BMW X3 SUV
Price: £30,990 - £45,390
- Great 3.0-litre engine
- Low running costs
- Spacious and well made interior
- Expensive to buy
- Costly options
- Transmission tunnel cuts into rear space
"The BMW X3 brings the quality and luxury of a premium SUV to the compact sector"
Easily one of the best premium SUVs available in the UK, the BMW X3 resembles its larger sibling, the BMW X5, but with the added benefits of its smaller dimensions making it more nimble and manoeuvrable.
Its chunky body – complete with roof rails – make it look the rugged part, while the M Sport version has even bigger bumper and tyres.
There are three engines to choose from, which all have a good balance of low running costs and reasonable performance. The 313bhp 3.0-litre xDrive35d is the fastest and can accelerate from 0-62mph in 5.8 seconds.
Meanwhile, the most economical is the entry-level xDrive20d, which returns 50mpg while emitting 149g/km of CO2 - an impressive figure for a high-riding SUV thanks to the fitting of BMW's EfficientDynamics stop-start technology.
The interior is very comfy and built from excellent materials, with loads of equipment and accessories thrown in for good measure. Plus, the boot is massive, making it a viable family car, too.
Even base model SE comes fitted with decent standard equipment levels, while the M Sport has even more on offer. All models are sporty – including cars fitted with the surprisingly effective eight-speed automatic gearbox – and are very easy to drive. But, be wary of the larger alloy wheels and stiff suspension on the M Sport if you want any ride comfort at all.
Overall, the X3 is a high-quality compact SUV and a strong challenger for the flashier Range Rover Evoque.
MPG, running costs & CO2
Quite good for a big car, but nothing hugely special
Given its price point, high performance and dimensions, the X3's economy is better than you’d think. BMW has added clever tech like regenerative brakes (which reuses energy produced when braking) and stop-start technology to make it as efficient as possible across the whole range.
Even the top-of-the-range 313bhp xDrive35d manages to return 46.3mpg in combined fuel economy and emit 162g/km of CO2.
The smaller xDrive20d engine is also impressive, capable of returning 50mpg and emitting 149g/km, which keeps annual road tax to a not-horrific £130.
BMW now offers a five-year/60,000-mile service plan for £350 to all new owners, which should represent great value if you regularly clock up the miles and offset the predictably high costs of parts and insurance on this kind of car.
Interior & comfort
Opt for the Variable Damper Control (VDC) for the best ride
Roomy and comfortable, the X3 certainly isn’t a slouch in this area – but it could do better. You do get supportive front seats that comfortably keep you in your spot while cornering without causing numb bum.
The rear seats are the same – except for the middle seat, where the transmission tunnel significantly reduces legroom.
Road and wind noise are minimal, with hardly anything audible inside the X3, even when driving at motorway speeds. The ride is generally fine, but we’d recommend going for the optional Variable Damper Control to increase ride comfort, especially if you have to suffer the stiffer suspension fitted on the M Sport model.
Practicality & boot space
The huge boot also doubles up as a useful bench seat
The X3 may look like a mini X5, but it's actually bigger than the old model. The car's increased height, width and length means that there's loads of legroom in the rear, while wide back door openings make access to the back really easy. If only the transmission tunnel didn’t make the middle back seat so uncomfortable.
That said, three adults can still fit in the back. The boot offers 550 litres of space with the standard-fit 40:20:40 split-fold rear seats in place - and when you fold them down flat, the boot expands to 1,600 litres, which is less than some competitors, such as the Land Rover Freelander but is still pretty generous.
There's also no boot lip and the floor is totally flat, so loading heavy or bulky objects is very easy. There are also lots of storage options inside, with deep door bins and storage cubbies scattered around and a big, handy glove compartment.
Reliability & safety
The BMW X3 is solid, safe and reliable
The X3's first appearance in the 2013 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey was fairly impressive – it came 13th in the list of the top 100 cars.
Its engines are all tried and tested across the BMW range, so should prove very reliable – particularly as there were no major recalls for the previous model and the current car is offers much better build quality.
A servicing package also gives five years of maintenance at a much lower price than if you shop about – it's just a shame that the warranty doesn't match the likes of Kia, who offer seven years.
BMW itself may have fallen a spot to 15th in the 2013 Driver Power poll, but getting three cars into the top 15 shows BMW are still great at building cars.
The X3 was also awarded the full five-star rating in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests. The body - which feels very well built, indeed - has been constructed to absorb the force of any crash or impact to help prevent injury to passengers.
Anyone inside the X3 also has added protection from front and side airbags being fitted as standard, along with active headrests and crash sensors. The X3 comes with an extensive range of stability and braking control systems as standard, and you get hill start assist, hill descent control and traction control, too.
Engines, drive & performance
3.0-litre versions offer sports car-rivalling pace
Don’t be fooled by its size, the X3 is actually pretty good fun to drive. It has excellent handling on the road, with only a small amount of body roll when driving through the corners – even at speed. If you go for the optional Variable Damper Control (VDC) system, even the M Sport, with its stiffer suspension and firmer ride, easily absorbs most bumps, so we’d recommend it if you can afford it.
And the engines have plenty of pulling power out of. The 3.0-litre diesel can accelerate from 0-62mph in only 6.2 seconds, which is even more impressive when you consider that the compact SUV weighs nearly two tonnes. But we think that the two six-cylinder engines - which produce either 258 or 313bhp - offer the best blend of smooth driving, performance and efficiency – and still accelerates from 0-62mph in 5.8 seconds.
Price, value for money & options
It’s expensive, and the options can quickly raise the price
Compared with the likes of the Land Rover Freelander 2, the X3 is expensive but comes crammed with technology and accessories. Even the SE model is fully loaded – but if you have the necessary six or seven thousand extra for the M Sport, you might think it's the bee's knees – but we think that's too much cash for what you get.
The options list is even more expensive, so proceed with care – the excellent Variable Damper Control, for instance, will set you back an additional £930, while the split-folding rear seats cost £170, the glass sunroof £1,180 and the automatic gearbox £1,525. SO if you want an X3 with every bell and whistle, it's going to cost you.
There's a strong “you get what you pay for” argument for a car as good as the X3 – and any BMW for that matter - but you there are much cheaper alternatives out there that are as good. Resale values for BMWs on the used car market are generally strong.
What the others say
"The X3 is an excellent compact 4x4 because it's classy, practical and good to drive. The engine is very efficient, too, and standard kit pretty generous."
"A stylish but less controversial design language is taking shape at BMW and the X3 is cut from the same cloth. Sharp edges and acute angles have been replaced by sculpted contours in the bonnet and doors. While the last car's proportions looked awkward, the new X3 is more elegant."
"The X3 betters its closest rivals – the Audi Q5, Land Rover Freelander and Volvo XC60 – on a couple of levels, namely dynamics and running costs. 50.4mpg and 149g/km (£125 a year tax) compare to class averages of 45mph and 160g/km+ (£155+). If you don’t need off-road ability, though, a BMW 520d Touring is better looking, just as practical and cleaner, too."
Last updated: 10 Jan 2014