We have yet to try the 2.0-litre petrol badged 20i, but it’s the 187bhp 2.0-litre 20d diesel that’s likely to be the best seller and is also our pick of the range. It offers strong performance whether you’re negotiating suburbia or the M1, as well as enough poke to help you overtake on a B-road. In fact, it’s way punchier than the rather lacklustre Land Rover Discovery Sport 2.0 TD4 180, even if it’s not quite a match for the Audi Q5 2.0 TDI 190.
The 261bhp 3.0-litre straight-six diesel model (30d) is faster, making it an even more relaxing car to cover ground in. It’s so fast that it’s barely any slower in the real world than the range-topping petrol M40i and makes way more financial sense.
Speaking of which, the M40i is awesome if performance is your thing. Its truly breathtaking pace comes courtesy of the 335bhp 3.0-litre turbocharged straight-six lurking under the bonnet, giving it the capability to crack 0-62mph in just 4.8sec and reach (a limited) 155mph. It is flexible, too, with the turbocharger helping to bring a wide band of pull that begins from low revs.
Whatever X3 you choose, the standard eight-speed automatic gearbox responds quickly and ensures you’re never left floundering.
There are various suspension set-ups for the X3. Passive, non-adjustable steel springs are standard; these are stiffer on M Sport cars. Whichever trim you choose, you can add adjustable dampers for an extra fee.
With the optional adaptive set-up in Comfort mode, the X3 rides pretty well most of the time. In town, it copes with most lumps and bumps ably and remains generally calm at faster speeds – except over dimpled sections of road, where it tends to fidget. Still, it’s calmer than the Discovery Sport; but for anyone looking for the ultimate smooth ride, a Q5 on optional air suspension is our pick. The M40i gets lowered adaptive suspension as an option that gives the car a slightly firmer edge, but it’s still more comfortable than the standard M Sport suspension.
We’re waiting to try cars on standard suspension; if anything, they’ll be firmer still.
The range-topping M40i has that letter at the beginning of its name because BMW’s motorsport division has fettled it. Its bespoke suspension set-up makes it very nearly the best-handling large SUV on the market. The best remains the Porsche Macan – but not by much, though.
The main reason for the Macan edging the M40i is its more communicative steering; in all other respects, the X3 has the Macan matched. In fact, whichever X3 you choose, the standard rear-biased four-wheel drive system ensures massive traction when it’s needed but playfulness when you want it.
Having tried cars on adaptive suspension, we can report that, firmed up to Sport or Sport+ modes, it keeps the X3’s bulky body nicely in check through tight bends, but there’s not as much exploitable grip as you get from a Q5.
Although the 20d isn’t the smoothest four-cylinder engine in the class – for that, you’ll want the Q5's 2.0 TDI 190 – it’s better than the grumbly diesel units in the Discovery Sport. The 30d is extremely well behaved for a diesel, though, remaining decently smooth even under heavy acceleration and sending next to no vibration back through the X3’s controls. Wind noise is very well suppressed, too, almost matching the serenity of the Q5 at 70mph.
The sporty M40i can play the role of a raucous performance SUV or, if you need it to, a relaxing cruiser with just a switch of driving mode. In Sport, the exhaust bellows, pops and cracks, yet it is almost silent on the motorway in Comfort. The only slight issue is that its large tyres kick up more road noise on coarse surfaces.
SUV fans will be glad to hear that the traditional lofty driving position is present and correct.
The driver’s seat supports well at the sides to keep you in place through bends – even more so with the sports seats in M Sport trim and the M40i. Furthermore, the seat lines up nicely with the pedals, so you don’t have to sit awkwardly.
There’s a good range of adjustability to the seat and steering wheel, although it remains frustrating that BMW doesn’t include adjustable lumbar support as standard. It’s a relatively cheap option, though, and one that we’d definitely recommend adding.
You’ll also have no issues using the functions of the car, with a well-designed dashboard that leaves everything nicely to hand.
Seeing out of the X3 is easy in all directions, because its windows are deep and their pillars relatively thin. This makes it easy to judge roundabouts and T-junctions, and a quick glance over the shoulder allows decent sight of what’s going on behind.
Even so, BMW has thrown in front and rear parking sensors, as well as a rear-view camera, as standard on all trim levels to make things even easier. You can upgrade this on every engine and trim combination to include a more advanced 'surround 3D view' on the infotainment screen.
BMW’s iDrive infotainment system and Audi’s MMI have been battling for years, but the former continues to have the edge.
In the X3, entry-level SE cars get a 6.5in touchscreen that can also be controlled via a rotary dial between the front seats. This system is equipped with Bluetooth, a DAB radio and a USB port. M Sport and M40i models are fitted with BMW’s optional Professional iDrive system, which features a 10.3in screen. This is visually more impressive and its menus can be customised to your taste.
