The BMW X3 returns in better shape than ever to take on recent crossover rivals like the Jag F-Pace and Volvo XC60.
Improved handling, spacious package, premium interior
Pricey compared to some, only five seats, no two-wheel drive variant
The BMW X3 used to have things pretty much its own way, but in the decade and a half since the original launched the market has exploded with quality rivals. BMW knew the X3 had to respond effectively, and it has. The latest version brings new levels of refinement, ride quality and style, as well as a raft of new technologies that return the model to the ranks of the market leaders.
The latest X3 is practical and spacious too, although the lack of a seven-seat option will be a disappointment to some. A new range of petrol engine options – and the promise of a plug-in hybrid to come – caters for drivers turning their backs on diesel.
BMW X3 xDrive20d M Sport
First arriving in 2003, the successful formula of a mid-sized premium 4×4 crossover quickly proved its worth. Over half a million people bought one before five years were up.
Back then there wasn’t too much in the way of alternatives, but leap forward to the present and BMW is offering the X3 for sale in a market stacked with tempting offers from the Alfa Romeo Stelvio right through to the Volvo XC60. The X3 also needs to take care of rivals such as the Audi Q5, Mercedes GLC, Land Rover Discovery Sport, Range Rover Velar and Porsche Macan. In BMW’s own showrooms, the model sits in the middle of a line-up including the smaller X1 and full-size X5 crossovers.
In order to compete, the latest X3 has been re-engineered from the ground up – although in typical BMW fashion the new exterior design is an evolution of the old. Beneath the surface though, the X3 is built on a platform shared with the 5 Series saloon, so naturally the X3 has many 5 Series technical features. The package includes xDrive four-wheel drive as standard – there’s no ‘cut price’ two-wheel drive option – a range of petrol and diesel engines all matched to an eight-speed auto gearbox, and a luxurious, spacious five-seat interior blessed with the latest infotainment options. There’s also an array of the latest ‘autonomous’ safety aids, but not all of these are included as standard spec.
The model line-up kicks off with the BMW X3 SE, which has a fulsome spec that includes leather upholstery, triple-zone climate control and a 6.5-inch display with iDrive controller incorporating sat-nav and a reversing camera.
Next up is the BMW X3 xLine which offers sports seats inside, plus 19-inch alloys and metal-effect silver side sills outside. The M Sport adds a go-faster body kit, different wheel designs and a sportier cabin feel with special steering wheel, seats and darker headlining – as well as an infotainment upgrade to an impressive 10-inch touchscreen.
The flagship performance model is the M40i, which comes with a 355bhp 3.0-litre six-cylinder engine, while less exotic petrol variants share a 182bhp 2.0-litre engine. If you want to drive diesel, the options are a 2.0-litre turbodiesel with 187bhp, or a 3.0-litre with 261bhp.
Engines, performance and drive
Strong performance from all engines, and handling that’s close to the best in class
One of the stand-out features of the latest BMW X3 is the new level of finesse the driving experience provides. Even the 2.0-litre entry-level diesel engine operates with pleasingly subdued levels of noise intrusion in normal usage, though it does become a little clattery under hard acceleration.
Combine the general air of refinement with capable handling, and the X3 is a pleasure to drive. The chassis feels nimble and turns into corners neatly, effectively hiding the fact that it’s a big heavy machine. The suspension copes well with pot-holes providing occupants with a comfortable ride, while at the same time keeping body roll well under control. It really does feel almost as composed as the more conventional 5 Series saloon, in spite of the higher seating position.
The steering is a little quirkier, offering strangely elastic responses to directional inputs at town speeds. However, out on the road it weights up nicely and feels much more positive and accurate. All told though, the X3 doesn’t quite engage its driver to the same degree as the Jaguar F-Pace which has a crisper set-up.
All models benefit from the xDrive 4×4 system, and as a result the X3 is a competent off-roader. It may not match the ultimate ability of a Land Rover Discovery Sport, but it should shrug off the challenges of pony club meetings or slippery boat ramps and the like.
