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A satisfying rework of the X3 that usefully improves its handling, cabin finish, space and connectivity to make this BMW a class front-runner again

Our Verdict

BMW X3

The stakes have never been higher for BMW’s mid-sized SUV, now the X3 in its third generation. So can it deliver?

  • First Drive

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  • First Drive

    BMW X3 xDrive20d 2017 review

    Output of lesser oil-burner is unchanged but third-gen BMW X3 is bigger, plusher and better-equipped
Richard Bremner Autocar
15 October 2017

What is it?

Don’t expect any vaulting advances from BMW’s latest X3, the formula for this all-new version very similar to that of its predecessor. Given that BMW has sold over 1.5 million X3s over the first two editions and 14 years, that shouldn’t be a surprise, inching inter-generational progress the evolutionary hallmark of every car that’s a big hit. 

In fact this third-generation X3 contains useful advances on multiple fronts, not the least of them on the aesthetic, dynamic, connected and tactile fronts. Tactile? If you order your X3 with Fineline open-pored wood, and Aluminium Rhombicle (!) interior trim highlights, you’ll discover that it’s impossible to resist touching each of these textures a second time, and many more, once you have run your fingers over them. The open-pored wood allows you to feel the contours of its grain on both dashboard and door tops, while the aluminium trim decorates the centre console, dashboard and more.

This may seem the stuff of mildly irrelevant detail, except that it underlines how well-finished this cabin is, regardless of your décor choices, making this latest X3 a particularly satisfying place to occupy. Especially if it’s filled with the natural illumination provided panorama roof, leather upholstery and so-called Sensatec trim to the dashboard, this double-stitched pleather further heightening the aura of craftsmanship. More fundamentally, the seats are very comfortable too, those in the rear, which optionally recline, serving a more comfortable posture and more space, too, this the result of a wheelbase lengthened by five centimetres.

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Despite the stretch this new X3 occupies very similar roadspace to the last, the rest of its dimensions barely changed. The ideal 50:50 weight distribution remains too, but there are subtle and extensive changes to the suspension that promise a useful advance, these detailed in the tech box. The X3 is game for modestly challenging off-road adventures too, what with its 204mm ride height, reasonable approach and departure angles and a 500mm wading capability.

A broad choice of engines is offered, ranging from 181bhp 2.0i turbo petrol four to the 355bhp 3.0 litre six cylinder M40i, the diesel 188bhp 20d and six cylinder 261bhp 30d provided in-between. All come with an eight-speed paddle shift automatic transmission as standard. Among these only the 30d is significantly changed compared to the engines of the outgoing X3, its peak torque climbing usefully to 457lb ft from the previous 413lb ft; power output also rises slightly, from 254bhp to 261bhp. It’s this version that we test here.

The X3’s overall weight is up to 55kg lighter depending on the model, the combination of this and the 30d’s greater power slicing its 0-62mph by a tenth to 5.8sec, while its top speed lifts to 149mph from 144mph. A sizeable drag coefficient reduction, from 0.36 to 0.29, also helps, detail aero improvements including air curtains across the front wheels, a rear spoiler with sculpted end-plates, additional underbody cladding and active radiator grille vanes. The double kidney grille itself is taller and distinctly more emphatic than before, besides capping a slightly shorter front overhang. 

What's it like?

The new X3 carries a distinctly more athletic demeanour too, the gentle rake of its roofline, the slightly flat-topped wheel housings, the longer wheelbase and a more horizontal, waist-level bone-line that no longer begins with a Concorde-esque droop all conspiring to make its predecessor appear slightly ungainly. Not that the outgoing model felt like that on the move, and this new X3 still less so.

It was BMW that built the first SUV that didn’t feel slightly precarious in a bend, the 1999 X5’s confident poise and keener steering making it easier to forget your distance from the road below. Over 18 years and 5.4 million X models it has progressively improved on that, this latest X3 sufficiently at home with direction changing that you can chuck it about like a large hatchback.

