Parkers overall rating: 4.3 out of 5 4.3
  • Lots of engine choice
  • Petrol, diesel and hybrid
  • All equipped with all-wheel drive

There's a choice of petrol, diesel and hybrid options in the X3, plus two hot M engineered versions and the standalone X3 M.

Diesel range

The xDrive20d's 2.0-litre 190hp and 400Nm of torque make it plenty punchy enough for almost anything required of it during road driving, and it takes off quickly too – 0-62mph is achieved in 8.0 seconds but thanks to its all-wheel drive system it feels quicker than that off the mark.

There’s a decent spread of pull to accomplish overtakes with minimal fuss, and on the cars we’ve driven so far equipped with acoustic windows (a £110 option), it’s also incredibly hushed and smooth on the move.

For most buyers, you really don't need anything more than this version of the X3 - the xDrive20d is such an accomplished all-rounder as it's smooth and refined, plenty powerful enough and returns decent fuel economy figures for the majority of the time. You're never left wanting for extra shove, even when you have passengers on board, and the eight-speed automatic is an excellent match with the engine, making swift gearchanges just when you need it to. 

The xDrive30d (286hp and 620Nm, 0-62mph in 5.8 seconds) successfully translates BMW’s ultimate driving machine ethos to the SUV segment. Its steering is relatively heavy, but precise, fast and crisply detailed, and the combination of relatively firm suspension and an all-wheel-drive system that feels predominantly rear-wheel biased provides both driver engagement and security on twisty roads.

This big-capacity diesel suits the X3 perfectly, with a smoothness far superior to smaller four-cylinder versions, and all the performance you’re likely to need, served from very low revs. The smooth, responsive eight-speed Sport Automatic gearbox enhances these strengths. Our biggest issue with this motor is the strength of the xDrive20d’s attributes. Why pay more when the cheaper engine is just as good in almost every meaningful way?

Top of the diesel range is the M40d, with 340hp and 700Nm of torque, this car is good for a 4.9 second 0-62mph run, conveniently one tenth slower than the M40i petrol. We reckon this is a proper cake-and-eat-it car, with loads of performance and lower running costs than the equivalent petrol.

Petrol range

The xDrive20i, which boasts 184hp and 290Nm for a 0-62mph time of 8.3 seconds, has impressed in other BMW Group products, such as the MINI Cooper S Hatch, but we’ve yet to try it in the X3.

The M40i takes performance a giant leap further, with a combination of musclebound acceleration and sticky roadholding that allows for incongruously rapid progress.

It's impressive, particularly the 3.0-litre engine’s blend of refinement with thumping 360hp/500Nm performance (making for 0-62mph in 4.8 seconds), but it does lose something of the xDrive30d’s fluidity in translation: the uprated steering feels less natural, the suspension more agitated. It’s a shame there isn’t another more relaxed six-cylinder petrol X3 to choose from – the yet-to-be-confirmed-for-Britain four-cylinder xDrive30i is the next step down..

X3 M

Fast SUVs are an odd breed, but there are still plenty of rivals for the X3 M, namely the Porsche Macan, Mercedes-Benz GLC 63 and Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio.

To counter those BMW has equipped this car with the most powerful six-cylinder engine it has ever produced – with 510hp and 600Nm in it punchiest Competition form – there’s a less powerful version, but we don’t get it in the UK.

That means 0-62mph in a swift 4.1 seconds and thanks to two hefty turbochargers the engine feels stout in any gear, at any time. It’s actually the engine that will power the next M3.

BMW X3 M driving front

In practise this makes it an oddly relaxing thing to drive fast (reservations about the stiff ride aside) as it’ll simply take off whenever you press the accelerator. Sounds good too – despite being turbocharged, there’s a pleasing soundtrack through its tailpipes, full of burble and a soaring high note at the redline.

The latest-generation M Steptronic eight-speed transmission delivers predictably smooth shifts in all modes, which is a bit disappointing in its most extreme setting where we’d prefer a bit of punch.

All-in-all the engine is the real treat here, with huge power throughout the rev range and a distinctly un-turbocharged feel.

Plug-in hybrid

Using the same plug-in hybrid drivetrain as the 330e saloon, the petrol engine in the xDrive30e develops 184hp and the electric motor produces 109hp. Total power output is 252hp with 420Nm or torque, but there's an 'XtraBoost' button that delivers 292hp for even faster progress.

Do so and the 0-62mph time drops in 6.1 seconds, while the top speed is pegged at 130mph. In practise the hybrid X3 feels muscular at lower speeds thanks to that electrical assistance, but we found this tails off a bit when accelerating hard to join a motorway, for example.

BMW X3 xDrive30e engine

More relevant to plug-in drivers is the 34 miles of electric only range - and the X3 feels reluctant to use the petrol motor unless it's really necessary, so you'll find it easy and satisfying to waft around in EV mode. That said, the combustion engine does make a surprisingly fruity noise, so you may find yourself tempted to flex your right foot more than in rival hybrid SUVs.

Handling

  • Huge grip from xDrive all-wheel drive
  • Fast steering with numb feeling wheel
  • Admirable resistance to bodyroll

It’ll come as no surprise to anyone remotely familiar with BMW that it’s among the best in its class to drive, with the handling especially accomplished. Despite its taller stance relative to the 5 Series it’s based on, the X3 doesn’t lean overly into bends and all UK models feature xDrive all-wheel drive, and this provides titanic amounts of traction both in bends and when accelerating from a standstill.

So far we’ve only tried it on the optional adaptive suspension, which allows for Comfort and Sport drive modes, and found the contrast very impressive. There’s also an Adaptive function for the drive modes that allows the car to decide for itself based on your driving and information from the sat-nav, and again, this has been incredibly well-engineered.

X3 M handling

BMW’s engineers claim the X3 M should drive like an M3, only a bit higher up. A car for someone that wants a super saloon but has an untarmacked driveway. No, really.

As such, the standard X3 has undergone a fair bit of fettling to make the M steer and turn the way it does – if you’re technically minded then this includes unique swivel bearings, torque arms and wishbones, elastomer bearings and a hefty strut brace.

If you’re not technically minded then what this means is that a once (comparatively) wobbly body has been tautened to the nth degree in order to stop it rolling in corners and to give the adaptive dampers a solid base on which to work.

BMW X3 M driving rear

You also get massive brakes (off the M760i limousine in fact) which stop the X3 M effectively time after time despite not being of the carbon ceramic variety.

The all-wheel drive system has been tweaked to make it feel more like a rear-wheel drive car and there’s an Active M Differential to make sure the engine’s prodigious power meets the tarmac smoothly.

You can wind the traction control off using a clever M Dynamic Mode – this means less electronic interference, and a sportier setting for the all-wheel drive. This makes it feel very involving to drive, with the ability to step the rear wheels out at the flex of your right foot.

On this point, we reckon the BMW sits in the middle of the tied-down Audi SQ5 and wayward Alfa Romeo Stelvio. A happy medium that inspires confidence, and a smile on your face.

Off-road in the BMW X3

We were impressed with how it dealt with off-road situations. It's certainly as capable as it needs to be for the overwhelming majority of British car buyers. There's a bunch of off-roading kit installed such as Hill-Descent Control along with relatively deep approach and departure angles, meaning it'll tackle steep slopes without catching the front or rear bumpers.