2017 BMW X3 Rental Review, or, The Worst Possible Use Of Your Money, Ever

Through what I’ll just call a bizarre set of circumstances, I found myself needing to make a 520 mile drive through Maryland, West Virginia, and Kentucky over the weekend, and I found myself without a car to do it. No matter—I’m such a frequent renter of cars from National Car Rental that I have a seemingly limitless number of free rental days to use. Three clicks of my mobile app, and I was headed to Baltimore/Washington International airport to pick up a free one-way rental from the Emerald Aisle Executive area.

Let me back up a bit first, and perhaps that will help you understand how much I hated my time with the 2017 BMW X3.

I'll still take a 300C, please. #whatsbarkdrivingtoday

A post shared by Bark M. (@barkmfors) on

Eight weeks ago, National breathlessly emailed me to tell me that the X3 was now available as a choice for Executive and Executive Elite members. I’ve been Executive Elite for the last 8 years in a row (note to self: write a blog post in the future about the psychology behind telling people that they’re elite because they spend 45 weeks a year missing soccer games and school plays) so I qualify to rent one of these things for roughly $45 a day any time that I see one available. But my preference for the Chrysler 300 as a rental is well-documented at this point, and, besides, I had yet to encounter one on the Aisle in ATL, LGA, JFK, SEA, MIA, RDU, or anywhere else that I’d been in that timeframe.

But as I rolled into the BWI garage, I spotted three X3s, all in traditionally inoffensive BMW color choices, all with under 10K on the clock. “Why not?” I thought to myself, and put my luggage in the storage compartment.

Now, before I go any further, I’m going to tell you how much this thing costs, should you be stupid enough to want to buy a “luxury” CUV that’s been on the market for over seven years with only a mild mid-cycle refresh. As it was equipped for my 24-hour tour of misery, the BMW X3 costs a whopping $46,750. No, I’m not joking. That’s how much a 2.0 liter four-cylinder powered, no winter package, no technology package, no “X-Line” package X3 costs with a panoramic sunroof and navigation. I think we all know how many other awesome cars we could buy for this amount of money (including a mother-flipping Focus RS with every box checked), so I won’t list them all. But there’s a lot.

Here’s all the things I didn’t get for that amount of money:

  • A decent seating position. It was impossible to find any position that didn’t make my back hurt. Lumbar seating controls were best left at zero, as any attempt to manipulate them caused bulbous, uncomfortable lumps to appear in random places on the seat.
  • A stereo system that sounded better than two cans on a string. If one is in the car for ten straight hours (damn you, random West Virginia construction), one would hope that there would be some sort of audio entertainment that exceeds the quality found in, say, a Kia Soul. Nope.
  • A dashboard with any information on it. At all. All the information above and beyond the tach, speedo, and fuel gauge was only available in the hopelessly complicated infotainment system, which required me to take me eyes completely off the road for several seconds to navigate using a dial that was conveniently placed on the other side of the gear selector on the center console. Here’s a picture of the dash. You might expect to see something similar on the dash of your child’s Power Wheels.

  • Anything like decent fuel mileage. I averaged about 22 MPG for the trip after I accounted for the 90 minute stoppage in the middle of West Virginia. This wouldn’t be so bad except…
  • Power. Dear God, this thing was gutless. Keep in mind, I’ve owner a four-cylinder Equinox. This was worse. The reviews say that the X3 will do 0-60 in a tick over six seconds. This absolutely cannot be true. However, I might be biased because…
  • Acceptable engine noise. Any hint of acceleration is rewarded with a hideous, pained exhaust noise that sounds like souls escaping a graveyard. I felt like I might actually be killing kittens or preventing angels from getting their wings every time that I touched the go pedal.
  • The ability to use standard gasoline. There are lots of things you want from a rental car. The requirement to use premium gasoline? Not one of them.

So what does the X3 do well? It handles decently. Not well. Decently. The worse the rain got in the Appalachians, the more confidence the X3 gave me in descending hills. I appreciated that much.

