The X-line is BMW’s range of crossover SUVs, or as BMW likes to call them, Sports Activity Vehicles (SAVs). Whereas the X2 is simply a sportier X1 that draws inspiration from a coupe (see the full X1 vs X2 comparison), the X3 is the true step up from the X1.
The BMW X1 is a subcompact luxury SUV, whereas the BMW X3 is a compact luxury SUV. The X3 is bigger in size and houses a more powerful engine under the hood. This makes it more expensive, but it does come with more standard features than the X1, such as sports seats and LED fog lights.
Price and Trim Levels
In the US, the X1 is available in two models: sDrive28i and xDrive28i. The front-wheel drive sDrive28i starts at $35,400, while the all-wheel drive xDrive28i starts at $37,400.
Meanwhile, the X3 is available in four trims: sDrive30i, xDrive30i, xDrive35e and M40i. The petrol rear-wheel drive sDrive30i and all-wheel drive xDrive30i start at $43,000 and $45,000 respectively. Those looking for a hybrid car can look to the ‘electrified’ xDrive35e, which costs north of $49,600.
The range-topping X3 M40i, which starts at $56,600, is an ‘M Performance’ model with a more capable six-cylinder engine.
Being a compact luxury SUV, as opposed to the subcompact X1, the X3 has a longer wheelbase and bigger exterior dimensions all around. It’s taller, longer, wider, and has a 0.8 inch higher ground clearance.
An additional ~10 inches in length and ~3 inches in width and height gives the X3 more road presence. Of course, it’s smaller than midsize SUVs like the X5 and X7, but feels like a proper SUV whereas the X1 is easily mistaken for a station wagon.
Recently facelifted, the 2021 X1 shares a very similar design to the X3.
Both vehicles feature BMW’s signature dual kidney front-grilles. The headlights and tail lights have subtle differences in design, but not enough to make one look objectively better than the other. Car enthusiasts can rest easy knowing that BMW has given both models real exhaust tips as opposed to the fake ones that are commonplace these days.
BMW don’t really offer any options that change the look of either model, so visual changes are limited to the paintjob, wheel choice and whether or not you go for the optional adaptive LED lights.
Ultimately, for most onlookers it’ll be the size difference and badge at the back that give away which vehicle they’re looking at.
BMW keeps interior styling consistent across their entire vehicle selection. The interiors in their SUVs, sedans and coupes are all fundamentally very similar.
Fortunately, BMW interiors are very good and just what you’d expect from a luxury car. Upscale upholstery with soft-touch materials, sturdy paneling and a nice instrument cluster that tastefully mixes digital with analogue components.
The X1 and X3 come with a 8.8” touch screen infotainment with BMW OS 6 pre-installed. This can be upgraded to an even larger 10.25” display, among other upgrades such as a panoramic sunroof and heads up display.
For 2021, both the X1 and X3 get SiriusXM satellite radio as standard, while the X3 gets compatibility for Android Auto in addition to the existing Apple CarPlay support. Prospective X1 buyers with Android phones will have to explore other options.
Despite being SUVs in different size segments, the X3 doesn’t have a big passenger room advantage over the X1. Legroom is almost the same and headroom is in fact less than the X1. The wider body does mean passengers get more shoulder room, but the difference is slight.
Why? It turns out that a lot of the X3’s extra length comes from the hood. To make room for the 6-cylinder engines in the X3 M40i and X3 M models, BMW gave the X3 some extra wiggle room under the hood. This does have the unfortunate consequence that those going with the regular 4-cylinder X3s end up with a cabin that isn’t much bigger than the X1.
While the X3 might not offer much more in the way of passenger space, it’s definitely bigger in the trunk.
With rear row seats upright you get 28.7 cu.ft. of cargo capacity, 1.6 cu.ft. more than you’d get in the X1. That cargo volume difference increases to 4 cu.ft. when the rear 40/20/40 split folding seats are all folded down. This means you can potentially fit in another medium sized suitcase in the back of the X3.
For the American market, the X1 is only offered with a 2.0-liter BMW TwinPower Turbo inline 4-cylinder engine. This is capable of producing 228 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque.
The sDrive and xDrive X3s also feature a 2.0-liter BMW TwinPower Turbo inline 4-cylinder engine, which has the same torque but a bit more horsepower (248hp).
The X3 is however also available as the M40i which houses a monstrous 382hp 3.0-liter BMW M Performance TwinPower Turbo inline 6-cylinder engine. This bigger engine will take you from 0-60 mph in just 4.4 seconds.
Regardless of which X1 or X3 you choose, the engine will be matched with an 8-speed STEPTRONIC Automatic transmission with Sport and Manual shift modes.
Note: If you’re going for the two-wheel drive sDrive models, the X1 is front-wheel drive whereas the X3 is rear-wheel drive.
Here are the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mpg estimates for the 2020 X1 and X3 models.
As you can see, the regular X1 and X3 cars have similar fuel efficiencies, with the sDrive models achieving the highest mpg. Only the high-performance X3 M40i has a significantly worse gas mileage than other models.
BMW has a reputation for playing to the needs of those who want to experience something special behind the wheel. Their cars guarantee a certain level of grunt, responsiveness and fun factor that other manufacturers often overlook.
The X1 and X3 both provide the BMW ultimate driving experience™ that BMW buyers seek. Because the base engines are almost equivalent, the X1 doesn’t feel like it lacks power compared to the X3.
However, the X3 is slightly more pleasant to drive thanks to its higher driving position and superior weight distribution. The X3 has an almost perfect 50/50 front/rear weight distribution whereas the 56.7/43.3 weight distribution in the X1 makes it a little front-heavy.
Ride comfort is also good thanks to a soft base suspension. Those interested in the X3 M40i will want to option adaptive suspension because the sports suspension is a bit too stiff for day-to-day driving.
Both SUVs offer the driver and passengers an excellent level of safety, but crash safety testing concluded that the X3 is the safer car.
In crash tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), both the X1 and X3 were given the highest possible 5-star overall safety rating. However, whereas the X3 got a 5-star frontal overall rating, the X1 only received a 4-star rating.
Test results from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) agreed with NHTSA results, with the X3 getting a better score in the Structure and safety cage category.
As for safety features, both SUVs get a good amount of tech as standard, including ABS, traction control, a rear view camera, Lane Departure Warning and Frontal Collision Warning. However, the X3 offers blind spot monitoring as an option, whereas the X1 does not.
Verdict: BMW X3
If you managed to read everything up to now, you’ve probably realized the X1 and X3 are more alike than you’d have thought. The X3 is definitely bigger on the outside, but things on the inside and under the hood are much more similar.
Overall, however, we’re going to give our nod to the X3.
The price gap isn’t huge, and it becomes even smaller when you consider you get LED fog lights and sports seats as standard. A higher driving position that makes it more enjoyable on the road, a slightly bigger trunk and better safety all make it worth the extra money, in our opinion.