£33,945 - £46,050 Price range
47 - 54 MPG
The BMW X3 is a small premium SUV known for its fun driving experience and superb range of engines. It is part of a competitive market segment with rivals ranging from the cheaper Volkswagen Tiguan and Ford Kuga to more direct challengers such the Audi Q5 and Porsche Macan.
Many reviewers like the soft-touch plastics in the X3’s interior and dashboard layout that focusses on the driver. The high seating position and the very comfortable seats make the X3 cabin a nice place to spend time in.
The X3 rides much firmer than any of it’s rivals, but that translates to fun handling and impressive grip. The downside is that the BMW is probably going to be too firm for most buyers looking for a premium SUV. The optional adaptive dampers resolve this entirely.
The engine choice for the X3 is fairly straightforward – there are only diesels available. That shouldn’t put you off, because BMW arguably produces the best diesel engines currently on offer. For those looking for a cheap-to-run option there is the 20d, while the 313hp 35d offers lots for performance, but is impressively fuel efficient. However, we recommend the 20d, because it scores well on both counts.
As with any other BMW, the base equipment is just enough for most needs with climate control, leather seats and parking sensors among other things. There are many optional extras available, but getting carried away can bump up the car’s price significantly.
BMW’s been spotted testing a new model alongside a high-performance M40i version at the famous Nurburgring race circuit. Read our price, specs and release date article to see these BMW X3 prototypes in action.
Cabin quality has improved massively over the first generation X3, with every review mentioning the extensive use of soft-touch materials and a solid build quality. The X3 maintains the driver-focussed feel of other BMWs thanks to the centre console angled slightly towards the driver, yet the upright and high driving position give an unmistakably SUV feel. Testers are very fond of BMW’s iDrive controller, which has additional buttons surrounding the main control knob, making for more easy navigation of the menus displayed on the 6.5in dashboard screen.
BMW X3 passenger space
The new BMW X3 has grown in size compared to the first model, and that’s had a positive effect on interior space. One or two testers mention that rear legroom is slightly limited if there are taller passengers sitting in the front, but ”a decent compromise will allow four average-sized adults to sit in reasonable comfort”.
BMW X3 boot space
Thanks to a generous 550 litre boot, there’s plenty of room for luggage. The boot is very useful because when all the seats are folded you get a flat loading surface, more capacity than the 3 Series Touring and no loading lip.
In the pursuit of giving the X3 sporty handling BMW have opted for a stiffer suspension setup than in rivals. That does mean the X3 has a sharp turn-in and an overall handling balance that is way above class average, but the problem is the BMW is just too bouncy on the standard steel springs. Ultimately, the Mercedes GLC is more comfortable.
To remedy the firm ride, we highly recommend the optional £940 adaptive dampers. They come with the usual range of driving modes and in Comfort mode the X3’s ride is decent, but class average at best. In Sport mode, though, it has the grip to leave some hot hatchbacks in the dust.
All X3s come with four-wheel drive as standard, but don’t go off-roading with it. The xDrive system is great for getting you up a snowy road, but anything more than that is asking too much.
BMW has a knack of making good engines whether petrol or diesel and the range available in the X3 is no exception. Most critics have tested the ubiquitous 2.0-litre diesel which offers all the performance and fuel economy you’d want in an SUV (0-60 in 8.1 seconds, 54.3mpg) while low CO2 emissions make for affordable road tax.
Those who are after a little more performance can pick from either the xDrive 30d or 35d, which produce 258 and 313hp respectively. The latter will sprint to 60mph in a Porsche Boxster-worrying 5.8 seconds.
All of the engines are commended by reviewers for their smoothness and refinement, with one tester noting that the 2.0 litre BMW unit makes Mercedes’ equivalent 2.1-litre diesel seem rough. We’d go for the smooth eight-speed auto over the six-speed manual, because it fits the character of the car perfectly and is arguably the best in class.
As the expected volume seller in the X3 range, the xDrive 20d has been reviewed several times and as a result the 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine is widely praised, though there are some concerns about performance.
With 184bhp the on-paper figures look good - 8.5 seconds to 60mph and 130mph on the autobahn whether you choose automatic or manual transmission - but a few reviewers note that the engine struggles a little at higher speeds. Opinion is split on the gearbox options - some reviewers recommend the efficient 8-speed automatic, others the precise 6-speed manual. Economy is 50.4mpg with either transmission and you’ll only pay £130 a year in road tax.
Opinion is split on refinement too, with some reviews praising the lack of engine noise at speed, and others commenting that it gets a little noisy when pressing on.
BMW’s xDrive 30d, a six-cylinder 258 horsepower turbo diesel, is considered one of the world’s great engines and according to reviewers that’s still the case when it’s fitted in the X3. Power, torque and economy are all highly commended by the motoring press, with only occasional concerns over refinement and noise compared to the car’s rivals.
With the standard-fit 8-speed automatic transmission, the X3 xDrive 30d launches to 60mph in 6.2 seconds and tops out at 130mph. Despite the extra performance over the 4-cylinder 20d, economy is still impressive at 47.1mpg. Critics are full of praise for the combination of performance and economy on offer, both of which are far above rivals. It's in Tax Band G, so road tax will set you back £165 per year.
The X3 is a five-star car in the eyes of Euro NCAP, scoring very well in all of their tests. There are front, side and curtain airbags for front seat passengers, and head airbags for back seat passengers.
It also comes equipped with sensors that will prime equipment like the airbags and seatbelts in the event of imminent impact. All of this is in addition to kit like traction and stability control systems, which although they are commonplace on new cars, could potentially be life-savers.
Despite being an immeasurably better car than its predecessor, you’ll actually pay less for the current X3, making it great value for money. It’s on-par with rivals for purchase price and equipment levels, and the option of BMW’s fixed price servicing plan will potentially make it cheaper to run, too.
When compared to its closest rival, the Audi Q5, it stacks up very competitively indeed. Looking at the two biggest selling 2.0-litre diesels in each range, while the Q5 is a little cheaper to buy, the X3 is more economical to the tune of 6.4mpg, and it’s faster, too. The lower CO2 emissions will also make it a better choice for company car drivers.
While most reviews of the car are very positive, a few critics note that if you don’t need the extra grip afforded by four-wheel drive, a 5-Series Touring offers the same practicality with even better economy.
The xDrive 20d will be the volume seller and as a result the vast majority of reviews currently refer to this model. If this is the model you’re most keen on, the BMW gets the nod over the Audi Q5. If you’re looking towards the top of the X3 range, then it is worth considering that the Porsche Macan has it easily covered in terms of driver enjoyment (not that the BMW is bad in that regard, just that the Porsche is that good) and – in our eyes at least – looks too.
The new X3 is finally a genuine, cheaper alternative to the larger X5, improving on the original model in every way imaginable.