BMW X3 In Snow & Winter Driving? (Solved & Explained)

The BMW X3 has been creeping its way up BMW’s sales charts.

The third-generation X3 has actually been BMW’s best-selling model for the last couple of years and it’s quite easy to understand why.

It’s got great build quality, is filled with lots of modern technology, looks good, and has plenty of space for hauling people and cargo.

But can this small luxury SUV withstand the cold and perform well in winter driving conditions?

Read on to find out…

Here is the short answer to whether the BMW X3 is good for snow and winter driving:

The X3 is very capable when it comes to driving in snow due to its xDrive AWD and 8-inch ground clearance. X3 models come with Active Guard driving assistance and collision avoidance technologies as well as ABS, Traction Control and Stability Control all of which add to a safe winter driving experience.

Is the BMW X3 Good in the Snow?

The BMW X3 is subject to endurance tests before release, and this includes extensive testing on frozen lakes and snowy roads in North Sweden to prove that they are able to withstand cold, ice and snow – so you can rest assured you won’t have any issues when winter comes around.

The BMW X3 can easily be driven through deep snow and slippery ice-covered roads – although it will need to be fitted with proper snow tires to get the best possible performance.

It has enough ground clearance at 8 inches to drive through unplowed roads and not get stuck or high centered.

X3s equipped with BMW’s xDrive AWD system are even better as daily drivers in the winter because it will give you better traction when driving through really tricky terrain. 

Since AWD powers four wheels instead of just two, there’s more available grip, and when driving on slick surfaces such as on snow and ice, you can accelerate better, with minimal tire slippage.

It may not be the best vehicle for extreme snow excursions and off-road driving, but it will get you up snowy mountain roads and around town during winters quite easily and comfortably. 

What Features Will Improve Winter Driving?

Even though most BMW X3s won’t spend much time away from the pavement, BMW still equipped it with many features to improve performance off-road and on very slippery terrain. 

Let’s take a closer look at the most important features and how they make the X3 a very capable winter daily driver.

xDrive All-Wheel Drive

People who plan to take the X3 to places with long and harsh winters will want the optional xDrive AWD system.

The X3’s AWD system normally sends 60% power to the rear and 40% to the front. It’s always active so you’ll get good traction everywhere even if it’s extremely slippery.

The system can also send up to 100% power to either the front or the rear whenever its computers decide it’s necessary.

When one of your wheels starts to spin excessively, xDrive will apply the brakes on that wheel and send power to the other wheel on the opposite side. 

It makes the X3 more reliable even on uneven ground and really slippery roads. 

Related: 8 Most Common BMW X3 Problems (Explained)

Traction Control (TC)

Traction Control is standard on the X3 and in the winter it has two main advantages:

  • When starting a vehicle from a dead stop on snow/ice, tires may spin relentlessly due to lack of friction – this is not an issue on the X3 as the TC system would limit the spinning of the wheels without grip and allow the wheels with grip to move the vehicle.
  • When driving on snow-covered roads where the tires hit a thick patch of slush and lose grip, which causes the vehicle to slow down or slide. TC would apply the brakes to correct the vehicle’s trajectory.

The X3 also has a dedicated button to turn off the Traction Control system which is labeled as Dynamic Traction Control (DTC).

Turning on DTC gives you more wheelspin which can be useful in situations such as

  • Driving through slush or really deep snow
  • Driving on snow chains 
  • Getting the vehicle unstuck
  • Going up slippery inclines

DTC will let you use all the power and wheelspin you’ll need and won’t cut engine power abruptly which makes you lose forward momentum.

Dynamic Stability Control 

Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) is a computerized system that can detect skidding/loss of traction – it then aims to bring stability and correct vehicle trajectory by:

  • Sending power from the front to rear
  • Applying brakes to individual wheels
  • Adjusting engine timing
  • Limiting the flow of fuel to the engine

This helps guide the vehicle in its intended direction of travel and reduces the likelihood of the driver losing control of their vehicle.

Here are just some of the sensors it uses:

  • Steering angle
  • Yaw angle (where the car is headed)
  • Wheelspin
  • Vehicle speed

Hill Descent Control

X3s equipped with xDrive will also come with Hill Descent Control (HDC).

When switched on, the HDC will automatically control the gas and brakes so you can go downhill at a more controlled pace. 

Going down steep inclines in the winter is more difficult because you need to be really gentle with the gas and brakes.

HDC makes all this less of a chore and less treacherous which is a huge help for less experienced drivers. 

Anti-Lock Braking System

All BMW X3s come standard with an Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS). 

It keeps you from sliding when you’re braking by automatically pulsing the brakes on and off when it detects that the wheels are about to lock up.

It’s really easy to lock up your wheels in the winter even if you’re not slamming on the brakes because the tires have significantly less traction. 

Electronic Brake Force Distribution

Along with the ABS, the X3 also has Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD) which automatically adjusts how much braking power is sent to the front and rear wheels. 

It helps dramatically reduce braking distances by sending more brake pressure to the wheels and tires that have more grip.

The X3 also comes with Dynamic Brake Control (DBC) which helps you bring the vehicle to a stop by adding more brake pressure when it senses that you’re trying to stop quickly. 

DBC ensures that the car will come to a complete stop even if you let go of the brakes too early or don’t step on it hard enough. 

