BMW X3 review
The BMW X3 is an extremely capable SUV with a roomy interior, efficient engines and a great driving experience
When the first-generation BMW X3 was introduced, it failed to make much of an impact. It had an uninspiring design, below-par build quality and questionable off-road ability. The new model, however, has come a long way. It's now one of the best SUVs in the class, rivalling the likes of the Range Rover Evoque, Audi Q5 and Land Rover Freelander.
The X3 features smart exterior styling and looks more like a shrunken X5 than ever before - even more so after a mid-life refresh earlier in 2014. There are plenty of engines on offer, so long as you want a diesel. BMW doesn't offer the X3 with any petrol powerplants, but the refined four and six-cylinder diesels are all available in a range of power outputs.
Every BMW X3 comes with a suite of systems in place to increase efficiency - such as stop-start technology. This comes part of the EfficientDynamics package that prioritises low running costs over outright performance. The entry-level four-cylinder diesels are particularly efficient when specced in two-wheel-drive sDrive 18d spec, with lower tax bills and fuel consumption. The X3 comes in SE, xLine and M Sport trim levels.
Whichever X3 you opt for, though, you'll be in one of the most accomplished SUVs on the market. It's great to drive, can accommodate the whole family and is one of the most desirable 4x4s in the segment. It may not be as glamorous as the Range Rover Evoque, but it’s a very talented all-round performer.
Our choice: X3 xDrive 20d SE
The X3 may not be the most exciting car to look at, but it's instantly recognisable as a BMW thanks to the trademark kidney grille and twin circular headlights. It has the kind of chunky, rugged styling that SUV buyers expect from a car like this with features like roof rails, wide wheelarches and black plastic body cladding.
Reshaped bumpers and additions such as LED indicators housed in the wing mirrors contributed to the classy 2014 update, while M Sport models received a sporty bodykit for those looking for a bit more exterior clout.
Additions also included a silver finish grille, lower and wider bumpers and bigger wheels. The xLine trim is distinguished by metal inserts in the bumpers, aluminium side cladding and bars across the air intakes.
On the inside, every X3 features a simple but attractive interior, with generous equipment as standard - the facelift added new cup holders and a classy piano black finish to the centre console.
Leather seats, cruise control automatic headlights are all available, while a sleek 6.5-inch central colour screen provides clear access to various settings through the BMW iDrive infotainment system.
The X3 handles brilliantly for any car, let alone a high-riding off-roader. It has the kind of agility and poise that puts some saloons to shame. It can be specced with BMW's xDrive four-wheel-drive system - standard on high-spec models - or sDrive rear-wheel drive. Models fitted with xDrive offer impressive grip and traction both on and off road, while sDrive cars still offer a fun drive with better economy.
The X3 is only available with diesel engines, but there's sure to be one for every buyer. The X3 sDrive 18d has a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine that sends 148bhp to the rear wheels – it's ideal for buyers who want the versatility of an SUV, but also the lower running costs of a smaller car.
Off-road ability is more limited in this model, though. This diesel is also available in a four-wheel-drive X3, the xDrive 20d, where it delivers a respectable 188bhp and 400Nm of torque.
Both 2.0-litre models are the latest iterations of BMW's four-pot diesel engine. Coupled with manual or eight-speed automatic gearboxes, refinement has improved significantly over the pre-facelift model.
For a blend of performance and refinement, go for one of the 3.0-litre six-cylinder models. Buyers can choose from a 258bhp xDrive 30d or a 313bhp xDrive 35d, both fitted as standard with the superb eight-speed automatic box. The latter will sprint to 62mph in just 5.8 seconds, too.
The latest BMW X3 is a more solid car all round compared to the original, with fit and finish to rival that of one of its main rivals - the Audi Q5. There's a comprehensive list of electronic safety kit, consisting of hill start assist, hill descent control, traction control and dynamic brake assist. On top of these, crash sensors, active headrests and a host of airbags contribute to the X3 achieving a full five-star Euro NCAP crash safety rating.
The mechanicals have been tried and tested elsewhere in the BMW range, and their reliability have been proven in the Driver Power satisfaction survey. The X3 ranked at an impressive 12th place in our 2014 survey. This suggests potential buyers are unlikely to encounter too many problems.
The BMW X3 is a very practical car, especially compared to rivals such as the Range Rover Evoque. Its dimensions are longer and taller, with much more interior space as a result. In the rear, three adults will fit in relative comfort, although a tall transmission tunnel means you wouldn't want to stay in the middle seat for too long.
With the rear seats in place, boot size is a useful 550 litres, but a 1,600-litre load space when the seats are folded can't match the 1,670 litres offered by the Land Rover Freelander.
Despite this, a useful 40:20:40 split rear seat arrangement is available as an option on the X3, meaning awkward items can be carried with relative ease. It's also a great choice for caravan owners, too. Higher-powered xDrive models offer a towing capacity of up to 2,400kg.
BMW has fitted the X3 with its EfficientDynamics fuel-saving technology, including stop-start and brake regeneration, so even the high-powered six-cylinder models are surprisingly efficient.
The top-spec 313bhp 3.0-litre xDrive promises fuel consumption of 47.1mpg and emits just 157g/km of CO2, so annual road tax bills won’t be too high.
Owners will pay the price elsewhere, though – this model sits in insurance group 43. That compares to group 26 for a rear-wheel-drive X3 sDrive 18d, which delivers 55.4mpg and 133g/km if you specify an automatic gearbox.
The X3 xDrive 20d (expected to account for around 80 per cent of UK sales) returns 54.3mpg and 138g/km when pared with an auto 'box -6.4mpg and 16g/km better than the 175bhp Audi Q5 2.0 TDI quattro SE.
Service intervals are variable across the range, so the car will tell you when it needs some attention from a dealer. And while replacement parts come at the high price you expect from a premium manufacturer, BMW offers some competitive pre-paid servicing packages to take the sting out of ownership costs.