"The BMW X3 brings the quality and luxury of a premium SUV to the compact sector"
The BMW X3 is one of the best compact SUVs on the market. Not only does it look similar to its bigger brother, the BMW X5, it also has its high level of quality, with the added benefits of smaller dimensions for better manoeuvrability. It looks rugged thanks to a chunkier body and roof rails, reflecting its off-road ability – and if you choose the M Sport model, the tyres and bumpers also get even bigger. There are three diesel engines to choose from, all of which offer decent performance combined with low running costs. The top-of-the-range 313bhp 3.0-litre xDrive35d can go from 0-62mph in 5.8 seconds, while the entry-level xDrive20d model returns 50mpg while emitting 149g/km of CO2, an impressive figure for a high-riding SUV thanks to BMW's EfficientDynamics stop-start technology. On the inside, the interior is very comfortable and constructed from high-quality materials, with lots of equipment and accessories. Plus, the boot is huge. Even entry-level SE models come fitted with plenty of equipment as standard, while the M Sport offers even more. All versions feel sporty – including cars fitted with the surprisingly good eight-speed automatic gearbox – and are very easy to drive. However, we do want to point out that the larger alloy wheels and stiffer suspension on the M Sport does make its ride far less comfortable. Overall, the X3 is a great compact SUV and a strong rival for the more flamboyant Range Rover Evoque.
MPG, running costs & CO2 emissions
Not as bad as you might think, given the X3's dimensions, level of performance and high list price. BMW's fuel-saving technology, which includes regenerative brakes (which reuses energy produced when braking) and stop-start technology, has clearly made an impact on the latest X3 - its excellent fuel economy is a genuinely pleasing surprise. Efficiency is good across the whole range, with even the top-spec 313bhp xDrive35d returning 46.3mpg in fuel economy and emitting 162g.km of CO2. The smaller engine in the xDrive20d is also very impressive, proving capable of returning 50mpg and emitting 149g/km, which makes annual road tax a manageable £130. BMW offers a five-year/60,000-mile service plan for £350, which should represent great value if you regularly drive a lot of miles and offset the predictably high costs of parts and insurance on this kind of car.
Interior & comfort
The X3 offers lots of room and is very comfortable, but it could probably do more. The front seats are supportive and comfortable, holding you nicely in place on winding roads and staving off any numb bums on long motorway journeys. The rear seats are equally comfortable for passengers travelling in the back, except for anyone sat in the middle seat – the big lump on the floor restricts legroom enough to make it hard to stay comfortable. Road and wind noise are kept to a minimum, with very little audible inside even at higher motorway speeds. The ride is generally smooth, but we’d recommend getting the optional Variable Damper Control to get better comfort, especially with the stiffer suspension that's fitted on the M Sport model.
Practicality & boot space
While it's easy to think of the X3 just as a shrunken version of the bigger X5, the current model is actually larger than the one it replaced. There's lots of legroom in the back of the car thanks to its extra height, width and length, while wide openings for the back doors make it really easy to get in and out of. The only niggle in this regard is the high transmission tunnel, which does reduce comfort for whoever is sitting in the middle seats in the back - but you can still comfortably seat three adults without any difficulty. The boot offers 550 litres of space with the rear seats in place, and when you fold the handy 40:20:40 split-fold back seat down flat, that expands to 1,600 litres, which is less than rivals such as the Land Rover Freelander but is still very generous. There's also no boot lip and the floor is totally flat so loading heavy or bulky objects is really easy. There are also lots of storage options inside, with deep door bins and storage cubbies aplenty and a large, useful glove compartment.
Reliability & safety
The X3 made an impressive debut in the 2013 Auto Express Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, coming 13th in the top 100 cars, so owners are pretty happy with their X3s. Its engines are all tried and tested across the BMW range, so should prove very reliable – especially because there have been no major recalls for the previous model and the current car is significantly better in terms of build quality. There's also a servicing package that gives five years of maintenance at a much lower price than you’ll find paying for five separate services – it's just a shame that the warranty only lasts three years when companies like Kia offer seven. BMW itself may have dropped one spot to 15th since the 2012 Driver Power poll, but getting three cars into the top 15 shows they’re still great at building cars. Not only does the X3 handle brilliantly, but it was also awarded the maximum five-star rating in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests. The bodywork - which feels very well constructed, indeed - has been built to absorb the force of any crash or impact to help prevent injury to passengers. Anyone inside also has the added protection of 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
For such a high-riding car, the X3 is actually a great deal of fun to drive. It handles excellently for an SUV on the road, going through corners easily with only a minimum of body roll, even when driving fast. The xDrive four-wheel-drive system gives loads of grip, which works just as well if you decide to take the X3 for some light off-roading. If you choose to have the optional Variable Damper Control (VDC) system – which we generally think you should – even the M Sport model, with its much stiffer suspension and firmer ride, easily absorbs most bumps. But it's the engines that really make the X3 stand out – they give plenty of power when pulling out of junctions and have impressive overall performance. The 3.0-litre diesel can go from 0-62mph in only 6.2 seconds, which is even more impressive when you consider that the X3 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, performance and efficiency, still going from 0-62mph in 5.8 seconds.
Price, value for money & options
The X3 is on the expensive side, especially when compared to the Land Rover Freelander 2, but it is very well equipped, even in the entry-level SE model. It will be up to you if you think spending an extra £6,000 more than the SE model for the top-of-the-range M Sport is justified by some sporty styling, sports seats and large alloy wheels – personally, we think it is a huge premium. The options list is even pricier, so tread carefully – the excellent Variable Damper Control costs an additional £930, while the split-folding rear seats are £170, the glass sunroof a costly £1,180 and the automatic gearbox comes in at £1,525. So if you want a truly stocked X3 you’re really going to have to pay for it. You could make 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 will be able to finder cheaper alternatives that are as good. Resale values for BMWs on the used car market are generally strong.