BMW X3 (2014-2017) review
The BMW X3 combines a practical SUV interior with an enjoyable driving experience. It’s starting to look a little dated now, though, and can be uncomfortable on bumpy roads
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The BMW X3 is a medium-sized family SUV that was launched in 2010 and updated in 2014 with some light exterior and interior revisions, new shades of paint and extra equipment.
Spotting the interior changes will not be easy. You get a new cupholder design, an updated choice of upholsteries and new trims but that is literally it. As a result, the dashboard is well built and has a simple layout, but doesn’t have the luxurious style of the Mercedes GLC or the smart design of the Audi Q5, both of which are newer.
The interior is brilliant for carrying rear passengers, though, with head and leg room that get close to what the front-seat passengers enjoy. The boot is also massive and has a nice square shape with a flat floor, which makes loading bulky items easy. To make the load bay as flexible as possible you’ll need to spend £170 on optional rear seats that split 40:20:40.
Fortunately, a great driving experience comes as standard – you’ll find the BMW X3 is rather athletic for a hulking great SUV. It has loads of grip and steering that’s reassuringly heavy. It doesn’t lean in bends like a Land Rover Discovery Sport and gets close to being as involving as the sporty Jaguar F-Pace.
The BMW X3 is the multi-tool of the car world: it’s practical, economical, desirable, fun to drive and can even go off-road
Go for the 30d and you get BMW’s brilliant eight-speed automatic gearbox as standard. It’s a £1,525 option on 20d models but is well worth going for – its super-smooth shifts make the X3 even more relaxing to drive. Stick to smaller wheels (M Sport models have huge 19-inch ones) and you’ll get a car that cruises quietly and comfortably on the motorway.
Safety is good on paper – the X3 was awarded five stars when it was crash tested by Euro NCAP – but that was back in 2011. The Mercedes GLC, which sailed through 2015’s tougher test conditions, will be safer.
That said, the X3 remains impressively competitive in almost every way you care to measure and is still one of the best SUVs to buy if you enjoy driving. For more in-depth info on the BMW X3, read our following interior, driving and specification reviews sections.
The BMW X3 comes with a great range of diesel engines and is an SUV that you can actually enjoy driving, but you need to pay for optional extras to get the best from it
The BMW’s suspension is quite firm which means it can get bumpy on rough roads, although the flipside of this is that it handles very well
Choose the more powerful 30d and you get the automatic gearbox as standard, along with a lot more performance. It has six-cylinders to the 20d’s four, which means it’s quieter, smoother and more relaxing to drive, but also quite a lot quicker with 0-62mph coming up in just 5.9 seconds – it’s so quick there’s little point in choosing the even faster 35d model. Despite this, fuel economy isn’t too bad on paper – 47.9mpg should be possible, although you can knock 10mpg off that during normal driving.
The BMW’s surprisingly easy to drive quickly for a big SUV. Its steering is accurate and weighty which helps it feel very stable in corners, and the firm suspension means you don’t have to deal with much body roll at all. M Sport models come with huge 19-inch alloy wheels that look like they belong on a steamroller and provide lots of grip.
Unfortunately, they also make the X3 feel pretty uncomfortable over bumps when combined with the car’s jiggly standard suspension. The easiest way around this is to pay £940 for the firm’s variable dampers that have three settings They give you the best of both worlds, allowing you to set the suspension in Sport or even-stiffer Sport+ when you come across a fun winding road before popping it back into Comfort on bumpy town surfaces.
Funnily enough, it is actually pretty easy to drive in town for a big SUV, particularly if you have the automatic gearbox that gives your left foot a rest from operating the clutch. The X3’s raised height gives you a great view out and, aside from the pillars that run up the side of the windscreen, you don’t have to worry about too many blind spots.
As a result joining a motorway is easy and the X3 is generally pretty quiet at a cruise, although M Sport models suffer from a lot of tyre roar thanks to their huge 19-inch wheels and wider tyres.
Safety shouldn’t be an issue, though – the X3 scored five stars when it was crash tested by Euro NCAP in 2011 and although five-star models evaluated in the tougher, more recent tests will be even safer, the BMW comes fitted as standard with active cruise control, stability control and eight airbags.
Proper off-road ability isn’t a feature, though. All models have four-wheel drive, but the likes of the Land Rover Discovery Sport would leave the BMW floundering on anything more than a muddy track. It’ll make a decent tow car, though, capable of pulling between 2,000-2,400kg depending on which model you go for.
The BMW X3’s interior feels solidly built and has lots of practical features, but the design is starting to look dated and doesn’t get BMW’s latest technology