Oh, wait, now I remember what it does well. It impresses suburban women. I had to pick up my son from a play date when I got back to Kentucky. His friend’s mom noticed it right away as being “not your normal car,” and “really nice.” Dr. Mrs. Bark, who is normally immune to any automotive charm, said, “This is nice.” My daughter climbed in the back seat and said, “Dad, can we buy this car?”

And therein lies the special talent of the BMW X3. Women like it. It’s ugly, it’s slow, it has fewer features than you’d reasonably expect from a Chevrolet Equinox costing half as much, it’s terrible to drive, the entire instrument panel and dash look every bit of seven years old…and yet, suburban SAHMs line up to drop cash on them, thanks to the Roundel and the Kidney Grille. If you put a Bowtie or a Blue Oval on it, it’s not worth $15k.

I hate this car. If you own one, I probably also hate you.

42 Replies to “2017 BMW X3 Rental Review, or, The Worst Possible Use Of Your Money, Ever”

  1. jz78817

    I drove an X1 a few years ago. I got out of it wondering why anyone would pay BMW bucks for that piece of shit.

    • viper32cm

      That was my first thought when I saw the title. If you hated the X3, just wait until you drive the X1. Right before my CPO warranty on my 335i expired, I had a 2014/5 X1 and X3 at various points in time. The X1 was a week loaner, and, by lord, it was the most godawful piece of shit I’ve ever driven. Handling, acceleration, all complete ass. The X3 was probably worse simply because it sat higher and was heavier. Regardless, that turbo I4 is a disgrace to the brand, especially in the X-whatever series. Give me the 215HP/185TQ/34MPG Highway I6 out of my old 325i any day of the week. Hell, give me my wife’s 2014 Pathfinder. Sure, it’s a bit of a FWD boat, but it has a real NA motor that makes real power, gets decent highway mileage, and didn’t cost that much.

  2. Bryce Himelrick

    My Dad got a fully loaded 35i model, and it has none of those things you complain about here. Albeit it has the better engine and dynamic handling package, but still, I’d take it over a focus RS or STI. The only thing I’d rather have got similar money is a golf R (my dad got his used)

  3. Dr Ribs Revere

    Drove a co-workers X3 (probably the 28i?) for a long ride down the NJTurnpike after a late night in the city.
    – Wholeheartedly agree on the seats
    – It seemed alright a 80-85+ but that meant cruising under boost and terrible fuel economy
    – What ever happened to a simple gear shifter? (why have to push a button to put it into park!)

    – Disagree on the gauge cluster. Simple, Big and Red backlighting (the blues and whites most cars have aggravate my eyes)
    – Was pretty quiet and the tires having actual sidewalls dealt nicely with potholes and road heaves.

    (couldn’t pay me to buy one though…)

  4. Hogie roll

    The engine note is horrid and it also puts soot out the tailpipe that stains he white bumper black like one of them ol rednecks trucks.

  5. cartime

    Do they have remote start yet? No way would I so much as sit in a “luxury” vehicle without it.

  6. Sseigmund

    You are preaching to the choir on this one brother! I don’t rate the X3 as being appreciably better than a Jeep Cherokee.

    I somehow missed your 300C review on TTAC. Thanks for linking it. My wife won’t let me get one.

  7. Ian

    Every time I seem to get one as a service loaner, I hate it. Worst vehicle in the current lineup. Horrible. Overpriced. Sockermom bait.

  8. Jeff Madson

    Bought one used, got rid of it after a year and a half.
    – Agree on the mileage and premium gas being required for no good reason
    – I actually liked the gauge cluster. Simple and easy. There is nothing you need to see that is not there,
    – HATED the rough 4 cylinder turbo motor. After 10 years of driving BMW’s with the inline 6, the four cylinder was completely unacceptable.
    I replaced it with a Grand Cherokee, smoother, quieter, more comfortable, and more capable. All while getting similar gas mileage even though it is a larger and heavier auto.

