The BMW X3 is a mid-sized SUV that sits between the smaller BMW X1 and larger BMW X5 models, competing with cars like the Audi Q5, Mercedes GLC and Lexus NX, as well as the new Jaguar F-Pace. Although BMW fits four-wheel drive as standard, the X3's natural habitat is the road, where it excels. It's not quite as enjoyable to drive as the more expensive Porsche Macan, but it's still more engaging than rivals from Mercedes, Audi and Lexus.
While the X3 adds BMW's trademark kidney-shaped front grille to a traditional SUV, buyers after a bit more pizzazz can go for the BMW X4 coupe-SUV, which shares mechanical underpinnings with the X3, but prioritises style over outright practicality.
The X3 comes with a choice of diesel engines: a 187bhp 2.0-litre called the xDrive20d or a 3.0-litre available with either 254bhp (the xDrive30d) or 309bhp (the xDrive35d). We recommend the xDrive20d, thanks to its blend of performance and efficiency. It's powerful enough to get the X3 from 0-62mph in 8.1 seconds, yet fuel economy of 52.3mpg and CO2 emissions of 142g/km (for £145-a-year road tax) are reasonable for a car of this class.
If you want more performance, the 254bhp xDrive30d 3.0-litre diesel engine has plenty, managing 0-62mph in just 5.9 seconds. It costs about £6,000 more than the 2.0-litre model, though, while fuel economy of 47.9mpg and an annual road-tax bill of £185 means it's also more expensive to run.
For a further £6,000 or so, the 309bhp xDrive35d M Sport 3.0-litre diesel seems expensive and somewhat unnecessary, especially when you consider it's only half a second quicker from 0-62mph then the xDrive30d. While it offers similar fuel economy to the 254bhp engine and sits in the same road-tax bracket, the 309bhp model is more expensive than the cheapest Porsche Macan, which is better to drive and almost as quick.
Inside, the X3 is well built and feels ‘premium’ enough, but it seems a little dated compared to newer cars like the Macan and the Jaguar F-Pace. Front and rear passengers have plenty of room, though, while a boot that's 70 litres bigger than that of the 3 Series saloon complements the X3's family-friendly credentials.
On the road, the X3's excellent suspension means poor road surfaces are despatched without fuss, while the steering is accurate and offers plenty of ‘feel’ through the wheel, making the X3 remarkably enjoyable and car-like to drive, despite its elevated ride height.
Apart from the xDrive 20d model, which is available as an automatic or a six-speed manual, all X3s come with BMW's excellent eight-speed automatic gearbox as standard. It works smoothly and suits the car well. If you go for the automatic, it's probably worth specifying the steering-wheel-mounted gearshift paddles. They only cost about £200 but – should the mood take you – they let you engage even more with the X3's great driving experience.
BMW keeps things nice and simple by offering just three trim levels for the X3, none of which is poorly equipped. The entry-level X3 SE comes with sat nav, air-con, 17-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, Bluetooth and heated leather seats.
For £1,500 more than the SE, xLine trim adds larger alloy wheels and various styling touches inside and out, including a chrome exhaust pipe and a wider choice of interior colours. Top-spec M Sport trim brings (even) larger alloy wheels, a chunky bodykit, sports suspension and a more luxurious interior.
In truth, the SE model will have enough equipment for most, though BMW will happily allow you to add further kit from the car's extensive options list. Be warned, though, that (as with many cars) if you tick too many boxes, the X3 quickly becomes very expensive indeed.
Despite being a five-year-old model, the BMW X3 ranked well in our 2015 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, coming 24th out of 200 cars. X3 owners praise their cars’ reliability, ease of driving and performance; only in-car technology leaves a little to be desired, which is to be expected as the X3's age begins to show. A five-star crash safety rating from Euro NCAP gives reassurance for families.