Heated Side Mirrors, Seats and Steering Wheel

Heated side mirrors come standard in all BMW X3s.

It improves visibility by keeping your mirrors from frosting up — allowing you to see what’s going on in the back. 

Heated seats and steering wheels can also be added as options or through the Cold Weather package.

This package also adds retractable headlight washers so they don’t completely freeze up.

BMW Active Guard and Active Driving Assistant

All new BMW X3s come standard with Active Guard which is a collection of modern driver safety aids and includes things such as:

  • Front collision warning
  • Automatic low-speed braking
  • Speed limit information

On top of the standard Active Guard, you can also add the BMW Active Driving Assistant to the X3 as an option. It adds even more safety aids such as:

  • Blind spot monitoring 
  • Lane departure warning
  • Lane keep assist
  • Rear cross traffic alert
  • Active cruise control

All these can be very useful when the roads are extremely slippery in the winter because they give you more time to react. 

It keeps you from suddenly slamming on the brakes or turning the steering wheel too aggressively because you were caught unaware. 

Does the BMW X3 Have a Snow Mode?

The BMW X3 does not have a dedicated Snow Mode. Although this setting can be found in the newer X5s as part of its xDrive system, as well as in other modern SUVs.

Since Snow Mode just makes the throttle less sensitive to prevent you from spinning your wheels, you can just be a little more gentle on the gas to get the same effect.

Related: 21 Best & Worst BMW X3 Years (With Facts & Stats)

Can You Install Additional Snow Gear on the X3?

The BMW X3 is a very popular vehicle so there’s going to be a lot of options when it comes to snow and winter accessories for it. 

Here are just some of the extra snow gear you can equip your X3 with to make it a better winter vehicle.

  • Tow hooks
  • Snow tire
  • Snow chains
  • Snow socks
  • Roof racks
  • All-weather floor mats

These accessories make the X3 better prepared for extreme conditions where you can easily get stuck.

How Much Snow Can a BMW X3 Handle?

The BMW X3’s ground clearance stands at about 8 inches – so we wouldn’t advise driving through snow any deeper than 7 inches.

The clearance should be more than enough for light to moderate winters, and even through deeper sections of snow.

It’s much higher than a sedan so it shouldn’t get stuck or high centered as easily when driving through unplowed roads. 

Couple this with BMW’s xDrive AWD and you’ve got an extremely capable winter vehicle that can take you up snowy mountains and even through some light off road tracks.

How Does the BMW X3 Handle Low Winter Temperatures?

The BMW X3 is extremely well-engineered and well-built and has undergone rigorous winter testing in sub-zero temperatures in North Sweden.

We can safely say its a very reliable vehicle even when temperatures drop to below zero.

It’s engine computer will automatically adjust its settings when the climate and air density changes so that it’s always running optimally. 

What really makes a huge impact on the X3’s daily reliability is it’s battery.

Cold weather makes your car battery lose its charge quickly and leave you stranded in the cold. 

So make sure to hook it up to a battery tender at night to keep it charged or have a jump pack in the car to make sure you can start the car even if it goes flat when you leave it parked outside for a long time.

Related: Where Is The BMW X3 Made? (Solved & Explained)

Can a BMW X3 Drive on Ice?

The BMW X3 is just heavy enough to give it good traction in really slippery ice.

However, it’s still quite easy to bring to a complete stop — unlike much bigger trucks and SUVs that are prone to skidding during braking. 

It’s also got good car-like handling so it’s very maneuverable even when there’s a high chance of sliding on ice.

It’s quite nimble so it won’t feel like you’re driving a tall and heavy truck.

What About Older X3 Models And Winter Driving?

The X3 is a fairly new model so even older first generation X3s are not too far behind when it comes to technology and features.

The X3 has always had an AWD option, and many of them were sold, so it’s easy to find an example with this essential winter feature.

Older versions of the X3 also came with Dynamic Stability Control and Traction Control as standard, so they’re not too difficult to drive when things start getting slippery.

If you find a cheap one in good condition, they can be really good winter beaters, especially if you mount snow tires on them.

Do BMW X3s Need Snow Tires?

To get the most out of the X3 in the snow, you’ll definitely need snow tires.

Snow tires are proven to significantly improve handling and stopping distances in winter driving conditions.

  • The compound is made to grip the road better in lower temperatures as it remains soft and flexible in cold weather.
  • The tread pattern is designed to push the snow out from underneath the tire. 

Can You Mount A Snow Plow on a BMW X3?

Although there are kits that will allow you to mount a snow plow on the X3, we don’t recommend using the BMW to plow snow. 

Real snow plows need to be mounted directly to a vehicle’s frame because it can support a lot of weight and force.

The X3 uses a unibody design which means the body and frame are integrated together.

If you damage one part, it’s going to affect the integrity of the rest of the X3s frame.

You’ll also likely damage some bodywork and put a lot of strain on the X3s drivetrain if you use it to plow through deep snow for more than a couple of minutes. 

Related: How Long Do BMW X3 Last?



  • Ian Sawyer

    Growing up with a father who was a mechanic I had an appreciation for cars and motorcycles from an early age. I shared my first bike with my brother that had little more than a 40cc engine but it opened up a world of excitement for me, I was hooked. As I grew older I progressed onto bigger bikes and...