BMW X3 review
The BMW X3 is a comfortable and roomy family car that’s easy to drive and comfortable. Sadly, some advanced safety kit and high-tech infotainment features cost extra.
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The BMW X3 is a running shoe among slippers when it comes to premium family SUVs – it’s practical and comfortable, but also sportier to drive than the average. It’s about the same size as the Audi Q5 and Mercedes GLC but also looks a bit more purposeful on the outside too.
Let’s start with that aggressive front end. Sure, it doesn’t have a whopping great pair of kidney grilles like the bigger X5 or squinting headlights like the Alfa Romeo Stelvio, but it still looks pretty in-your-face – certainly when you compare it with the rather tame Audi Q5.
It’s a similar story inside, where the BMW X3’s slick cabin design outclasses that of the rather staid Audi and its materials feel posher than those in the Mercedes GLC. You can get it with fancier infotainment gizmos than these cars, too – including gesture-controls, which are sure to impress younger passengers.
The BMW X3’s seats aren’t quite so high tech – they don’t even come with electric adjustment as standard – but at least they’re trimmed in leather and give you plenty of space to stretch out. There’s room in the back for three adults to sit side-by-side too, if not quite as comfortably in the roomier Mercedes GLC, and the BMW’s big boot is just the thing for carrying lots of bulky luggage.
The new BMW X3 might look pretty much identical to the old model but it’s packed with high-tech goodies that help make it easier and more relaxing to drive.
Just as impressive as the BMW’s load-carrying abilities are its range of engines. They’re all punchy, economical and very quiet on the move.
Pick a 2.0-litre petrol model if you spend lots of time in town or a diesel version if motorway miles are more your thing. There’s even a speedy M40i model if you fancy sports-car performance from your practical family SUV – and can stomach its hefty fuel consumption. At the opposite end is the petrol-electric plug-in hybrid which can travel 28 miles on electricity alone.
Even without this powerful engine, the BMW X3 is more fun to drive than most family SUVs. It’ll lap up twisty country roads more confidently than the Audi Q5 and Mercedes GLC and it’s more relaxing to cruise in than the Alfa Romeo Stelvio when you’ve finished larking about and just want to head home.
It feels right at home pottering around town, too, thanks to suspension which irons out bumps in the road nicely. You also get an eight-speed automatic gearbox as standard to help make light work of stop-start traffic – it’s one of the very best in the business.
This certainly helps make the BMW X3 very relaxing to drive, but if that isn’t enough, you can get it with plenty of driver-assistance features which make cross-country trips even more stress-free. These features also contribute to making the BMW X3 one of the safest family SUVs on sale, and one that deserves a spot near the very top of your SUV wishlist.
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There’s more than enough room for four adults to sit comfortably in the BMW X3 but the raised central rear seat means some alternatives are better for carrying three adults in the back
There’s more than enough space in the BMW X3’s front seats for you to stretch out – even if you’re very tall. The steering wheel adjusts for height and reach, and the standard-fit sports seats you get on all but entry-level SE cars hold you in place securely without feeling too firm.
Unfortunately, lumbar support – to help reduce backache on long drives – costs extra across the BMW X3 range. You can get it – along with electric seat adjustment – as part of the Premium Pack, but it’s very expensive. This upgrade does come with a handy memory function, however, so you can quickly return the seat to your ideal driving position if you lend your car to someone else.
Space in the back is pretty generous. There’s more headroom than you get in the Audi Q5 – even with the optional panoramic glass roof fitted – and there’s enough leg room for a six-foot-tall passenger to sit behind an equally tall driver. There’s loads of room under the front seats to tuck your feet and the seats themselves are soft and supportive. You can also pay extra to get heated rear seats to keep passengers happy on cold days.
Unfortunately, there isn’t quite as much space for carrying three adults side-by-side as you get in the Mercedes GLC. The central seat is firmer, narrower and raised above the outer two and there’s a large lump in the floor that gets in the way of the central passenger’s feet.
Thankfully, it’s reasonably easy to fit a child seat. You get two sets of Isofix anchor points as standard and they come with handy folding covers instead of easy-to-lose removable caps. The BMW X3’s raised ride height and tall roof mean you can lean in to strap in a child without bending down.
Every BMW X3 comes with plenty of handy storage bins to help you keep the cabin looking tidy. The front door bins are big enough to hold a 1.5-litre bottle each and the glovebox is large enough for an extra one-litre bottle. There’s space to tuck a large camera safely out of sight under the central front armrest and you can pay extra for a wireless charging pad under the dashboard.
The rear door bins are just as big as those in the front and there’s a second small storage bin tucked behind the round bottle holder in each door. The BMW X3 comes with a folding rear armrest with two built-in hidden cupholders, but they’re only big enough for a small bottle or drinks can each.
The BMW X3 has 550 litres of boot space – that’s exactly the same amount as in the Audi Q5 and Mercedes GLC. The BMW’s completely flat floor makes it dead easy to slide in heavy luggage and its wide, square opening makes loading bulky items dead easy.
You get a netted cubby and an elasticated strap on the left side of the boot and there’s a flip-down shopping hook on each side to help hold your groceries securely.
Lift the boot floor and you’ll find a generous storage area that’s easily big enough to hold two large soft bags or even a small suitcase. The floor itself comes with a handy self-supporting strut and there’s a dedicated recess for storing the load cover.