The starting point of the new petrol engine line-up is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine making 182bhp and offering a 134mph top speed and 0-62mph on 8.3 seconds. Like all the other engines in the X3 line-up, it comes with a smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic gearbox and no manual option. If you insist on a petrol engine but want more power, the choice is currently limited to the pricey and somewhat over-the-top M40i, which boosts 3.0-litre six-cylinder power, a 155mph top speed and a sub five-second 0-62mph time.
Alternatively, you can pick from a couple of diesels. The 2.0-litre four-cylinder model makes 187bhp and offers an 8.0 second 0-62mph time, while the range-topping 3.0-litre six-cylinder diesel variant makes 261bhp and will do 0-62mph in 5.8 seconds.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
The BMW X3 isn’t a budget option, but running costs should be as good as rivals
BMW is a premium brand, and that means overall purchase and running costs for the X3 are going to be higher than crossovers with lower badge values. Comparisons to the rest of the premium sector shouldn’t throw up too many shocks though.
The same goes for fuel economy and emissions, which fall into the same ballpark as upmarket rivals. However, these are big, heavy vehicles, and it will be relatively easy for owners to return real world figures that look much less appealing than the official test results.
Talking of which, the smallest 2.0-litre diesel returns a combined test result of 56.5mpg, with CO2 emissions of 132g/km. The 3.0-litre diesel can eke out a test figure of 49.6mpg with 149g/km. The 2.0-litre petrol offers 38.7mpg with 163g/km, while the racy X3 M40i will theoretically do 38.7mpg producing 166g/km of C02.
Many of these cars will be bought by companies for their employees, and the Benefit-in-Kind tax brackets are 25 per cent for the 2.0-litre diesel, and 28 or 29 per cent for 3.0-litre diesel depending on model. Company drivers are likely to avoid petrol models, as even the 2.0-litre has a 31 or 32 per cent rating – again dependent on model – while the M40i will be taxed at a hefty 36 per cent.
Be careful when ticking option boxes on lower priced models, too. The models costing below £40k in the price lists could easily top that figure when optioned up. If yours does, VED (or road tax) will shoot up from £140 annually to £450 for the first five years – an additional total cost of £1,550.
The BMW X3 insurance group ratings are similar to the outgoing model, which means the 2.0-litre diesel sets the ball rolling at group 29, while both the 3.0-litre diesel and the more powerful M40i attract the same group 40 rating.
While the previous generation BMW X3 was subject to a fair amount of dealer discounting which had a knock-on effect on used prices, the latest model is likely to depreciate at a rate closer to the likes of the Audi Q5 or Land Rover Discovery Sport.
Interior, design and technology
The sharpened up exterior wraps a more premium cabin, with no shortage of tech
The latest BMW X3’s design gives the car a much more contemporary look than its predecessor, but it’s certainly evolutionary. Given the success of the previous model – and BMW’s inherent design conservatism – it was never going to be a radical departure.
There’s still just the one five-door bodystyle, with a strong family resemblance to the rest of the BMW SUV range, but the double kidney grille is more prominent with rounded edges. The headlamps have a more rakish appearance, and the entire front end is bolder. The long, squared-off bonnet is a design cue from the bigger X5, while the body sides taper towards a backend that’s more curvaceous than on X3s of old.
You can tell the models apart, as xLine versions have ‘off-road’ accents with highlighted sills and more rugged detailing, while M Sport versions have body-colour trim and a more aggressive look.
The X3 interior is more of a leap forward, and shades of the 5 Series saloon are evident in the latest design, which features a broad central console topped by a tablet style display for best-equipped models. A traditional BMW-style instrument binnacle sits ahead of the driver with prominent analogue dials for speed and revs.