The X3 30d is noticeably less incisive than the impressive new M40i, but it’s very able and doesn’t push its sporting capabilities to the fore, as befits this more mainstream version. Instead, you become aware of its strengths more gradually, rising miles uncovering confident balance, modest body roll, calmly responsive steering and a pleasingly supple ride. Off-road, where the X3 has deeper abilities than many similarly scaled crossovers, it has adaptive four-wheel drive, hill descent control and robustness in its armoury. The test car was fitted with BMW’s variable damper control, incidentally, which should be considered essential unless you’re numb to the niceties of ride and handling.

More widely appreciated will be the X3’s impressive refinement, the commotion of motion additionally suppressed by an acoustic windscreen and the improved aerodynamics. The BMW’s 3.0 litre diesel six is a civilised device too, its high compression combusting rarely betraying its diet. It also provides plenty of solid zest across a broad rev range, making any journey pretty effortless. In fact, below 1500rpm this six is surprisingly sleepy, the fast-swelling strength of its torque suddenly undammed at 1500rpm. That would be annoying if this were a manual, but with a well-managed eight speed auto harnessing the engine’s efforts, you must actively hunt out this shortfall to find it.

Despite what appears to be a reasonable level of standard equipment across the SE, xLine and Sport trims, X3’s option list will almost certainly have you experiencing a budget shortfall when you uncover the desirable things on it. Traffic enabled sat nav, a reversing camera, certain online services and LED headlights are standard, but extra-cost options include BMW’s excellent head-up display, the aforementioned variable dampers, various parking aids, a panoramic roof, reconfigurable digital instruments and a loadbay rail system. The loadbay itself is a reasonable 550 litres seats-up, and 1600 litres with the 40:20:40 backrest automatically flung flat by its release catches.

As you’d expect there’s a battery of electronic protection features, including lane departure warning, city brake and rear collision warning. New to the X3 is a more advanced driver assistance suite, its semi-autonomous camera and radar generated content including active cruise control, corrective steering within lanes, evasion assistance and traffic jam assist. There’s scope, then, for making this X3 very connected and very protected.

Should I buy one?

The car beneath all this increasingly common technology is a good one. It carries its SUV height and mass with aplomb, it provides fine-mannered dynamics that a keen driver will find reasonably enjoyable (the keen will favour the rapid and fleet-footed M40i, however) and its interior is that well crafted that it’s a pleasure to sit in and touch. There’s plenty of scope for configuring it to suit your favoured materials and palette, too.

This X3 also bears the hallmarks of the car’s advance towards autonomy, if without breaking any new ground. More useful for many will be its heightened connectivity potential. Some will probably prefer to spend on that, and various other options, rather than choosing the 30d over the less potent but still brisk 20d. The 30d’s extra cylinders and extra thrust add refinement and go for no more than a small impact on economy. Indulgent diesels, however, could be becoming a thing of the past.

BMW X3 xDrive 30d SE

Where Lisbon, Portugal; On sale November; Price £44,380; Engine 6 cyls, 2993cc, turbocharged diesel; Power 261bhp at 4000rpm; Torque 457lb ft at 2000-2500rpm; Gearbox 8-spd automatic; Kerbweight 1895kg; Top speed 149mph; 0-62mph 5.8sec; Fuel economy 49.6mpg; CO2 rating 149g/km; Rivals Audi Q5, Mercedes-Benz GLC

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Comments
25

16 October 2017

Still a real minger!  BMW could help their styling department by dropping the insistance on using the traditional two-grills.  But I think they'd still be minging.

16 October 2017

This new X3 may very well be an extremely capable car but just look at the thing, it's a comple cure for insomnia while it's not exactly attractive either. How is it possible to design something that car look this dreary and unappealing while that interior is just a snooze fest, there is absolutely nothing inviting or exciting about it?! And when it comes to interiors is it possible for BMW to give their dashboards more indvidual looks as they all look more or less the same, especially the centre console which in this case looks almost identical to the latest 5 and 7 Series. At least Mercedes and Audi interiors all look relatively different but still have their family look. You'd have thought with the advent of the F-Pace and Stelvio BMW would have finally knocked up soemthing to challenge those cars on desirability but no, they went completely in the opposite direction.

