BMW X3 SUV (2014 - ) review
The X3 is one of the smallest and cheapest in BMW's range of X-cars, and it's a seriously tempting rival to the likes of the Range Rover Evoque and Audi Q5
- Superb to drive – with the right options
- Spacious and practical family car
- Attractively low running costs
- You need options for the car to be as good as it can be
- Transmission tunnel limits rear-seat space
- Cabin quality not the highest
At a glance
The X3 may not have quite the visual clout of rivals such as the Range Rover Evoque, and it’s a very different sort of BMW from the company’s ever-popular saloons; but it’s still very smart and obviously a part of the BMW family. That famous kidney grille sits proudly on the nose, flanked by these now-trademark twin circular headlights, and every model is fitted with alloy wheels and roof rails. Upgrade from the basic SE trim to xLine and your X3 is topped off with an aluminium-effect grille and extra under-body guards, while the top M Sport models turn the X3 into an SUV with the accent firmly on Sport. Not only does they come with sports suspension and larger alloys, they also have their own bespoke bodykit.
Inside, the basic design and the dashboard are pure BMW: it’s all clear and easy to use, if not made from the highest-quality materials. Centre stage is the screen for the sat-nav that is fitted to every model, but we’d recommend upgrading from the standard ‘Business’ unit to the ‘Professional’ version, which has a larger screen that’s easier to use. Otherwise, our only major gripe is that the pedals are offset to the right, which some people will find uncomfortable.
The X3 is a very spacious car, and you’ll have no problem taking four six-foot adults in complete comfort. It would be five, but the transmission tunnel in the floor leaves precious little room for the central rear-seat passenger’s feet. On top of that, the boot is a very good size, and pretty much whatever activity you and your family fill your weekends with, you can be sure that you can carry all the necessary kit. Especially as the rear seat is split 60/40 and is easy to fold down to leave an almost flat load floor, leaving an impressive 1,600 litres of boot space.
Ride and handling
You’ll see that the X3 gets full marks in this section, but that score comes with a very big caveat. Whatever combination of engine and gearbox you go for, one thing you absolutely must choose from the options list is the Variable Damper Control. Without it, the ride isn’t that great; but, with it, not only is the ride more comfortable, the handling is sharper, too. In fact, it doesn’t just make the X3 good. You’ll struggle to find an SUV at any price with a better blend of ride and handling.
Every X3 comes with a diesel engine, but that’s no bad thing, as the strong and flexible units perfectly suit the car; and, as far as we’re concerned, none suits it better than the entry-level 20d engine. Even with standard four-wheel drive, it gives you more than enough performance for everyday use, and has the lowest running costs. However, we would suggest you pay the extra for the optional automatic transmission. Not only is it smoother than this manual gearbox, it also gives better fuel economy. If you really must have more performance, then the 30d and 35d give you that in spades, both capable of hitting 62mph in less than six seconds and without too much of a penalty in fuel economy.
The X3 may not promise class-leading fuel economy – especially as, unlike some rivals, the range doesn’t include more frugal two-wheel drive models – but an average of well over 50mpg from the 20d is still impressive; and, given the performance they provide, so is the economy of the 30d and 35d. Just as importantly, such good economy goes hand-in-hand with tax-friendly low CO2 emissions, while strong residual values will make for affordable leasing costs.
If you’re worried about reliability, the omens aren’t great, with BMW placed well below average in Warranty Direct’s Reliability Index and the previous generation of the X3 rated very poorly. On the other hand, BMW’s three-year, unlimited mileage warranty is much more par for the course, while the owner reviews of more recent versions of the car on this site are much more positive, with by far the majority reporting excellent reliability.
This version of the X3 hasn’t been tested by Euro NCAP, but the previous-generation (and mechanically very similar) model scored a full five stars when it was tested in 2011. The decent standard equipment includes airbags and Dynamic Stability Control, but you’ll need to stretch to the options list if you want swivelling ‘adaptive’ headlights, a head-up display or the Driving Assistant pack, which includes City Collision Mitigation, as well as Forward Collision- and Lane Departure Warning.
The car has a standard specification that befits its premium position, including dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth and leather upholstery on every model. Parking sensors, as well as heated front seats and sat-nav are also standard, but if you step up from basic SE trim to xLine, most of the extra kit is style-related. Top-of-the-range M Sport trim, too, has its own bespoke look, but you also get sports seats and sports transmission. As you might expect, the options list is also extensive, but among the most attractive items are the ‘Professional’ multimedia package and the Visibility Package, which includes adaptive xenon headlights.