BMW X3 Review
BMW’s second-generation X3 is an understated but well honed product that has a lot of all-round appeal.
Pros: All-round talents, brilliant fuel economy, roomy and practical, well priced compared to the competition
Cons: Styling not as standout as it could be
Trim range: SE, M Sport
Diesel engines: 2.0d (143, 184), 3.0d (258, 313)
Gearboxes: Six-speed manual, eight speed automatic
What is the BMW X3?
The BMW X3 is a mid-size SUV that sits below the BMW X5 and competes with models such as the Audi Q5 and Land Rover Freelander. The arrival of the BMW X1 a few years back has allowed the firm to make the X3 bigger and take it slightly upmarket but it remains one of the more practical, family-focused BMWs.
BMW offers a diesel-only range of X3 in the UK, split between four-cylinder and six-cylinder versions. The 258hp xDrive30d and 313hp xDrive35d deliver very impressive performance and a very smooth soundtrack, but it is the four-cylinder cars that sell best.
Even the 143hp sDrive18d is reasonably punchy although the extra grunt of the 184hp xDrive20d does make a noticeable difference when pressing on. The four-cylinder cars don’t have the slick engine note of the six-cylinder ones, of course, but they are quiet enough when cruising (good pulling power from low revs helps here). Choose either six-speed manual or the superb eight-speed automatic; the latter is standard on the 30d and 35d.
Ride and handling
Despite looking like an SUV, the BMW X3 drives much like a taller, more all-terrain passenger car. From the off, it rarely feels soft or precarious and handles with real tenacity given the fact it can also traverse muddy hills. If you do plan to off-road, choose the xDrive four-wheel drive models rather than the more fuel-efficient rear-wheel drive sDrive versions.
Ride quality was an issue with the first generation X3. It was much too stiff and jittery over bumps. BMW has cured that with this latest version which now has far more compliance and smooth-running composure. Optional Adaptive Damping allows the balance to be altered between comfort and sport: the ‘Sport+’ mode restores the harsh ride of the original car.
Behind the wheel
Dashboard and driving position
There are no surprises inside to anyone who is familiar with a BMW. The design is simple and features the four round instruments, central display screen and iDrive controller of all the brand’s cars. Lower-priced models do look a bit cheap because of their meanly-sized 6.5-inch navigation screen, though. Best to pay extra for the larger diameter setup.
The driving position feels sporty despite the car’s SUV design. It’s more sit-in rather than sit-on, and the bolstered seats are excellent. There is a huge range of adjustment for the seats too, made easier on pricier cars thanks to electric adjustment (the manual levers are a bit fiddly).
Being set higher off the ground means visibility is inherently better than an estate car, which gives the BMW X3 a natural safety advantage. The firm has worked hard to make sure this isn’t compromised with overly thick windscreen pillars and big side windows also help. Clever ‘bird’s eye view’ parking sensors and cameras make it easier still; front and rear parking sensors are standard.
Gadgets and technology
Being a modern BMW, there is no shortage of gadgets offered on the options list. Much of this is technology that’s filtered down from the larger 7 Series and gives the firm an advantage in the compact SUV sector over less tech-packed rivals.
- Smartphone connectivity: Bluetooth hands-free is standard, full Bluetooth connectivity is optional
- Navigation: Two levels of navigation are offered as cost-options. Many X3 owners consider navigation a must-fit extra
- Personalisation: BMW offers a huge amount of technological personalisation via the iDrive menus. Adding features such as Adaptive Dynamics increases the amount of user configurability
- Audio: DAB and USB connectivity are standard
- Internet: BMW offers in-car internet as part of the Professional Multimedia optional extra pack
- Can it Tweet or Facebook: BMW apps are included with the multimedia pack so the car can display Twitter and Facebook updates, and send pre-written replies while on the move.
- What is the standout gadget on the BMW X3? The reversing camera with top view will amaze passengers by showing a bird’s eye real-time view of the car when reversing, allowing even the smallest obstacles to be spotted
Passenger space and practicality
The BMW X3 boasts good passenger space in the front and rear, with ample headroom and a wide, well planned cabin. Note that rear passenger space can be compromised if the driver takes advantage of the full range of seat adjustment – and some of the sportier front seat options do take up a bit more room than the standard chairs.
The 550-litre boot is both a good size and a useful shape. The sill is low so items can be slid in with ease, and the fact it’s a bit higher off the ground makes it easier to drop shopping bags in and then get them out again.
Seats are split 60:40 as standard, an optional automatic bootlid adds hands-free practicality but the bootlid itself does not have a separately opening tailgate screen, unlike the larger BMW X5.
The BMW X3 is generally a quiet, upmarket machine with much lower levels of noise than the first generation X3. Better build quality (and a smoother ride) means there are fewer creaks from the interior trim. Four-cylinder diesel models do make a bit more noise than the six-cylinder cars, though.
The BMW X3 has a five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating, with good results for levels of adult and occupant protection (although pedestrian safety is more average). Six airbags are standard, with single stage airbags for both driver and front passenger.
Adaptive headlights and high beam assist (defaulting to long-range main beam and automatically dipping it when it detects oncoming cars) are available as options, as is a comprehensive head-up display.
Running costs/Value for money/Pricing
Like all BMW, the X3 is extremely fuel efficient. The rear-wheel drive sDrive model is particularly economical, with the sDrive18d returning a very impressive 55.4mpg and emitting 135g/km CO2. However, if you need four-wheel drive, the xDrive 20d also cracks the 50mpg mark.
Even the 313hp xDrive35d can average more than 46mpg which is little short of remarkable.
BMW is a premium car manufacturer and the X3 reflects this with excellent construction and quality. The first generation X3 may have had a few issues with fit and finish but no evidence of this can be found in the current model.
Pricing and equipment
BMW X3 prices start at just under £29,000. It is a large, upmarket SUV and BMW offers the smaller X1 alternative for those who need a cheaper SUV. All models are well equipped though, with even the standard sDrive 18d SE offering leather seats, alloys, parking sensors, automatic wipers and lights plus cruise control.
Value for money
A comprehensive blend of abilities, coupled with exceptional fuel economy plus excellent ride, handling, space, practicality and overall family-friendliness mean the X3 offers plenty of value for money. It is a car with a long list of attributes that mean it really appeals over a similarly priced estate car.
The obvious rival for the BMW X3 is the Land Rover Freelander, although the BMW now sits a little bit more upmarket compared to that car. The Audi Q5 is another rival but, conversely, the Audi is perceived as being more upmarket than the BMW. Other alternatives include the Volkswagen Tiguan or, for those on a budget, the Skoda Yeti.
The BMW X3 isn’t the firm’s most stylish or standout car, but it is now one of its best (and a big improvement over the first generation model). A broad range of talents focused on practicality and family friendliness mean it is a very useable car that should fit well into the lives of many. Definitely worth checking out.