16 October 2017

Is it me or is that interior really beginning to look dated? I'm off to read the more interesting C3 long term test, far more interesting!

typos1 - Just can’t respect opinion

16 October 2017

What a surprise...the now standard moans about the looks. I actually think the new X3 looks ok,  even if the styling is not wildly adventurous.

More to the point, given the all round praise in this review, I wonder what more BMW has to do to earn the elusive 5-star rating from the Autocar, given like confetti by the magazine to a certain maker.

16 October 2017

Never mind 'don't expect any vaulting advancements' - it sounds to me (from what I could make out from the rather poorly written article) that they've improved the X3 on many fronts, and in Autocars own words is now a frontrunner.

Not enough of a front runner to squeeze an extra half a star out for though, as would have befitted a JLR product.

16 October 2017
Cobnapint wrote:

Never mind 'don't expect any vaulting advancements' - it sounds to me (from what I could make out from the rather poorly written article) that they've improved the X3 on many fronts, and in Autocars own words is now a frontrunner.

Not enough of a front runner to squeeze an extra half a star out for though, as would have befitted a JLR product.

Looking at things objectively, BMW is the brand with the most increasing ‘price gap’.  Retail prices increasing with second hand values decreasing.

Hiw could any responsible journalist give this car 5-stars when it will next to worthless in 7 years time, scrap by 8.

16 October 2017
Kamelo wrote:

Cobnapint wrote:

Never mind 'don't expect any vaulting advancements' - it sounds to me (from what I could make out from the rather poorly written article) that they've improved the X3 on many fronts, and in Autocars own words is now a frontrunner.

Not enough of a front runner to squeeze an extra half a star out for though, as would have befitted a JLR product.

Hiw could any responsible journalist give this car 5-stars when it will next to worthless in 7 years time, scrap by 8.

How could any responsible poster say this car will be scrap in 8 years time.

typos1 - Just can’t respect opinion

16 October 2017
xxxx wrote:

Kamelo wrote:

Cobnapint wrote:

Never mind 'don't expect any vaulting advancements' - it sounds to me (from what I could make out from the rather poorly written article) that they've improved the X3 on many fronts, and in Autocars own words is now a frontrunner.

Not enough of a front runner to squeeze an extra half a star out for though, as would have befitted a JLR product.

Hiw could any responsible journalist give this car 5-stars when it will next to worthless in 7 years time, scrap by 8.

How could any responsible poster say this car will be scrap in 8 years time.

You will notice that there are very few 8+ year old BMWs on the road in comparison to the number of new BMWs on the road 8 years ago.  Open your eyes.  Porsche - no question, still worth substantial 'reddies' in 8 years time.  Rangies, again, worth some real value.BMW - nope.  Unless you have a special, sought after model, the depreciation is astonomical to the point that they are next to worthless in 8 years.  

There are exciting changes afoot in the car world.  In terms branding, positioning, customer expectations, and some previously higher end models are shifting downwards while 'lesser' brands are shifting upwards.

The problem with BMW is that unlike VAG, they operate with one main brand.  While I appreciate Mini and Rolls are successes, the BMW brand has been stretched so tightly - 116i on the one hand through £135K 7 series on the other.  The market doesnt like it with the consequence of the 7 Series requiring its current £24K deposit contribution to sell. Once a marque of success and sophistication, appealing to cash rich entrepreneurs, the cars are now being sold with £24K before negotiation. BEFORE negotiation.  

But its not just BMW.  Take VAG - My prediction, you will see Skoda overtake Audi in residual values of many of their key models in the next 7-10 years.  They will increasingly appeal to the more affluent, cash rich customer, while BMW and Audi will increasingly appeal to the monthly payment 'continuing liability' leaser.  However, I dont want to give the impression I dislike BMWs.  I don't.  I bought my mother a MIni in 2015.  My father has a 320 Efficient Dynamics that I helped to fund.  Both enjoy them.  THey'll keep them for years and years which is up to them.For me though, the brand doesnt offer what I need.  The consumer experience at their dealerships is focussed on the monthly payment leaser.  And therefore, my car money goes elsewhere.  I hope this new X3 is a success, there are so many appealing about it, but my view is BMW is intent on attracting the 'continuing debt' customer.  It's easy.  BMW (or BMW Financial Services) own the car and, not only that, they have a pretty good idea when the leaser is going to buy them their next one.   