Both systems are extremely easy to navigate. It’s just a shame that BMW still doesn’t include Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring as standard, while Android Auto isn’t available at all.
By the end of its life, the previous X3 was starting to lag behind its rivals for interior quality. But BMW has done a brilliant job at returning the current car to being among the best, with softer dashboard plastics, sturdier trims and slicker switches.
Indeed, the X3 has been treated to materials seen in the current 5 Series – our 2017 Car of the Year – and benefits from them immensely. However, while it’s extremely close, the Audi Q5 is still the class leader in this regard, although the margins are small.
The X3 is among the best large SUVs for space in the front. Its high roofline ensures that tall adults will have no problems with head room, while leg room is top-notch, too. And even with two in the front, the wide interior means you’ll not be invading each other’s personal space.
Each front door has a decent-sized bin and the glovebox isn’t merely a token effort. The front armrest lifts to reveal a generous cubbyhole, while in front of the gear selector is another cavernous space for your keys or wallet.
A couple of tall adults can sit in the back in comfort. A third adult in the middle will find it more of a squeeze around the shoulders than in either the Audi Q5 or Land Rover Discovery Sport, though, with the latter offering one of the most spacious rear seats in the class.
The outside rear seats both get a generous armrest and a decent door bin, while the back of the middle seat can be folded down to become an armrest complete with cupholders. There’s also the option of a reclining backrest that, if you regularly carry people in the rear, might be worth considering.
The front passenger seat can be adjusted manually for height as standard and lumbar adjustment is an option.
The X3’s rear seats split in a 40/20/40 configuration and fold flat to open up more space for loading bulkier items. Another optional extra is the ability to manually recline the rear seatbacks; this is worth considering for passenger comfort. They don’t slide forward or backwards, though, as they do in the Discovery Sport.
Behind the five seats is a boot fit for a family. It’s able to swallow eight carry-on suitcases up to the parcel shelf with the rear seats in place – one fewer than the Q5 but the same tally as the Discovery Sport. It’s also square in shape, with very good access and no loading lip, so lugging heavy items inside is never a chore. Plus, you’ll find hooks and nets inside for keeping items in place and some decent under-floor storage.
However, because there’s no option of a sliding rear bench – something the Discovery Sport gets as standard and it's an option on the Q5 – you can’t increase the boot’s size without folding one or more of the rear seats.
When it comes to buying an X3 with cash, there’s little to separate it on price from its main rivals. Generous dealer discounts are available. However, the X3 is predicted to depreciate quicker than an Audi Q5 or Land Rover Discovery Sport.
PCP deals are relatively pricey, with much higher like-for-like monthly payments than that for a Q5. On the plus side, the 20d model makes sense as a company car, with similar CO2 emissions to the best rivals in the class, resulting in sensible benefit-in-kind tax payments.
We don't yet have a True MPG fuel economy figure but BMW claims an average 54.3mpg for the popular 20d version. This is very similar to the claimed figures for equivalent engines in the Q5 and Discovery Sport.
Use our True MPG calculator to see what your car really does to the gallon
You don’t need to spend more on the higher trims levels, because entry-level SE comes stacked with all the equipment you'd need. Heated leather seats, an electronic automatic tailgate, climate and cruise control, a DAB radio, sat-nav, Bluetooth, automatic headlights and wipers and alloy wheels are all standard.
XLine trim then adds larger wheels, a sports steering wheel and various visual upgrades. Unless you’re particularly bothered about the car's looks, it isn’t worth the extra money.
M Sport is above that and – you guessed it – you get larger wheels and an even sportier appearance. Sadly, you also get overly stiff sports suspension, although you can opt out of this for no extra charge. The range-topping M40i, meanwhile, gets the option of even bigger wheels, a fully digital driver display and upgraded brakes among the highlights. It gets M Sport suspension as standard, but for a little extra you can have the excellent adaptive M suspension.
In our most recent survey, BMW rated average for reliability, finishing 17th out of 32 manufacturers. Audi finished a little higher, although Land Rover, Volvo and Jaguar came in considerably lower down the pecking order.
Every X3 comes with a three-year, unlimited-mileage warranty to protect against large and unexpected bills. This also includes a three-year paintwork warranty and a 12-year anti-corrosion promise.
All X3s come with stability control, six airbags and a tyre pressure monitor as standard. Euro NCAP awarded the X3 five stars in its crash tests, where it scored similarly well compared with its rivals across the individual categories.
Of course, being a premium car, you would expect many of the latest safety aids to be available. Well, you get automatic emergency braking as standard, while blindspot monitoring, lane assist, rear cross traffic alert and traffic sign recognition are among some of the useful options.
Security firm Thatcham Research has carried out tests on the X3’s resistance to theft. It scored very highly, achieving above-average marks for guarding against being stolen or broken into.
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