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First Drive

First Drive: BMW X3 PHEV

BMW X3 xDrive30e M-sport
The story: BMW is rolling out plug-in hybrid versions of many of its models and now it’s the X3’s turn.

Key rival:Audi Q5 TFSIe 50
Emissions:49g/km (WLTP)
On sale:Now

With the tax-man giving away concessions to drivers picking EVs and plug-in hybrid company cars BMW is racing to introduce as many PHEV versions of its range as quickly as possible.

The X3 is the latest to get the PHEV treatment and gains a similar system to that seen in the popular 330e. That means a 292hp power output driving all four wheels thanks to a 184hp 2.0-litre petrol engine combined with a 113hp electric motor fed by a 12kWh battery.

The result is an X3 that will run electric-only for up to 34 miles and therefore qualify for the 12% benefit-in-kind tax band this year.

Aside from a few subtle badges, the X3 xDrive30e looks identical to any other X3 on the road. It’s inside where the changed occur.

First Drive-August 2020-BMW X3 PHEV-Image 7From the driver’s seat the differences are a few extra buttons to control the hybrid system, plus there’s additional information available in the infotainment system and in the dashboard screen.

However, the biggest difference to the interior is in the boot. While the batteries are located under the rear seats, the fuel tank has moved and the resulting in a raised boot floor, losing 100 litres of space compared to the conventionally powered X3. The boot is still a decent size at 450 litres – that’s 55-litres more than the plug-in Audi Q5). However, there’s also a bump that intrudes on the driver’s side of the boot that means the floor isn’t perfectly flat, but that won’t matter to most.

Get out and drive the X3 PHEV and the on-paper range of the battery appears to be broadly accurate. The X3 is far better at recouping energy from regenerative braking than its main rival the Q5. It has also been set up to use its electric power in a very different way to the Q5. Where the Audi uses its electric range over a set journey – assuming the satnav is set – to reach its destination with zero battery charge left, the BMW doesn’t, noticeably, use battery power on the motorway, so if you’re doing a journey with minimal time on local roads and most of the time on the motorway you could still have EV range at your destination. Neither system is wrong or right, they’re just different.

Where the BMW PHEV stands out is that the manufacturer has maintained its reputation for producing a cars that are fun to drive. Select Sport or Sport Plus in the drive modes and the car’s character is genuinely fun. An impressive feat for a car which weighs 170kg more than the regular petrol-only version.

tristan young

The verdict

Despite the compromised boot design, the X3 xDrive30e is still ahead of its competition for space, range, fun and tax band.