Key Takeaways

  • The X3 debuted in 2003, and the X1 in 2009.
  • The BMW website experience can provide an excellent process for secure checking of information about the BMW X-line series.
  • The BMW X1 and X3 are finely tuned luxury SUVs recommended by Consumer Reports and the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety.

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Two top-rated SUVs made by BMW are the X1 and the X3, but what’s the difference? Let’s look at which vehicles might be better for your family.

The X3 is a compact luxury SUV produced by BMW since 2003 that is based on their 5 Series. Six years later (2009), the X1 appeared based on the 3 Series as a subcompact luxury crossover. The X1 is front-wheel drive, while the X3 is rear-wheel drive with a 2.0L four-cylinder engine.

There are plenty of choices in the luxury SUV market if you are looking for a sub-compact crossover. There are names like Mercedes, BMW, Volvo, and even Lexus or Acura. With so many choices, finding the best value with the right amenities can be challenging for even the most well-researched buyer. So, how can you ensure you’re getting the best crossover for your family’s needs? In this article, we look at two offerings, the BMW X1 vs X3. Both are popular smaller SUVs with loyal followings and have consistently been ranked on numerous consumer lists as the most reliable.

Table of Contents

How Did The X3 And The X1 Come About?

To understand the legacy of the BMW X-line of SUVs, you must venture back to the mid-nineties, when BMW acquired Land Rover. The purchase allowed BMW to use much of the technology of the British automaker as it sought to develop its SUV line. Both Mercedes and Lexus were quickly bringing their first SUVs to fruition, and BMW sought a competitive edge when it released its first luxury Sports Activity Vehicle, the E53 X5, in 1999.

As the years passed, BMW recognized the need for a compact crossover to go with their mid-sized entry. The X3 was born in 2003 and featured all the amenities of the X5, just with a smaller engine. (The X3 was based on the 5 Series sedan they had produced since the early seventies). The X3 was offered an industry-first automatic all-wheel-drive system that the company labeled the xDrive. For several years, the X3 was powered by a hefty little inline six, but eventually, in 2013 was replaced with a 2.0L Twin-powered single turbo four-cylinder with an auto stop/start feature.

In 2009, the X1 was unveiled to the world, as BMW sought to gobble up increased market share by positioning the sports activity vehicle as a sub-compact based on their 3-Series. The smaller crossover was ideal for busy city dwellers who needed a primary hauler with a smaller size, more efficient engine, and a bit of cargo space for weekends. The initial X1 was offered as a rear-wheel drive vehicle, with the xDrive as an option. Buyers who loved the BMW brand flocked to the baby SUV.

What Are the Differences Between The X1 and the X3?

While both vehicles share many components, the models have some significant variances. (While the 2024 BMW X5 is being offered, the newest model of X1 and X3 is expected to land in dealers' showrooms in the late fall of 2023. Our comparison below is based on the 2023 xDrive model).


The X1 is based on the 3 Series platform, while the X3 is larger (based on the 5 Series). While both SUVs seat five people, there is less room in the X1 for backseat passengers.

The X1 has a length of 177.2 inches (bumper to bumper) and a wheelbase of 106.0. The X3 has a length of 185.9 and 112.8 inches length from wheel to wheel. The X1 is a couple of inches shorter (64.6) than the X3 (66.0) and a tad bit narrower (72.6) than the compact X3 (74.4). As far as weight goes, the X3 chimes in at a curb weight of 4149, while the X1 is about 400 lbs lighter (3750).

Item 2023 BMW X1 2023 BMW X3
Length 177.2 inches 185.9 inches
Wheelbase 112.8 inches 106.0 inches
Height 64.6 inches 66.0 inches
Width 72.6 inches 74.4 inches

Interior Volume

While the X1 and X3 have plenty of front seat room, the X1 has an inch more headroom than its larger sibling. The shoulder room and legroom for both are almost identical (56.1 shoulder room and 40.4 legroom for the X1, while 57.6 inches and 40.3 inches on the X3).

Front Interior Volume 2023 BMW X1 2023 BMW X3
Headroom 42.1 inches 41.1 inches
Shoulder Room 56.1 inches 57.6 inches
Legroom 40.4 inches 40.3 inches

The rear seat passenger volume is almost identical as well.

