Key Takeaways

  • The X3 was introduced in 2003, and the X5 was first offered in 1999.
  • The price of the X3 is about 20k less than the X5.
  • Both SUVs are highly recommended by Consumer Reports.

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The two most popular SUVs made by BMW are the X3 and the X5, but what’s the difference? Let’s see if we can help you determine which is best for your family.

The BMW X3 and X5 are two luxury SUV models offered in the SAV series. The X5 debuted in 1999, and the X3 appeared in 2003. The mid-sized X5 is the larger of the two, with a 3.0 I-6 cyl engine, and seats 5 - 7 people. The X3 seats five has a 2.0L I-4 engine, and is priced about 20k less.

If you are in the market for a luxury sports utility vehicle, the first thing you will discover is that there are plenty of choices on the market. BMW, Land Rover, Mercedes, Lexus, Infiniti, or even Buick or Lincoln have offerings vying for your attention. Choosing the right luxury SUV can be challenging, with so many manufacturers hyping their vehicles as the best on the planet. Any research on luxury SUVs should include the BMW X3 vs X5. These sport utility vehicles are two of the most popular on the market today, and there are definite reasons why this is the case. With the precision of German engineering, and the careful attention to detail that BMW puts into every vehicle, the company has continued its philosophy of providing the “ultimate driving experience.” So what are the differences between the mid-sized X5 and the compact X3? Let’s explore each to see if we can provide enough information to make the best buying decision for your family.

Table of Contents

The New X5 Begins

When BMW acquired Land Rover in the mid-90s, the move was a strategic stroke of brilliance. The luxury automaker knew that its competitors were about to make significant gains, with the likes of the Lexus LX, the Mercedes M-Class, and the Lincoln Navigator about to emerge from the pipeline. Infused with new technology from their new acquisition, BMW set out to produce the finest luxury family hauler on the planet.

The result was almost five years in the making, but in 1999, the E53 X5 hit showroom floors and produced a radical shift from the light-weight sports cars BMW had been known for at the time. Little did the company know that this foray into the Sports Activity Vehicle market would forever change the brand's direction. Soon afterward, the compact X3 showed up (2003), and BMW began dominating the market.

The first generation E53 X5 (1999 - 2006) borrowed heavily from the Range Rover with its electronically controlled driver assist applications (hill descent control and off-road engine management. BMW marketed the X5 as a “Sports Activity Vehicle” to emphasize its versatility on and off-road. While its off-road capabilities were limited, only 25k units were sold in 2000. Despite the sluggish sales, BMW stayed the course, committed to the mid-sized SUV.

The Fastest SUV On The Planet

Gradually, over the next few years, the popularity of the mid-sized SUV began to climb. In 2002, a sportier version of the X5 was produced, and when BMW decided to slap a 4.6L V8 engine, it became the “fastest SUV on the planet.” When 2003 rolled around, the X5 went through a facelift, received a new 4.8L N62 engine, and BMW started cranking out over 100k units yearly.

The original E53  has gone through four generations since its production in 1999. As technology has progressed, with the introduction of xDrive and electric motored iDrive, the X5 continues to offer luxury and high-quality performance.

The X3 Is Born

BMW needed to expand the X5 lineup to capture some of the compact SUV market, and so they created the new X3 based on their famous 5-series. The premium vehicle was designed to compete directly with the Mercedes GLK class, Lexus RX, and Volvo XC70.

Over the years, as technology has advanced, the X3 has received various upgrades, including Auto-Stop/Start, ECO-Pro, and advanced safety systems like Lane Departure and Blind Spot Monitoring, among others. The X3 is in its third generation and is offered as an electric battery-powered vehicle (iDrive) since 2020. The X3 and X5 are built n Spartanburg, SC., and are the best-selling SUVs that BMW makes.

What Are The Differences Between The 2023 X3 and X5?

While the 2024 X5 is available and launched, the 2024 X3 is not expected until late fall in 2023 or early 2024. Therefore, we wanted to compare the same model year, so the figures listed are for the 2023 xDrive models. Both vehicles are highly recommended by Consumer Reports.