  9. Josh Howard

    Annnnnnd now you see why the Rogue is selling like hotcakes. Even a base Rogue, CRV, or Rav4 is better for the money. I mean, that’s just bad.

    • Bark M Post author

      Really, if you had put a Nissan logo on the wheel, I would have still hated it, but I would have guessed that it cost about $27k.

      • Bryce Himelrick

        As someone who has an X3 and a 2016 rouge in his garage, there is no comparison. The rouge shakes, the parking brake stopped working at 25k miles, and it has the worst fit and finish of anything I’ve been in!

      • Josh Howard

        And you should still hate it. Nevermind the cost, if it isn’t good then it isn’t good. That said, I still can’t believe anyone buys a small BMW.

  10. rich

    I test drove an X3 a couple of years back and got exactly the same impression. Horrible cheap interior. Then I accelerate hard. Dear God it sounded rougher than my 1989 Vauxhall cavalier. A lot rougher. The final insult: it’s HOW MUCH? Of course your final point is right as well: my wife loved it.

  11. Todd

    I have driven the turbo 6 and turbo 4 X3 and there is no comparison. The 4 is not a desirable motor in my opinion, even in the 2-series, despite what some magazine comparos say. The 6 in the X3 is seriously quick. I also believe the bigger motor in the X3 brings an upgraded stereo system.

  12. CJinSD

    Even if it was a competent car instead of a modern BMW, a real problem for the current X3 is that the first couple of model years are now BHPH fodder. You can’t have long model runs when you build your cars out of a papier mache, but BMW does it anyway.

    • Dr Ribs Revere

      BMW (like most automakers now) does not concern themselves with the vehicle after the first lessee or the CPO buyer. Therefore after the first 3-5yrs they purchasers of their vehicles are second class citizens.

      • CJinSD

        No doubt. I’m merely pointing out that the new owners are seeing used owners who aren’t their kind of people. It’s one thing when you can convince yourself that your new improved BMW is nothing like the flotsam that people with bad credit drive. It’s another thing when your new lease vehicle is exactly the same as one that’s been repoed half a dozen times.

  13. Mark S.

    There’s precisely zero chance that any renters are filling this thing with premium fuel.

  14. SixspeedSi

    Yeah I’m guessing it would have more power if it was filled with premium, but we know previous renters wouldn’t. Similar to the 300c, I would take a Grand Cherokee Limited over this any day. Real luxury, power, and better fuel economy on all the rental ones I’ve driven.

  15. Paul

    I used to think the previous generation X3 with the inline 6 and six speed transmission was really good back then. It seemed a little smaller than what it should be even then and not as refined as what a luxury interior should be. It handled crisply, but ride used to be a little on the harsh side. Those instrument gauges now look aged, there was a time they were classic and what many cars aspired to have. Honestly in Atlanta it is the small Audi Q5 that seems to be winning the luxury sales for small CUVs. But is the X3 price too much compared to Q5 and the Lincoln MKC? Let’s not compare the BMW to a Chevy or Ford or Nissan please.

    I think you and your brother totally don’t get the SUV/CUV thing. In big cities where idiots drive, where seeing over traffic is great, being a bit above other cars and not seeing some random Focus RS or Mustang (hehehe) is a benefit for most women. You can not intimidate even a CRV with a Mustang, because people don’t see the cars in the rear view mirror. Add to that ease of entry, and more room, and the car breed is a dying one. Cars are mostly bottom feeders now.

    I also hate what BMW has done with their engines. The naturally aspirated inline 6 used to be one of the best things about BMWs. Now you can only get it with a stupid turbo.