Rear Interior Volume 2023 BMW X1 2023 BMW X3
Headroom 39.3 inches 39.1 inches
Shoulder Room 55.1 inches 56.0 inches
Legroom 37.0 inches 36.4 inches

Cargo Capacity

The amount of stuff you can put into the back of a BMW is essential for lots of reasons. The X1 has a maximum cargo room of 57.2 cubic feet, while the X3 beats it at 62.7 (with the seats folded down), so if you need the additional five cubic feet for something like a tent or cookstove, or just your wife’s extra luggage, the X3 might be the way to go.


The X1 X28i is powered by a 2.0 L TwinPower Turbo inline four-cylinder that produces 241 horsepower, while the X3 X30i has the same base engine (248 hp). While the X1 has a seven-speed manual, the X3 does have an eight-speed shiftable automatic as its standard gearbox. The X1 has a slight edge in fuel economy due to its smaller size. Both cars have similar 0-60 speeds of right around 6 seconds.

Towing and Payload Capacity

You won’t be towing anything with the X1 (it is not rated for towing), but the X3 can tow up to 4,400 lbs (which we are not sure we would want to test. Most smaller SUVs are good for about 1000 lbs or so). The payload capacities are also different, with the X1 rated for 994 and the X3 listed at 941 lbs).

Interior Amenities

BMW prides itself on equipping its cars with various customer convenience options, and it is a joy to find both the X1 and X3 nicely equipped. We wish the 10.7-inch infotainment center were more significant (the compact SUV (X3) has an even smaller screen at 10.3). The cars are equipped with the usual suspects, including apple carplay, android auto, Bluetooth connectivity, and other practical applications. There are a lot of safety features as well as lane departure, blind spot monitoring, rear parking sensors, and front collision avoidance detection.

The interior space of the cabin offers a nicely refined atmosphere with leather options, heated seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and all the practical styling that you might expect from a luxury SUV. The seats have lumbar support, are contoured to the body, and make the drive pleasant for even longer hauls.


If it is one thing that BMW has down, it is the process of helping drivers experience safe driving conditions. The two cars have earned the designation of Top Safety Pick + by the

Insurance Institute of Highway Safety. (The new X1 earned IIHS highest award in 2023. The fact that BMW redesigned the X1 for the 2023 model year by improving the chassis had much to do with it). Despite the improvements, Consumer Reports does recommend the vehicle, but scored the X1 with a 77, while the X3 beat the score with an 83 out of 100.


There is a difference in price between the X1 and X3. The base price for a 2023 X1 is $38,600. If you decide to move up to an X3, you can expect to pay about $8 - 10k more for the privilege.

What Are The Specifications of the X1 vs X3?

Item BMW X1 xDrive BMW X3 xDrive
Price $39,700 $48,560 MSRP
Standard Engine 2.0 L TwinPower Turbo 4 cyl 2.0 TwinPower Turbo 4 cyl
Base Horsepower 241 hp 248 hp
Plug-in hybrid Available No No
Seats Five passenger Five passengers
Cargo Space (seats folded) 57.2 cubic feet 62.7 cubic feet
Curb Weight 3,750 lbs 4,149 lbs
Length 177.2 inches 185.9 inches
Width 72.6 inches 78.9 inches
Height 64.6 inches 66.0 inches
Wheelbase 106.0 inches 112.8 inches
Towing Capacity N/A 4,440 lbs
Payload 948 lbs 941 lbs
Warranty 4 yr/50k miles 4 yr/50k miles

Which Is The Better BMW?

While both SUVs have similar engines, power, and fuel efficiency, the X3 has a slightly better track record both in safety and reliability. Both crossovers are impressive models well suited for the needs of the average family. A customer could correctly choose either the BMW X1 or the BMW X3 and be completely satisfied with the power and performance of the car.

Bmw X1 Vs X3

About The Author

Charles Redding

Charles Redding

I've spent many years selling cars, working with auto detailers, mechanics, dealership service teams, quoting and researching car insurance, modding my own cars, and much more.

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