BMW X3 review
The BMW X3 is a hugely capable 4x4 - whether on-road or off it - with powerful, efficient engines and lots of space
The first generation of BMW’s small SUV failed to impress, with below-average build quality, an awkward design and questionable off-road ability, but this new model is one of the best cars in class. A smart exterior that closely resembles the bigger BMW X5, three powerful and refined diesel engines to choose from and very low CO2 emissions - thanks to BMW's EfficientDynamics start/stop technology - all set the X3 apart. It’s also great to drive whether on or off road, very spacious, rides comfortably and manages to be desirable without the overt glitz of the similarly priced Range Rover Evoque.
Our choice: X3 xDrive 20d SE
The BMW X3 looks suitably utilitarian from the outside, with visual cues like roof-rails, wide wheelarches and black plastic body cladding all hinting at its off-road potential. BMW’s trademark kidney grille is prominent at the front, but even entry SE models come with 17-inch alloys as standard. Pumped-up M Sport versions get lower and wider bumpers, bigger wheels, a silver grille finish and stiffened suspension. Inside the cabin is simple but attractive, and all models come generously equipped. Goodies like leather seats, cruise control, automatic headlights and a 6.5-inch colour screen plus the ‘iDrive’ infotainment system are all included as standard.
The X3 handles brilliantly, and corners with the kind of agility and poise that would embarrass most saloons, let alone tall off-roaders. All models get BMW’s xDrive four-wheel drive system as standard, and there are three different diesel engines to choose from. The X3 20d uses a 2.0-litre engine with 184bhp and a respectable 380Nm of torque. It’s a tad gruff under heavier loads, but provides impressive performance, and settles to a quiet cruise on the motorway. For the ultimate in refinement, the two six-cylinder models, one with 258bhp and the other with 313bhp, are incredibly smooth and offer serious mid-range performance, with the latter getting from 0-62mph in just 5.8 seconds.
There were no major recalls on the previous X3 – and if anything this new model is even more solidly built, and fit and finish is on a par with premium rival Audi. The X3 also comes with a host of electronic safety kit, included hill start assist, hill descent control for navigating steeper gradients, traction control and dynamic brake assist. Active headrests, crash sensors and a full complement of airbags also mean that it’s no surprise the X3 earned the full five-star rating from Euro NCAP in crash tests. All the major mechanicals have been tried and tested in other models in the range too, although the manufacturer warranty is just three years.
The X3 is wider, taller and longer than the previous model, and its much more spacious inside as a result. There’s enough head and legroom in the rear to sit three adults in relative comfort, although a tall transmission tunnel means you wouldn’t want to stay in the middle seat for long. With the rear seats folded down, the maximum 1,600-litre boot isn’t quite as large as rivals like the Land Rover Freelander, but a handy optional 40/20/40 split seat arrangement means you can carry awkward items like bikes with relative ease. It’s also a superb towing vehicle, able to haul up to 2,400kgs behind it on a braked trailer.
Thanks to BMW’s clever fuel-saving technology, which includes an automatic start/stop system and regenerative brakes, every version of the X3 is surprisingly efficient. The 2.0-litre four-cylinder model emits just 147g/km and will return a claimed 50.4mpg, but even the storming 35d straight-six manages figures of 46.3mpg and tailpipe emissions of just 162g/km. Other running costs, like insurance and replacement parts are predictably high, but BMW’s servicing package deals are bringing down the overall cost of ownership.