As you’d expect from any new BMW, it employs plenty of the latest tech for safety and efficiency. Engines employ features such as variable vane turbocharging and common rail injection, while more advanced construction techniques mean the vehicle is lighter than before. The newly tapered rear end brings aerodynamic advantages, while ‘air curtain’ aero tech is designed to reduced drag around the front end.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
One of the more obvious tech highlights of the new X3 is BMW’s Gesture Control option for the upgraded ‘Professional’ infotainment system. Swiping or pointing motions in the area near the top of the centre console can be used to operate the phone and navigation system, using menus on the impressive 10.25-inch tablet style display. Standard cars get a 6.5-inch iDrive display with ‘Business’ sat-nav.
Further options include a colour head-up display, and WiFi. Surprisingly, BMW will even charge you more to include Apple CarPlay connectivity.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
A premium cabin and lots of space make the BMW X3 both luxurious and useful
The first thing you notice when stepping up into the BMW X3’s cabin is the luxurious ambience created by stylish design and good quality materials. All models get leather upholstery and, as usual for BMW, seat comfort, the driving position and the layout of controls are exemplary. It’s quiet and refined on the move too, and with a well-controlled ride and a decent infotainment system part of the standard spec, it’s definitely a good place to rack up some miles.
As it’s based on the 5 Series saloon platform, the BMW X3 enjoys a longer wheelbase than its predecessor. It’s a large car anyway, measuring up at 4,708mm long, 1,891mm tall and 1,676mm wide. The Mercedes GLC is only 4.656mm long, while the Audi Q5 measures up at 4,663mm. A Jaguar F-Pace is longer though, at 4,731mm nose-to-tail.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
The latest BMW X3’s extended wheelbase means there’s plenty of space inside for occupants, and the interior feels noticeably more spacious than the old car’s. In fact it feels pretty similar to the amount of room offered by the larger BMW X5 model.
Up front the driver and passenger are spoiled for space, but you can also get full-sized adults into the rear – there’s enough legroom for a six-foot adult to sit behind a similarly tall driver.
Headroom is not an issue wherever you sit, even when the airy panoramic sunroof is fitted. You can get three people onto the rear bench comfortably too, as long as they don’t mind rubbing shoulders. As mentioned previously there’s no option to fit a third row of seats – presumably BMW believes it would take the X3 too far into the territory of the larger X5
The BMW X3 boot space is large and easy to use thanks to a high-lifting tailgate and a low, wide loading sill. The firm has clearly benchmarked against the rival Mercedes GLC, as both cars share identical load volume figures. With the seats folded down you can cram an impressive 1,550 litres into both.
Reliability and Safety
Top notch NCAP results, but BMW makes you pay extra for some of the best tech
The latest BMW X3 was awarded a top five-star rating when it was independently crash-tested by Euro NCAP. Adult occupant safety of 93 per cent was one of the more impressive results, and the 84 per cent awarded for child occupant safety is pretty good too.
Aside from its solid structural integrity and a full complement of airbags, there’s a great deal of latest generation safety tech available on the BMW X3. Disappointingly though, the company charges extra for many features such as active cruise control, lane departure assistance and cross traffic alerts. It’s all part of the BMW Personal CoPilot collection, which also includes autonomous emergency braking as part of the standard spec list. Other safety options include a ‘wrong way’ warning that tells you if you’re about to enter a one-way street from the wrong end. All impressive stuff, but we’d like to see BMW being a little more generous on what is already a pretty expensive car.
BMW has done pretty well on the reliability front recently too, scoring a welcome ninth place overall in the 2017 Driver Power Survey – ahead of Audi and Mercedes. Within that result, we learned that 12.4 per cent of owners reported at least one fault with their cars in the first year.
You get three-year warranty cover with unlimited mileage on all BMW models including the X3, which is pretty much par for the course in the premium brand sector. Unless you buy an Audi Q5, which has unlimited mileage cover for years one and two, but has a 60,000-mile warranty limit that comes into play at year three.
The BMW X3’s onboard computers determine when you need to take your car in for servicing and maintenance, based on how you use it. It’s a good idea in theory, but in practice owners have appeared quite critical of the servicing costs when responding to our Driver Power satisfaction survey.