)
Weight / material: 1980kg (estimated), steel and aluminium
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): TBC


Photo Gallery

  • New 2024 BMW X3 prototype review
  • New 2024 BMW X3 prototype rear three quarters
  • New 2024 BMW X3 prototype side profile
  • BMW X3: we test the fourth-generation SUV in disguised form
  • New BMW X3 due to launch in autumn 2024
  • Disguised interior of new 2024 BMW X3 prototype
  • A mix of petrol, diesel and plug-in hybrid engines for new 2024 BMW X3
  • We tested the BMW X3 at BMW's Miramas proving ground in the south of France
  • BMW X3 review: we test the prototype of the Mk4

By Georg Kacher

European editor, secrets uncoverer, futurist, first man behind any wheel