The Size

The BMW X5 is considered a mid-sized luxury SUV, and the X3 is a compact vehicle. The X5 sits at 194.3 inches long, has a width of over 6 ½ feet (78.9 inches, not including mirrors), and stands over 68.7 inches in height (the X3 has 185.9 length, 74.4 width, and 66.0 inches in height. The wheelbase of the X5 is about 4 inches longer than the X3 (117.1 vs. 112.8 inches). The curb weight of the X3 is about 800 lbs lighter, primarily due to the difference in engine size.

Due to its larger size, the X5 provides additional interior volume for passengers. While the X5 has the option for a third row, the back seating is unsuitable for adult passengers (it is cramped). The X3 does not have a third row and seats five adults comfortably. Surprisingly, the X3 has almost the same headroom, hip room, and shoulder room in the front seats as the X5.

One of the primary differences between the X5 and X3 is the cargo area. The X5 has 72.3 cubic feet of cargo space with all the rear seats folded, whereas the X3’s maximum cargo capacity is only 62.7 cubic feet. (This means that if you consistently load a lot of cargo in your SUV, then the X5 might be the way to go).

The Engine

The base X5 xDrive is equipped with a 3.0L Inline six that produces 335 hp. The X3 has a 2.0 Twin-powered Turbo 4 cylinder which produced 248 hp. The X3 has a slight edge in fuel economy (21 city/29 highway) vs the X5, which gets 21 city/25 hwy. If speed is your thing, the X3 accelerates 0-60 mph in six seconds, while the X5 shaves off a few tenths of the second (5.3).

Both SUVs have other engine options depending on which configuration of X-line you choose. The X3 has two engine options, including the competition package, which bumps the engine to a 3.0 Twin-turbo and produces a power output of 503 hp. As you might figure, the 0-60 time is blistering 3.7 seconds. The X5 has three engine choices, including the hybrid motor, which gets nearly 52 miles per gallon equivalent (combined).

The Transmission

Both SUVs have an 8-speed shiftable automatic transmissions with paddle shifters standard.

Towing Capacity

As you might expect, the larger BMW X5 has a greater maximum towing capacity of 7,200 lbs vs the 4,400 lbs in the BMW X3. While either SUV could handle a small camper, if you plan to do any significant towing, then the X5 is the better vehicle for this purpose. Payload capacities are almost identical (974 for the X5 vs. 941 for the X3).

Standard Features

Both vehicles have similar standard features, which make the driving experience almost perfect. The two SUVs have large center infotainment displays, with Apple Car Play, Android Auto, 12-way powered, heated front seats, and leather seating surfaces. The vehicles have many safety features, including a full assortment of Driver Assistance applications, like lane departure, blind spot monitoring, forward collision assist, auto-stop start, and speed limit info.

The Price

The X3 xDrive, is priced nearly $48k while the BMW X5 is $63,920. The plug-in hybrid version of the X5 xDrive45e lists at $65,700, and considering the fuel savings, it seems like a pretty good value.

Safety Ratings

The 2023 X3 was listed as a “Top Safety Pick +” by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and the X5 is a “Top Safety Pick” (though not a plus). The NHTSA lists the X3 with a five-star rating, while the 2023 X5 has a four-star rating.

What Are The Specs For the X3 vs X5?

Item BMW X3 xDrive BMW X5 xDrive
Price $48,560 MSRP $63,920 MSRP
Standard Engine 2.0 TwinPower Turbo 4 cyl 3.0L inline-six cyl.
Base Horsepower 248 hp 335 hp
Plug in hybrid Available No Yes
Seats 5 passengers 5 - 7 passengers
Cargo Space (seats folded) 62.7 cubic feet 72.3 cubic feet
Curb Weight 4,079 lbs 4,863 lbs
Length 185.9 inches 194.3 inches
Width 78.9 inches 74.0 inches
Height 68.7 inches 66.0 inches
Wheelbase 112.8 inches 117.1 inches
Towing Capacity 4,440 lbs 7,250 lbs
Payload 941 lbs 974 lbs
Warranty 4 yr/50k miles 4 yr/50k miles
Bmw X3 Vs X5

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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