16 October 2017
Kamelo wrote:

xxxx wrote:

Kamelo wrote:

Cobnapint wrote:

Never mind 'don't expect any vaulting advancements' - it sounds to me (from what I could make out from the rather poorly written article) that they've improved the X3 on many fronts, and in Autocars own words is now a frontrunner.

Not enough of a front runner to squeeze an extra half a star out for though, as would have befitted a JLR product.

Hiw could any responsible journalist give this car 5-stars when it will next to worthless in 7 years time, scrap by 8.

How could any responsible poster say this car will be scrap in 8 years time.

You will notice that there are very few 8+ year old BMWs on the road in comparison to the number of new BMWs on the road 8 years ago.  Open your eyes.  Porsche - no question, still worth substantial 'reddies' in 8 years time.  Rangies, again, worth some real value.BMW - nope.  Unless you have a special, sought after model, the depreciation is astonomical to the point that they are next to worthless in 8 years.  

There are exciting changes afoot in the car world.  In terms branding, positioning, customer expectations, and some previously higher end models are shifting downwards while 'lesser' brands are shifting upwards.

The problem with BMW is that unlike VAG, they operate with one main brand.  While I appreciate Mini and Rolls are successes, the BMW brand has been stretched so tightly - 116i on the one hand through £135K 7 series on the other.  The market doesnt like it with the consequence of the 7 Series requiring its current £24K deposit contribution to sell. Once a marque of success and sophistication, appealing to cash rich entrepreneurs, the cars are now being sold with £24K before negotiation. BEFORE negotiation.  

But its not just BMW.  Take VAG - My prediction, you will see Skoda overtake Audi in residual values of many of their key models in the next 7-10 years.  They will increasingly appeal to the more affluent, cash rich customer, while BMW and Audi will increasingly appeal to the monthly payment 'continuing liability' leaser.  However, I dont want to give the impression I dislike BMWs.  I don't.  I bought my mother a MIni in 2015.  My father has a 320 Efficient Dynamics that I helped to fund.  Both enjoy them.  THey'll keep them for years and years which is up to them.For me though, the brand doesnt offer what I need.  The consumer experience at their dealerships is focussed on the monthly payment leaser.  And therefore, my car money goes elsewhere.  I hope this new X3 is a success, there are so many appealing about it, but my view is BMW is intent on attracting the 'continuing debt' customer.  It's easy.  BMW (or BMW Financial Services) own the car and, not only that, they have a pretty good idea when the leaser is going to buy them their next one.   

Good post and spot on with some of that! For me, I've had a couple of BMW's as rentals over the last year. As efficient as they may be in how they go about their business, they just leave me completely cold. Bit quicker than a comparable rival? Yes, slightly. Handle a bit better? Sometimes. Interior nice? It's OK but have seen it all before. May just be me but they don't hold the same appeal they used to going a decade or so back. I don't think it probably helps that they're a pretty common sight - no doubt due to the fact you allude to around the finance option. If I had to choose a "premium" German option of the three, it wouldn't be the BMW, not the pretender that is Audi so it would be a Merc. In an ideal world one with a big petrol engine, but most of us can't justify running one sadly, including me! 

16 October 2017
AddyT wrote:

 

Good post and spot on with some of that! For me, I've had a couple of BMW's as rentals over the last year. As efficient as they may be in how they go about their business, they just leave me completely cold. Bit quicker than a comparable rival? Yes, slightly. Handle a bit better? Sometimes. Interior nice? It's OK but have seen it all before. May just be me but they don't hold the same appeal they used to going a decade or so back. I don't think it probably helps that they're a pretty common sight - no doubt due to the fact you allude to around the finance option. If I had to choose a "premium" German option of the three, it wouldn't be the BMW, not the pretender that is Audi so it would be a Merc. In an ideal world one with a big petrol engine, but most of us can't justify running one sadly, including me! 

Hahaha. In a German premium brand you'd choose a Merc!? Have you seen the flak they're getting on numerous models in the B class, GLA class, GLC class etc?

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