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BMW X3 Estate engines, drive and performance

2011 - 2017 (change model)
Performance rating: 4.5 out of 54.5

Written by Simon McBride Published: 6 June 2019 Updated: 6 June 2019

Initially the X3 was available with just one engine but over the years the range has been expanded. All BMW X3 engines are diesel fuelled.

Post-2014 engines

As part of the 2014 facelift, the engines’ efficiency and performance figures were improved.

The line-up kicks off with the two-wheel-drive sDrive 18d, one of BMW’s latest 2.0-litre four-cylinder engines with 148bhp. It’s available with either a manual or automatic transmission and will get the X3 from 0-62mph in less than 10 seconds.

All other models are four-wheel drive. Next rung up is the xDrive 20d, another 2.0-litre four-cylinder available with a choice of manual or auto gearboxes but this time with 187bhp. BMW claims 0-62mph in 8.1 seconds regardless of which gearbox is fitted.

Top engines for BMW X3 performance are the xDrive 30d and xDrive 35d. Both are 3.0-litre engines available only with automatic transmissions. The 30d has 255bhp and the 35d a meaty 309bhp. BMW claims a 0-62mph time of 5.9 seconds for the 30d and 5.3 seconds for the 35d – not bad for a heavy 4×4.

Earlier models

BMW originally launched the X3 with one 184bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine. The company stated not enough consumers would buy petrol engines so they will not grace UK showrooms. However, the 2.0-litre diesel engine is a very assured unit and the stats bear that out. It will complete the benchmark 0-62mph sprint in 8.5 seconds and it is capable of 130mph, so BMW X3 performance can be regarded as swift, if nothing else. The engine is mated to a smooth-shifting six-speed manual gearbox or you can opt for the eight-speed auto.

When comparing it to its main rival, the 180bhp Audi Q5 2.0-litre TSFI, the X3 takes the same amount of time to reach 60mph and it has an identical top speed. The automatic gearbox is the best choice not only for emissions but also for daily commuting.

Choose the manual and you will find that you have to work quite hard when on single carriageways as it feels a little under powered. However switch to the automatic and you will find the car feels like it has more power throughout the range – this was surprising as both ‘boxes use the same engine.

In mid-2011, BMW added the 3.0-litre turbodiesel models in 30d and 35d forms with 255- and 309bhp respectively. They offer superb performance and refinement and turn the X3 into one of the quickest, most capable SUVs money can buy.

Then, in the middle of 2012, BMW rounded off the X3 range with the 18d that uses the same 2.0-litre engine as the 20d but with 143bhp for 0-62mph in 9.9 seconds. It matches the 20d for refinement and economy but betters it for emissions thanks to 135g/km for the manual or 142g/km for the auto.

The X3 feels more like one of BMW’s standard saloons than a 4×4. It is very agile for its size, the steering is sharp and this gets even better when you select the sports button (located on the central console) which also quickens up the throttle response.

Compare the X3 with its rivals, including the Land Rover Freelander and the Audi Q5, and you will find that the BMW is more fun to drive. Another bonus is that body roll has been kept to a minimum.

Road manners on the X3 are enhanced by the ‘xDrive’ four-wheel-drive system. The system senses when a wheel is slipping and applies power to the others to keep traction, which means brilliant grip both on and off-road. During our test in Austria the X3 proved very capable on the slippery conditions and with winter tyres (a cost option) it dealt with snow and ice without a problem. Negotiating alpine slopes with the hill descent control steep was child’s play, the system allowing you to descend in a controlled manner.

On the road the handling is assured and although the ride is firm, it’s not as lumpy as that of the previous-generation X3.