First drive: 2017 BMW X3

BMW X3 summary

Now in its third generation, the BMW X3 goes up against rival mid-size SUVs including the Volvo XC60, Mercedes-Benz GLC, Audi Q5 and Land Rover Discovery.

Sharing its wheelbase with the 3 Series, the X3 is available with a choice of four- and six-cylinder turbocharged petrol and diesel engines: the 2.0i (181bhp, 39.8mpg, 163 g/km), 30i (figures TBC) and range-topping M40i (360hp, 34.5mpg, 188g/km), and the 20d (190hp, 56.5mpg, 132g/km) and 30d (264hp, 49.6mpg, 149g/km), all of which are fitted as standard with an eight-speed automatic gearbox.

BMW's xDrive all-wheel drive system is standard across the range

Unlike the previous generation, xDrive all-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 10.25in ‘Professional’ system, with its intuitive menus and crisp graphics.

BMW X3's cockpit

At 4,716mm long, the X3 grows by 51mm over its predecessor, and that goes between the front and rear wheels – only the Mercedes 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 option.

Practical boot

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. You can also fold them forwards (with a 40/20/40 split), to unlock 1,600 litres of luggage space. This is comparable to the Mercedes and Audi, notably better than the Volvo XC60 (495/1,455 litres), and significantly less spacious than a Discovery Sport (689/1,698 litres).

Driven: BMW X3 30d

The 30d successfully translates BMW’s ultimate driving machine ethos to the SUV segment. Its steering is relatively light, but precise, fast and crisply detailed, and the combination of relatively firm suspension and an all-wheel-drive system that feels predominantly rear-wheel drive provides both driver engagement and security on a twisty road.

2017 BMW X3 30d driven

This big-capacity diesel suits the X3 perfectly, with a smoothness far superior to smaller four-cylinder turbodiesels, and all the performance you’re likely to need, served from very low revs. The smooth, responsive eight-speed automatic gearbox enhances these strengths.

Driven: BMW X3 M40i

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

2017 BMW X3 M40i driven

It's impressive, particularly the 3.0-litre engine’s blend of refinement with thumping 360hp performance, but it does lose something of the 30d’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 four-cylinder 3.0i is the next step down..

Does it work off-road? 

The press launch took in a dry, dusty off-road route, which involved crossing heavily worn gulleys, and negotiating some steep ascents and descents with very limited grip.

The 2017 BMW X3 is better on-road than off it

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 per cent over an equivalent 3 Series xDrive Touring. Standard equipment includes 18-inch alloy wheels, reversing camera, parking sensors front and rear, adaptive LED headlights, satellite-navigation, and BMW ConnectedDrive with Real-Time Traffic Information.

BMW's excellent multimedia systems are available in the 2017 X3

Key options include alloy wheels of up to 21 inches, panoramic sunroof, Harman Kardon stereo, Apple CarPlay, and a range of driver-assistance systems, including forward-collision warning and lane-departure warning.

The Parkers VerdictThe 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 fulfill your needs equally well.