It's easy to just think that this X3 xDrive30e carries over completely the powertrain from the brand's more familiar 330e. And to some extend it does. As with that car, this mid-sized SUV uses a 2.0-litre four cylinder petrol engine mated to an electric motor, but that motor is a slightly less powerful one in this case, rated at 80kW rather than 83kW. The drive mode set-up in this X3 isn't quite the same as a 330e either, the xDrive30e using the slightly older tech from the 530e. That means you get 'Max eDrive' EV setting for full electric progress. And 'Battery Control' (which can hold the car's charge until you need it). Plus there's the 'Auto eDrive' option you'll most commonly use, which seamlessly mixes the electrical and combustion power sources as the software sees fit.
The engine and electric motor's standard combined output is 252hp but this set-up also has an 'XtraBoost' feature, an on-demand performance system that increases the power output of the hybrid-drive system by a further 41hp at the touch of a button. The all-electric top speed is 87mph - full top speed is 130mph. Drive is transmitted - both in hybrid and electric modes - via an eight-speed Steptronic gearbox and xDrive intelligent all-wheel drive to enable the xDrive30e to accelerate from zero to 62mph in just 6.1 seconds. And there's a WLTP-rated all-electric driving range of up to 34 miles. One feature we really like is 'Anticipatory Hybrid Drive'; this uses data from the navigation system to decide how to use the PHEV system. The car might automatically switch into all-electric mode through a low-speed school zone for example. Or use battery power when driving uphill if there's a long downhill stretch afterwards where the regeneration system can recharge the lithium-ion cells.
This isn't the kind of Plug-in hybrid model you'll buy if you want to make an eco-statement. Unless you really know your BMWs, there's almost nothing to visually differentiate an xDrive30e from any other X3. So this third generation model's looks are unchanged, its long bonnet and short front overhangs emphasising its 50:50 weight distribution between front and rear axle. At the front, the chunky three-dimensional kidney grille and LED fog lamps feature a hexagonal design. Moving to the rear, the three-dimensional LED light clusters, downward-sloping roof spoiler and twin exhaust pipes further enhance the appearance.
The interior of this X3 follows BMW tradition with a driver-focused and ergonomically designed cockpit. Hexagonal forms and precise, bevelled edges are a distinct design theme. The material quality and fit and finish are of a class above what you'd expect for a mid-range SUV. To further improve comfort in the rear compartment, the angle of the standard 40:20:40 split/folding rear seat backrests can be adjusted individually and through various stages thanks to the optional rear comfort seat. This feature also allows the backrests to be released remotely from the load compartment. Ah yes, load capacity: thanks to the location of the PHEV battery pack beneath the rear seat, that's down with this plug-in variant - from 550 to 450-litres.
From launch, the X3 xDrive30e was priced from just under £48,000 in base 'SE' form; plusher 'xLine' and 'M Sport' variants are also offered. As with all Plug-in hybrids, you have to have automatic transmission. Even base 'SE' trim gets you plenty of kit - things like Adaptive full-LED headlamps, roof rails, power-folding mirrors and a powered tailgate. BMW has even standardised its lovely 'Welcome Light Carpet' that illuminates the ground around the front doors when you get into the car or step out of it at night.
In addition, pretty much all the stuff you'd expect from a mid-sized premium executive model is present and correct too. So tick off alloy wheels (18-inchers on base 'SE' variants), along with front and rear 'Park Distance Control' parking sensors, auto headlamps and wipers, an alarm and LED illumination for the tail lamps and front fog lights. Inside, buyers get a leather-stitched 'Sport' multi-function steering wheel, cruise control and an anti-dazzle rear view mirror. Plus an 8.8-inch centre dash infotainment screen including BMW's 'Connected Package Plus' set of media features.
Despite the fact that these days, there isn't the government contribution towards the purchase price that helped to boost sales of earlier BMW plug-in models, the brand still reckons this PHEV derivative will be a strong seller. The installation of a 12.0kWh lithium-ion high-voltage battery means a potential electric driving range of as much as 34 miles. This PHEV also features regenerative braking to optimise efficiency. The system's high-voltage battery stores the energy captured during braking, with the electric motor taking on the function of a generator. The high-voltage battery also supplies the vehicle's electrical system.
As usual with Plug-in hybrids, the official WLTP combined cycle fuel figure - up to 128.4mpg - needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, but the important thing is that the government believes the quoted CO2 return - just 49g/km. Which means a super-low Benefit-in-Kind taxation rating of 12-13%. In comparison, an X3 xDive20d diesel is rated at 33-35%. Charging from a 16A source takes 2.6 hours from 0-80%. And the infotainment set-up's 'Intelligent Personal Assistant' voice-recognition software can answer questions like 'Where can I charge' and you can even use the sat nav system to reserve an electric charging station position ahead of time. Insurance is rated at group 38 or 39, quite a bit more than an xDrive 20d variant (group 29 or 30).
Justifying this BMW PHEV on economic grounds will certainly require some deft work with the calculator. As with any plug-in model, fuel savings alone won't do it; but adding in the BiK tax reductions might be enough to make you take a second look at an X3 xDrive30e, even with its £50,000 price tag. Did we ever think we'd be paying this much for a mainstream X3 model? Possibly not, but then did we ever think a decade ago that we'd have the chance to buy a petrol-powered one that could also offer an all-electric driving range of up to 34 miles?
Right here, right now, plug-in tech makes more sense for more people, more of the time than full-EV ownership. In the future, that'll change. For the present though, if you can afford it, this BMW makes a compelling case if you want a more sensible sort of X3.