BMW X3 SUV (2010-2017)
"If you want an SUV that’s fun to drive, it’s hard to beat the BMW X3, which is also a practical and classy family car"
- Spacious and well made interior
- Smooth 2.0-litre diesel
- Fun to drive
- Options are expensive
- Dashboard is a bit dated
- Transmission tunnel eats into legroom
An upmarket, medium-sized SUV, the BMW X3 is sandwiched between the smaller BMW X1 and pricey BMW X5, making it a good compromise for many buyers. With customers flocking to small, sporty SUVs in recent years, the X3 has found itself with lots of rivals, including the British Jaguar F-Pace, German Audi Q5 and Mercedes GLC and Japanese Lexus NX. Don’t be fooled by the BMW’s standard xDrive four-wheel-drive system, though; this is an SUV designed to excel on tarmac, where it handles beautifully, if not quite to the same level as the Porsche Macan.
If you want a different twist on the SUV format, the BMW X4 shares most characteristics with the X3, but looks more like a high-riding coupe than a traditional SUV, in the same vein as the larger BMW X6. Of course, this also means it’s less practical.
The X3 line-up is an all-diesel affair, badged xDrive20d, xDrive30d and xDrive35d, with 187, 254 and 309bhp respectively. As you can see, these are seriously potent, so even the entry-level model is perfectly adequate for most drivers, getting the X3 from 0-62mph in a brisk 8.1 seconds, yet returning the best fuel economy of 55.4mpg. CO2 emissions as low as 129g/km result in an annual tax bill of £110 (if registered before April 2017), but expect bigger bills if larger wheels are fitted.
If you do want a quicker SUV, the xDrive30d can sprint from 0-62mph in just 5.9 seconds – far quicker than many rivals – but running costs increase, with economy dropping to 48mpg. Costing around £8,000 more than the equivalent xDrive20d M Sport, the 309bhp version seems pretty niche, especially considering its 0-62mph time of 5.3 seconds isn’t likely to feel much quicker in everyday driving. If you’re this serious about performance, you’d probably be happier with a Porsche Macan, which is even more fun to drive, instead.
Climb inside and the X3 instantly feels well built and sturdy, but our main criticism is that newer models like the Macan and F-Pace have made the X3 feel rather traditional and dated. It’s usefully practical, though, with a greater sense of space than a saloon car or estate and a 550-litre boot, which is 70 litres larger than the 3 Series’. An F-Pace is larger, though, with 100 litres more boot space, while the Macan has just 500 litres.
The X3 shines on the road, with suspension expertly set up to offer great handling without sacrificing ride comfort in the process. Only the xDrive20d is available with the option of a six-speed manual gearbox, with all other versions getting an eight-speed automatic as standard. The automatic suits the X3 better than the manual, with smooth, fuss-free shifts, so it’s even worth considering in the entry-level model. It’s worth noting that the steering wheel shift paddles aren’t standard (they cost around £200), but can be worth it if you like sporty driving or controlling which gear you’re in while towing.
Trim levels are pretty straightforward: SE, xLine and M Sport are all well equipped with standard sat nav, alloy wheels, cruise control, Bluetooth and all-round parking sensors. xLine adds styling tweaks to make the X3 more desirable, while M Sport gives the X3 a more aggressive styling makeover. The SE trim will be enough for many drivers and there’s always the extensive options list, but beware spiralling prices if you get carried away.
Despite being one of BMW’s older models, the X3 placed a reasonable 79th out of 150 models in our 2016 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, coming 92nd for reliability, just one spot behind the BMW 3 Series. It scored well for ease of use (72nd place) and practicality (55th), but was criticised for running costs, where it came 98th.
Many families choose an SUV to feel safe, and with a five-star Euro NCAP crash-test rating, the BMW X3 ticks that box. There’s even a standard system that calls the emergency services and gives them your location if the vehicle is involved in a crash.