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In-depth reviews

BMW X3 SUV (2004-2010)

"BMW’s X3 is aimed at families who want the practicality and security of an off-roader in a comfortable, compact, easy-to-drive package."

Carbuyer Rating

3.3 out of 5

Owners Rating

4.5 out of 5

Read owner reviews

Pros

  • Prestigious BMW badge
  • Efficient and smooth diesel engines
  • Spacious boot

Cons

  • More expensive than the competition
  • Firm ride
  • Starting to look dated

With its dramatic looks and spacious cabin, the X3 is a desirable alternative to the likes of the Land Rover Freelander 2. The BMW badge on the bonnet, spacious boot and interior, plus crisp handling make it a worthy choice for anyone who puts driving enjoyment at the very top of the agenda. Engines are a real highlight, as the diesel-only line-up is clean and efficient. Only firm suspension and average interior build quality mark the car's appeal down, but overall, it's still an attractive package.

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This generation of BMW X3 was replaced in 2013 with a new model which we've reviewed in full.

MPG, running costs & CO2

The xDrive18d diesel is the cheapest to run

This is where the X3 comes into its own, as it's very cheap to run for a 4x4. The excellent diesel engines are highly economical. The entry-level xDrive18d diesel is the cheapest to run and the best value, as it returns an average of 45.6mpg and has emissions of 165g/km so it costs £155 a year in Road Tax. The more powerful diesels are costlier to buy and run.

Engines, drive & performance

Diesels are well suited to towing

None of the engines offered in the X3 line up are short on power, so you won't be left wanting for extra performance as you pull away from the traffic lights. There's a choice of four turbocharged diesel engines - the 143bhp 2.0-litre xDrive18d, 177bhp 2.0-litre xDrive20d, 218bhp 3.0-litre xDrive30d and the top-of-the-range 3.0-litre twin-turbo xDrive35sd with 282bhp. All of these units have low-down urge that makes them ideally suited to carrying heavy loads.

Interior & comfort

Avoid choosing sport suspension... It's very firm

The downside to the BMW's good handling and ability on and off-road is its firm ride. A stiffer sports suspension package is available, but we'd steer clear of that, because the X3’s suspension already feels stiff enough. It's good to drive on winding roads, but that really comes at the expense of the bone-shaking ride.

Practicality & boot space

Big boot is impressive for car's size

There’s loads of room for driver and passengers in the X3. It almost makes its big brother - the seven-seat X5 - seem a bit short on space. The boot is big, too - there's 480 litres of space with the rear seats upright, which is impressive for a car of this size. It's very easy to load, too, thanks to the one-piece tailgate and smooth load lip. There are plenty of storage spaces and cup-holders in the front of the cabin, as well as a large glovebox.

Reliability & safety

Overall it is extremely well built

We have come to expect top quality from BMW, and in the main, the X3 doesn’t disappoint. Overall it is extremely well built – but there are areas of concern. The dashboard is covered in top quality soft-touch plastics, but some of the trim used on the doors, steering wheel and centre console are less impressive. Overall, however BMW has a strong reputation for toughness, so you can buy with confidence. The car-like handling offers security, although the X3 only scored four stars in its Euro NCAP crash test.

Price, value for money & options

The X3 is expensive to buy

With a starting price of over £28,000, it's difficult to describe the X3 as value for money. Not only that, but the BMW's biggest rival, the Land Rover Freelander 2, starts at £21,875 - and it's a more modern and accomplished car. The BMW badge on the bonnet works in the X3’s favour, though, as it adds a level of desirability for buyers, so it’s likely to cling on to its value well as a result.

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Richard is a former editor of Carbuyer, as well as sister site DrivingElectric.com, and he's now Deputy Editor at Auto Express. Having spent a decade working in the automotive industry, he understands exactly what makes new car buyers tick.

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