BMW X3 hybrid review

Pre-production drive of new BMW X3 xDrive30e reveals an impressive package

BMW X3 hybrid

BMW is in the process of significantly expanding its range of plug-in hybrids. Alongside the existing BMW 530e saloon and BMW 225xe MPV, there'll shortly be the BMW 330e saloon, BMW 745e luxury car, large BMW X5 xDrive45e SUV and this, the BMW X3 xDrive30e SUV.

As a premium family SUV, the X3 hybrid could be one of the biggest sellers of the lot. It uses a very similar powertrain to the 330e: a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine paired with an electric motor to make 249bhp in total. The system also has the capability to deliver a temporary boost in power to 289bhp.

Efficiency figures can't match the lighter 330e, but are still impressive for a fairly large SUV: 56g/km CO2 emissions and 117mpg fuel economy. As always with a plug-in hybrid, that number has to come with the caveat that you'll only get close to it if you make full use of the X3's 31-mile electric driving range by plugging it in to recharge every night.

What the X3 hybrid has over the 330e is superior grip and traction courtesy of its xDrive four-wheel-drive system. Like the regular X3, the xDrive30e is no hardcore off-roader, but it does perform well on rough, slippery or snowy surfaces and the peace of mind will be welcomed by many.

On regular roads and in normal conditions, the extra weight of the hybrid system is barely noticeable. The X3 hybrid is as satisfying to drive as its petrol and diesel-engined stablemates and does nothing to harm the model's reputation as one of the best-handling SUVs on the market.

BMW's latest hybrid drivetrain is impressive in operation, with no unwelcome judders or vibrations accompanying the transition from electric to petrol-powered running. At motorway speeds, with the petrol engine running, the ambience is quiet and refined.

The system offers the same choice of three driving modes that owners of the 530e saloon will be familiar with: 'Max eDrive' (for zero-emissions electric driving), 'Battery Control' (which preserves charge in the battery until you want to use it) and Auto eDrive, which lets the car combine petrol and electric power in the most efficient way possible.

Extra shove from the electric motor makes the xDrive30e feel more like a diesel X3 when you accelerate hard, but enthusiasts may be disappointed at the somewhat drab engine note you'll hear when you do so. 0-62mph takes a brisk 6.1 seconds, with a top speed of 130mph for those who happen to pass along a German autobahn.

Practicality-wise, the xDrive30e loses 100 litres of boot space compared to the conventionally powered models, but there's still a generous 450 litres on offer. Rear-seat passenger space in unchanged, and those rear seats can fold down to boost luggage capacity just as they do in the diesel and petrol X3s.

The one thing that might make you hesitate before ordering an X3 xDrive30e when production begins in December (prices start from £47,565) is the fact that a pure-electric BMW X3 will follow not long after. If that car is as good as we're expecting it to be, the hybrid X3 may be left looking like an awkward stop-gap between petrol or diesel and full electric.