Spacious, dynamic SUV for drivers who rarely venture off-road
- High levels of driver engagement
- Spacious cabin and luggage area
- Engines and gearbox smooth and powerful
- Adequate off-road capability for most buyers
- Desirable exterior and interior design
- Lacks ultimate off-road capability
- Interior trim inserts look cheap
- Large price premium for top models
- No hybrid or pure EV on launch
- Doesn’t look very different to previous X3
The BMW X3 SUV has been a sales sensation for the German carmaker. Since its original launch in 2003 more than 1.5 million have found homes worldwide, and BMW expects this version to sell that many again – and probably more.
BMW X3: the engine options
Sharing much of its mechanical parts with the 5 Series and 7 Series, the X3 is available with a choice of four- and six-cylinder turbocharged petrol and diesel engines.
Confirmed for the UK so far are the diesel xDrive20d (190hp, 56.5mpg, 132g/km) and xDrive30d (264hp, 49.6mpg, 149g/km), with a high-performance petrol-engined M40i (360hp, 34.5mpg, 188g/km – available from December 2017) range-topper. All models are fitted as standard with an eight-speed automatic gearbox.
The petrol xDrive20i (184hp, 39.8mpg, 163 g/km) joins the range in December 2017 too, and xDrive30i (figures still to be confirmed at the time of publication) hasn’t been confirmed for UK launch at this time.
There will also be a plug-in hybrid X3 offered at an as-yet undetermined date along with the strong possibility of a fully electric version and a hardcore performance model called the X3 M.
Unlike the previous generation, xDrive four-wheel drive is also standard on all UK models.
Slick, well-appointed cabin
The raised driving position is comfortable, with all instruments easy to use and the controls logically arranged. The metal-look trim inserts don’t entirely spoil the premium feel, but they could look more authentic.
All models come with at least the 6.5-inch central infotainment screen and navigation system. We sampled only the 10.25-inch Professional system, with its intuitive menus and crisp graphics. This features a touchscreen and a rotary touchpad by the gearlever, along with voice-activation to control its functions, offering drivers multiple choices to allow them to avoid distractions while driving.
At 4,716mm long, the X3 has grown by 51mm over its predecessor, and that goes between the front and rear wheels – only the Mercedes GLC has a slightly longer wheelbase. As a result, we found knee-room to spare for a 6’1” tall rear-seat passenger sitting behind a similarly sized driver.
Headroom is also generous. As an option, the rear seats can recline for additional comfort, but there’s no seven-seat version.
Lifting the tailgate reveals a wide load bay and flat floor, making it easy to load large items. BMW claims 550 litres of luggage space with the rear seats in place – unchanged from the previous X3. You can also fold them forwards (with a 40:20:40 split), to unlock 1,600 litres of luggage space in total.
This is comparable to the Mercedes and Audi, notably better than the Volvo XC60 (495/1,455 litres), but significantly less spacious than a Discovery Sport (689/1,698 litres).
How does the third-generation BMW X3 drive?
With the very same confident capability the previous X3 did. It’s a little firm on its suspension – even when using the optional adaptive suspension – but handles incredibly well for a high-riding SUV.
We found the engines smooth and punchy, the gearbox quick and seamless, and the cabin comfortable and quiet.
The steering is typically heavy as we’ve come to expect from BMW, but the steering wheel itself features softer leather for a more premium feel.
Does it work off-road?
Early signs are positive. Initial drives took on a dry, dusty off-road route, which involved crossing heavily worn gullies, and negotiating some steep ascents and descents with very limited grip.
The X3’s raised ground clearance of 204mm allowed it to carefully tip-toe through the gulleys, xDrive overcame steep, low-grip ascents despite the X3’s road-biased tyres, and Hill-Descent Control allowed us to pre-programme in a set speed for controlled crawls downhill without touching the brakes.
While it was a relatively mild off-road route by Land Rover standards, it was far in excess of most buyers’ requirements.
BMW X3: pricing and specification
X3 pricing is comparable to rivals, but represents a substantial increase of almost 10% over an equivalent 3 Series xDrive Touring. Standard equipment includes 18-inch alloy wheels, a reversing camera, parking sensors front and rear, adaptive LED headlights, satellite-navigation, and BMW ConnectedDrive with real-time traffic Information.
The trim structure includes base-spec SE, xLine, M Sport and the standalone M40i.
Key options include alloy wheels of up to 21 inches, panoramic sunroof, Harman/Kardon hi-fi, Apple CarPlay, and a range of driver-assistance systems, including forward-collision warning and lane-departure warning.
The Parkers Verdict
As an all-round family car, there’s an awful lot to recommend the X3, thanks to its blend of spaciousness, comfort and keen dynamics. It’s enough to make you think carefully about just how much you need the larger X5, but you should also question if the cheaper 3 Series Touring wouldn’t fulfil your needs equally well.