BMW X3 review
The BMW X3 is an extremely capable SUV with a roomy interior, efficient engines and a great driving experience
The BMW X3 has never faced tougher opposition. Prior to the facelift it was the unquestionable class leader but the arrival of the Porsche Macan has put question marks around its right to the throne. Rivals now include the Lexus NX, Range Rover Evoque and Audi Q5.
Changes to the X3 the mid-life refresh brought were minimal. Yet, there was never anything wrong with it in the first place. Main changes include new headlights, subtly tweaked bumpers and more efficient engines.
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 ranging from 148bhp to 309bhp.
To maximize efficiency every X3 comes with stop/start technology, which is fitted as part of the EfficientDynamics pack. If efficiency rather than off-road ability is your priority then BMW now offers a rear-wheel drive X3 in the shape of the sDrive 18d, capable of returning economy and emissions of 55.4mpg and 133g/km. Each X3 is also available in xLine, SE and M Sport trim.
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.
Practicality is also a strong point with 550 litres of boot space available – that’s more than both the Porsche Macan and Audi Q5. Fold the rear seats flat and space increases to 1,600 litres.
Our choice: X3 xDrive 20d SE
Engines, performance and drive
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 for the 18d model only. 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. Stay on the tarmac, and the rear-wheel drive model has plenty of grip for everyday driving.
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. The engine can feel a bit strained at the top end, but don't thrash it and there's plenty of torque for cruising around.
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.
As you’d expect from a BMW, the X3 also feels agile and involving in corners. The steering is direct and well weighted, while there’s plenty of grip and body movement is superbly controlled. All versions come with BMW’s Drive Performance Control, which alters the car’s throttle response and steering weight to suit your mood and road conditions.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
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.
Interior, design and technology
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.
Popular M Sport models get an extra lift courtesy of its racy bodykit, gloss black trim inserts and 18-inch alloy wheels. Also included are a smattering of ‘M’ logos and an eye-catching chrome treatment for the exhaust. However, you’ll have to upgrade to the £610 xenon headlamps if you want BMW’s LED daytime running lights.
The cabin is just as low key as its exterior, but what the X3 lacks in daring design it makes up for with a thoughtful layout and a first-rate finish. Like other models in the German brand’s line-up, it benefits from a slickly styled, wraparound dashboard design and plenty of top-notch materials. All the plastics are soft touch, switchgear operates precisely and the fixtures and fittings feel engineered to last.
Flagship M Sport models come with all the essential kit, such as climate control, heated seats, a DAB radio and parking sensors, while leather-trimmed sports seats and a chunky M Sport steering wheel are desirable additions. Also included is BMW’s excellent iDrive set-up, which is simple to use when on the move.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
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 Land Rover Discovery Sport which has a 98-litre advantage over the X3.
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.
Reliability and Safety
BMW has forged a strong reputation for building robust and reliable cars, so it’s no surprise the pre-facelift X3 finished an excellent 12th overall in our Driver Power 2014 satisfaction survey.
And while the latest model has benefited from some visual and mechanical tweaks, the overall design is fundamentally unchanged, so you can expect a trouble-free ownership experience. However, if there are any issues, bear in mind that BMW’s dealer network was ranked in a disappointing 22nd place.
There will be few complaints about the X3’s safety credentials, with Euro NCAP awarding the SUV five stars in 2011. As you’d expect, there are plenty of airbags as standard, as well as stability control and tyre pressure monitoring, while options include a £550 surround-view camera, £250 speed limit warning and an £895 head-up display. Adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist and blind-spot monitoring are part of the £1,400 Driving Assistant Plus pack.