The X3 was launched in 2004 and was really the first premium mid-sized SUV. Sadly for BMW, the good initial sales gradually fell as others joined the party. However, the new X3 enters the market ready to do battle with all comers.
It may have been the first, but it’s now firmly aiming at being the best. This latest version certainly packs a visual punch and even standard models are feature-packed. Add due to the fact that it performs expertly on road and admirably off, the X3 might just get its wish.
The three engine choices may seem a little limited but there’s generally something for everyone. All engines are diesel and the range starts with the xDrive20d - a 2.0 litre four-cylinder engine. In older models this choice was often loud and harsh, but the latest power unit is much better. And it’s our pick of the bunch.
It may not be one for thrashing, but the 187bhp on offer is plenty for most people. Next is a 3.0-litre engine with single and twin turbo versions - the xDrive30d and 35d. Both of these really up the performance stakes, with 60mph appearing in under 6 seconds for both.
The 20d claims 52.3mpg with CO2 emissions of 142g/km, while the 30d and 35d will do around 50mpg. Figures vary due to the range of wheel and performance options as do the CO2 emissions.
This makes for a tricky purchase, and in-depth research is advised before opting for big wheels and M-Sport options. All engines are available with manual and automatic gearboxes, but the 8-speed auto is certainly the way to go.
Ride and handling
As you’d expect the X3 drives very well – in fact it drives like your typical BMW. And that’s a huge compliment. Making an SUV feel as connected and tough as cars like the BMW 3 series is quite an achievement. The chassis is well set up to handle the performance on offer from the full range of engines, and the car turns in well with no wallowing body roll.
One possible complaint is that unless you opt for the optional adaptive damping system, the ride is a little hard for an SUV. All models come with four-wheel drive as standard. But don’t expect the X3 to challenge some of the more purpose-built off-roaders over rough terrain. The X3 is very much built for the road and it does its job very well.
Interior and space
All models come with sat nav as standard, as well as BMW’s frankly brilliant iDrive infotainment system. This means even the entry-level SE model has a premium feel about it. Other standard features include heated leather seats, DAB radio, Bluetooth, automatic lights and wipers, as well as cruise control and electric tailgate.
Moving up the range, a more advanced sat nav system comes into play, as well as sportier trim features. The seating is spacious, comfortable and certainly in line with competitors like the Audi Q5.
There are plenty of cubby holes and, as you’d expect from a BMW, everything is tastefully laid out with no garish touches. The rear seats fold almost flat, but unlike the Discovery Sport, there’s no option to have them reclining or movable.
The boot offers 550 litres of space, and 1600 litres with the seats down. This beats rivals like the Volvo XC60, but fails to outrun the Discovery Sport which also offers a seven-seat option. A 5-start Euro NCAP rating comes as no surprise with the X3, due to excellent build quality and a host of safety features.
What to know before you buy
BMW is famous for making reliable cars, and both old and new versions of the X3 uphold this reputation well. All cars come with a standard three-year warranty that has no mileage limit – which is good news for people doing regular long runs.
BMW parts and servicing come at a premium price, but BMW offers various pre-pay servicing plans that certainly help spread the cost. There are no set servicing intervals as the on-board computers tell you when the car needs work, depending on how you drive it. In general BMWs hold their value well, but some evidence suggests the X3 could lose out more than competitors like the Audi Q5.
What are the alternatives?
There’s no shortage of mid-sized SUVs on the market, and even in this premium sector the competition is fierce. The Land Rover Discovery Sport is certainly a strong contender, with plenty of rave reviews and well-known off-road pedigree.
Prices are fairly even between the two, though an entry-level Discovery is a shade cheaper than the xDrive2.0d. The Audi Q5 may have the fastest sport version, but it’s more expensive across the range and fails to compete on space or style. Other options like the Porsche Macan will always win the ultimate battle for high-end status, but that doesn’t come cheap.
Put simply, the X3 is a great car. It offers performance levels from good to bonkers, while it remains a fun and engaging car to drive no matter what engine choice you go for. The spec list, even for the base model, is excellent – as is the interior and build quality.
On the negative side, the optional extras list is long and very expensive, and without the adaptive dampers the ride is hard. It fares well against competitors in most areas and looks great. It’s economical on paper, but also does well in real-world tests. The simple overall premium feel makes it a very strong option for those looking at a high-end mid-sized SUV.