"The BMW X3 brings the quality and luxury of a premium SUV to the compact sector"
The BMW X3 looks very similar to its bigger brother, the BMW X5 and while its dimensions are smaller none of the quality of larger premium SUVs has been sacrificed. In fact, the X3 remains one of the best compact SUVs on the market. Its roof rails and chunkier bodywork point beyond the familiar BMW design towards its substantial off-road ability - and if you opt for the M Sport model, the bumpers and tyres get even bigger. You can choose from three diesel engines, all of which offer decent performance combined with low running costs. The top-of-the-range 313bhp 3.0-litre xDrive35d gets the X3 from 0-62mph in 5.8 seconds, while the base model xDrive20d returns 50mpg while emitting 149g/km of CO2, a decent figure for an SUV thanks to BMW's EfficientDynamics stop-start technology. Inside, you get a comfortable interior that's well made from quality materials with plenty of accessories and equipment. Plus, the boot is massive. All versions of the X3 feel sporty – including cars fitted with the eight-speed automatic gearbox – and are very easy to drive. The entry-level SE models have plenty of equipment, while the M Sport offers even more. However, it's worth noting that the larger alloy wheels and stiffer suspension on the M Sport does make the ride less comfortable. Overall, the X3 is a great compact SUV and a decent rival for the more flamboyant Range Rover Evoque.
The X3 is a lot of fun to drive, especially for such a tall car. As SUVs go, it handles brilliantly on the road, cornering with ease (and very little body roll) even at speed. The xDrive four-wheel-drive system provides lots of grip, which works just as well for some light off-roading. If you choose to have the optional Variable Damper Control (VDC) system fitted to the M Sport model with its much firmer suspension, most bumps are easily absorbed. But by far the most impressive aspect of the X3 is the range of engines, which give plenty of power when pulling out of junctions and have impressive overall performance. The 3.0-litre diesel can do the 0-62mph springt in only 6.2 seconds. Which is even more impressive when you consider that the X2 weighs in at nearly two tonnes. However, the two six-cylinder engines - which offer either 258 or 313bhp - give the best combination of smooth driving and performance, doing 0-62mph in 5.8 seconds.
The X3 is spacious and comfortable. The front seats provide plenty of support on winding roads and long motorway trips. The back seats are equally comfortable for rear passengers, except for anyone sat in the middle – the high transmission tunnel on the floor does restrict legroom. Road and wind noise is kept to a minimum, with very little audible inside even at high speeds. The ride is generally smooth and comfortable, but you should have the optional Variable Damper Control for most comfort, especially with the stiffer suspension of the M Sport model.
Not only does the X3 handle superbly, it was also awarded the full five-star crash safety rating by Euro NCAP. The bodywork - which feels very well constructed - has been designed to absorb the force of any crash or impact, preventing injury to passengers. Inside, those passengers also have the added protection of front and side airbags being fitted as standard, along with active headrests and crash sensors. BMW has also equipped the X3 with an extensive range of stability and braking control systems. And you get hill start assist, hill descent control and traction control as well. The engines are the same as those found across the BMW range, so are already tried and tested so should prove reliable - there were no major recalls for the old X3 and the new model is much better built. BMW also provides a servicing package that offers five years of maintenance at a far lower price that paying for five separate services. However, the warranty is only three years.
Even though the X3 is basically a shrunken version of the X5, it's actually bigger than the previous model. Its extra length, width and height means there's loads of legroom in the back of the car, with the wide openings of the rear doors making getting in and out very easy. The only space issue is that a high transmission tunnel makes the central back seat a little uncomfortable, but you can still comfortably seat three adults. Sliding heavy luggage in and out of the X3 is relatively straightforward thanks to the big boot having a flat floor and no lip – it can even act as a useful seat! The rear seats fold flat in a handy 40/20/40 split, too, creating a 1,600-litre load area, which isn’t quite as big as many rivals but is still very spacious. There's also lots of storage options inside, with door bins and cubbies aplenty and a big, useful glovebox.
Value for money
Compared to the Land Rover Freelander 2, the asking price for the X3 is somewhat expensive – even though it's very well equipped, from the entry-level SE up. The top-spec M Sport model comes with sporty styling, sports seats and large alloy wheels but at an extra £6,000 over the SE models, which is a huge premium. And the optional extras are pricey, too – the excellent Variable Damper Control costs £930, the split-folding rear seats are £170, the glass sunroof is a costly £1,180 and the automatic gearbox comes in at £1,525. There's a decent ‘you get what you pay for’ argument for a car as good as the X3 – and any BMW for that matter - but you may be able to finder cheaper alternatives.
BMW's fuel-saving technology, including regenerative brakes (which reuses energy produced by braking) and stop-start technology, has clearly made an impact on the latest X3. Given the SUV's size and levels of performance, its excellent fuel economy is a pleasing surprise. The whole range is very efficient, with even the top-of-the-range 313bhp xDrive35d returning 46mpg. The smaller engine of the xDrive20d is also very impressive, being capable of returning 50mpg and emitting 149g/km, making annual road tax a manageable £130. When you buy the X3, BMW offers a five-year/60,000-mile service plan for £350, which should represent great value if you rack up the miles and offset the predictably high costs of parts and insurance on this kind of car.