Every BMW X3 comes with three-way (40:20:40) split rear seats as standard so you can carry two passengers in the back and some very long luggage poking through from the boot at once. You don’t have to reach forward to fold the seats down either – pull the latches by the bootlid and they’ll flip down automatically.
With all the rear seats folded, the BMW X3’s boot grows to 1,600 litres. That’s easily enough space to carry a bike with its wheels attached, and the X3’s rear seats lie completely flat so it’s a breeze to slide heavy boxes right up behind the front seats.
Even the BMW X3’s diesel engines are quiet and powerful enough to breeze past slow-moving traffic but faster top-spec petrol versions are very expensive to run
You can get the BMW X3 with two petrol and two diesel engines, plus a plug-in hybrid. All models come with four-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic gearbox as standard.
Pick a two-litre petrol model if you do lots of driving around town. It’s cheaper to buy and (at slow speeds) slightly quieter than the diesels. It’ll return a claimed 35.8mpg but in real-world conditions, you can expect it to manage around 30mpg.
If you do lots of motorway miles or regularly travel long distances you’ll want to consider one of the diesel models instead. The cheapest 20d version is easily fast enough to keep up with fast-moving motorway traffic and it’ll return around 45mpg in normal driving conditions.
Pick the 286hp 30d model if you want something smoother, faster and still reasonably cheap to run. It’ll sprint from 0-60mph in just 5.7 seconds (that’s more than two seconds faster than the 20d) but can still return approximately 40mpg in real-world driving.
If you want sports-car performance from your BMW X3, you’ll want the range-topping M40i. It packs a 360hp punch from its turbocharged six-cylinder petrol engine and can sprint from 0-60mph in just 4.8 seconds. It will set you back nearly £50,000, however.
Alternatively, if you plan to run your X3 as a company car or like the idea of pure-EV driving, then the plug-in hybrid X3 xDrive30e has the ability to drive 28 miles on electricity alone. It also as the lowest CO2 emissions of the range, making it a cheap company car proposition.
The eight-speed automatic gearbox you get as standard is smooth at slow speeds and responds quickly to the paddles behind the steering wheel if you put it in manual mode. It’s smoother at slow speeds than the Q5’s automatic gearbox, and it really helps take the stress out of long drives.
You get a good view out over the road ahead in the high-riding BMW X3, and its reasonably thin pillars between the front doors and windscreen don’t create any particularly awkward blindspots at junctions.
The BMW X3’s light steering and reasonably tight turning circle (for an SUV at least) mean it isn’t too daunting to drive around town. It’s reasonably easy to park too, especially since all models come with front and rear parking sensors, a reversing camera and a self-parking system that’ll steer you into parallel and bay spaces automatically.
You can pay extra for what BMW calls its Parking Assistant Plus. This comes with a 360-degree camera system that’ll display a superimposed top-down image of the car and its surroundings on the central infotainment screen. It works well and will help make sure you never scrape an alloy wheel on a tall kerb again.
Another soothing option is the adaptive suspension. It isn’t particularly expensive, helps iron out bumps around town and stops the BMW X3’s tall body from leaning in tight corners. Without it, you’ll feel large potholes through your seat slightly more than in the Mercedes GLC – especially at slow speeds and in cars fitted with the optional 20 and 21-inch alloy wheels – but it’s still far from uncomfortable.
These bigger wheels also produce quite a lot of tyre noise at speed, but the standard-fit acoustic windscreen helps keep wind noise to a minimum. You can even get the front side windows with the same coating to help make the BMW X3 as quiet as possible at motorway speeds.
The BMW X3 also comes with plenty of high-tech features as standard to help keep you safe. These include automatic emergency city braking that’ll apply the brakes for you if the car senses an obstacle ahead.
For a little extra peace of mind, you should consider one of the extra Driving Assistant packs. These add lane departure warning and a system that’ll warn you if there’s a car approaching from behind as you pull out of parking spaces. You can also get a feature that’ll change lanes on the motorway automatically when you indicate and adaptive cruise control which maintains a safe distance to cars ahead before returning to a preset speed once the road’s clear.
The BMW X3‘s stylish cabin looks a little sportier than what you’ll find in the fairly drab Audi Q5, but it doesn’t have the same wow factor as the Mercedes GLC’s elegant swooping centre console design.
The BMW X3 runs the bulletproof Audi very close in terms of plush materials. Almost every piece of plastic trim on the dashboard and centre console feels soft and yielding and you’ll have to reach right down into the door bins before you’ll find any hard brittle plastics.
Unlike in the Mercedes GLC, even the entry-level BMW X3 SE comes with real leather seats in your choice of mocha brown and light beige. You also get six-colour mood lighting and brushed metal dashboard trims as standard.
Step up to an xLine car and you get some stainless steel sill trims and a set of more supportive leather seats than standard SE versions in a wider range of colours. Pick a BMW X3 in M Sport guise and you get polished aluminium trims with a neat hexagonal pattern across the dashboard and doors.
You can pay extra to have the X3’s seats trimmed in rather garish two-tone black and red leather or a more subdued combination of brown and white. Really push the boat out for the rather costly Premium Package and you’ll get electric seat adjustment and a huge panoramic glass roof that makes the BMW X3’s already roomy cabin feel even more spacious.
BMW X3 colours
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