    My recommendation to most people considering these is not a Chrysler 300C. Rather, go drive a Grand Cherokee. The pentastar is a solid V6, a lion-heart of a engine that goes as you expect. Transmission is smooth. Interior and nav are fine. And plenty of room and still cheaper in limited form than a small BMW. In Laredo it is even cheaper. It just doesn’t handle like a BMW, otherwise, it is a solid entry for people wanting SUVs. Only tough part, you have to deal with a Jeep dealer.

    • Bark M Post author

      I own a Flex, and my father owns a Grand Cherokee. What it is that you think I don’t get?

  16. Harry

    This makes me worry about my next vehicle. My 2011 XC70 T6 is approaching 150,000 trouble free miles, but that isn’t going to last forever. It isn’t a perfect car, but is the best compromise available,

    I love the smooth power from the inline turbo 6. I regularly exceed the epa highway estimate in mixed driving by keeping it out of boost, as I also did with my Allroad, but when I want to move quickly it responds well to a heavy foot.

    I have not driven any of the Volvo’s with the new inline 4. I hope it doesn’t suffer the same issues you describe with the BMW 4. With Volvo I don’t have an upgrade option.

    Reviews mention it not being as refined as the old engine, but that is hardly descriptive. I feel that on a short test drive I would be overwhelmingly impressed by all the interior improvements and unable to evaluate if the engine would be a source of annoyance in the long term.

    Not that I have a choice, what else is premium-ey, gorgeous interior with super comfy seats, can do some light offroading (my Allroad, with its limited suspension travel downwards while in a raised state, along with all open diffs, left me stuck in many places the XC70 gets through with no drama) and I can easily get bikes on top of daily exists? Oh and towing, gotta tow a utility trailer.

    Stupid 4 cylinders.

    • Tom KlockauTom Klockau

      My parents recently got rid of their 2007 XC90 V8 with over 150K and got a CPO ’14 XC60 T6. I’ve driven it and it has lots of power. The six was a nice engine. Shame all the marques are shoving turbo fours down everyone’s throats now.

  17. Bigtruckseriesreview

    I drove BMW’s entire 2016 line. I wasn’t terribly impressed with the lower-end X models. Unless you pay top-dollar, their interiors are boring and bland.

  18. Scotten

    In order to sell – I feel that BMW doesn’t need to produce GOOD cars, just cars with its damn logo on the hood.

    Between low reliability, high cost and all sorts of equipment being $optional$…. BMW sucks.

  19. Jeffrey Zekas

    Totally agree with everything Bark says. We owned BMW’s from 1968 until two years ago. Oh, how the mighty have fallen! Got tired of cheap stuff breaking, on a not inexpensive car. Perhaps BMW should change their name to “Yugo”?

    • shocktastic

      In my penalty years of BMW ownership I could never understand why the heavy, stout-looking Bosch relays routinely failed while in retrospect the flimsy-appearing Toyota relays on my wife’s 1997 4Runner have never failed at 275K miles.

  20. Shocktastic

    The original x3 with the inline six & a manual was a competent car. Whatever rolling abortion you drove seems like a cruel joke: uncomfortable, slow, gas-guzzling, expensive. My 2008 Forester with a manual makes 22 mpg with spirited (sub)urban driving. Yet the XX set found it appealing.

    This review is timely for me. A surgeon I work with was griping last month that the colonoscope she was wielding handled better than her x3 service loaner

  21. Crancast

    Really appreciate a real review. Especially after reading what passes as a review over on TTAC today. Good stuff bark.

    So if the X3 is so awful, what hot hatch on stilts is the winner out there? I know, none, but really.

  22. RobbieAZ

    The Macan is the winner. I know Jack hates the very existence of the Macan but it is a nice vehicle. It has none of the problems Bark describes the X3 as having (other than requiring premium gas), handles better, and looks way better. My wife loves hers.

  23. Christian Pelletier

    We just took in a 2015 Chrysler 300C Platinum with the Hemi on a 550HP 2016 Jaguar XJ-L R. The Platinum is pretty sweet for a Chrysler, MSRP was $53K which I know he didn’t pay. Nice car though.

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