Road tests

New BMW X3 2021 review

The BMW X3 has been updated to keep it fresh in the face of competition from the Audi Q5 and Volvo XC60, but have the changes improved the popular SUV? We find out...

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

Verdict

BMW has improved the X3 in the areas where it needed it, mostly the on-board tech and connectivity, giving the styling and equipment levels a boost at the same time. But at the core of this car is a smooth-riding, refined SUV that handles well and is spacious inside. The 30d engine is mighty, too, although there’s better value and lower running costs to be explored elsewhere in the range.

Like many premium players, BMW is pushing ahead with a flurry of fully electric models. Its iX and iX3 electric SUVs have received strong ratings recently, but until combustion-engined cars are legislated off the road, BMW won’t completely give up on them, which is why it’s updated its strong-selling petrol and diesel powered X3 premium off-roader.

Renewed competition in the form of the facelifted Audi Q5 earlier this year, an updated Volvo XC60 that launched recently and a new Mercedes GLC waiting in the wings is also strong motivation from BMW, with tweaks to the tech and looks the main focus here.

It’s recognisably an X3 from the outside, with styling that’s been sharpened up to add a sporty new look. As is seemingly the way with any new BMW, the grille has also been enlarged, although not to the extent seen on the brand’s 4 Series, for example.

There are now slimmer headlights, smarter-looking rear light clusters and sharper creases in the bumpers and body work to give a sportier look and reinforce BMW’s focus on driving dynamics, even in a premium family SUV.

Under that newly sculpted bonnet all of the X3’s engines feature some form of electrification – it’s mostly mild-hybrid tech, with every petrol and diesel featuring assistance from a 48v electrical system and a belt starter-generator.

We tested the xDrive30d model in Munich and although the upgrades for the powertrain are marginal, optimisation in every area adds up to deliver a very smooth and linear-feeling engine. It delivers its power in an easy, refined surge, offering a total of 282bhp and 650Nm of torque.

The 0-62mph time is 5.7 seconds officially, but you can forget about that, because it’s how the 30d drives in transient conditions that matters – think gentle use of the accelerator on the school run, swifter acceleration up to motorway speeds and all manner of cruising. The low-down torque is so easily accessible and swells to a point in the mid-range where you never need to rev the engine out. It always feels like there’s a reserve of performance available. Of course, if you do push it harder then it’s surprisingly quick, and this capability for high-speed cruising is matched by great stability, as we found out on the autobahn.

In town, mild-hybrid tech means the stop-start system is keener to cut in, while the engine is also happy to coast, switching off to boost refinement and helping save a little more fuel.

On that subject, official claimed economy of up to 44.8mpg in M Sport trim is not bad for a chunky, 2,010kg SUV with a big engine, while CO2 emissions for the 30d start from 164g/km, so realistically it’ll be the bottom of your company car choice list with 20d, plug-in hybrid and fully electric iX3 variants all available in the revised range.

The MHEV system also means the engine restart after cutting out is smooth, too, which is a good description of the powertrain, in fact, as it emits a characterful multi-cylinder rumble that sits distantly in the background, but you don’t feel any vibrations or rattles more commonly associated with diesel cars.

The engine is mated to an eight-speed automatic gearbox that rarely seems to be in the wrong gear but shifts down smoothly when it is. With equally silky upshifts it makes the most of the engine’s performance and keeps progress refined, too. Rarely does the X3 sound coarse or strained, even when accelerating at a faster lick.

There is a Sport mode, but once you’ve pressed the button once you’ll likely never do it again; the gearchanges get ever-so slightly grabbier, but more importantly, our car’s adaptive dampers firm up. While the more taut control over vertical body movement reinforces the X3’s status as one of the most dynamic SUVs in this class, despite numb but direct steering, with the suspension in its firmer setting even on super-smooth German roads you do notice an extra edge to the ride over some bumps that’s not really necessary.

Inside, the X3 has received an even greater makeover than it has outside. The basic dash design is inherited from the current 3 and 4 Series models, so along with a configurable 12.3-inch digital dash, the new central display is an identical size if you go for the Live Cockpit Professional upgrade. Otherwise, the panel is 10.25 inches as standard.

The infotainment is based on BMW’s Operating System 7, so again, it inherits features from the 3 and 4 Series, including the intelligent voice assistant, which is one of the best on the market.

Wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay feature, as well as Amazon Alexa integration, boosting connectivity, but as with most BMWs, the real highlight is how accessible it is; the graphics are great and the touchscreen responds instantly, but you can also select and navigate with the click wheel controller, which makes it easier to use on the move. Logically laid-out menus also mean the infotainment is intuitive, while over-the-air software upgrade capability make the new X3 about as future proof as a combustion-engined car can be in 2021, too.

As the X3’s basic CLAR platform is unchanged it means practicality isn’t any different, which means there’s still ample space inside for passengers, with plenty of legroom and even more headroom making it a fine family vehicles. Boot space still stands at 550 litres with the rear seats in place. It didn’t need improving and is still a match for its rivals.

There’s been an added boost to kit as well. BMW saw a high take-up rate on features such as three-zone climate control, so this is now fitted as standard, along side sports seats on all cars. Our M Sport model also boasted a sporty body kit, LED headlights, front and rear parking sensors, leather trim, cruise control and a powered tailgate.

Model:BMW X3 xDrive30d M Sport
Price:£52,515
Engine:3.0-litre 6cyl turbodiesel
Power/torque:282bhp/650Nm
Transmission:Eight-speed automatic, four-wheel drive 
0-62mph:5.7 seconds
Top speed:152mph
Economy:44.8mpg
CO2:164g/km

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