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The Top Gear car review: BMW X3/X4
For:Comfortable ride quality, planet-friendly emissions and plush interior
Against:The old car's reputation will deter some
xDrive20d SE 5dr Step Auto
Pound for pound, it’s probably the best SUV in the world, with stats barely imaginable a few years ago.
The first-generation X3 was criminal, according to Jeremy. But the new gen shows signs of rehabilitation
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What we say:
The latest X3 offers a much improved cabin and driving experience. The X4 adds a sporty focus to it
What is it?
The latest X3 arrived just in time to save BMW’s premium-line SUV reputation after the rubbish last version. It’s a bit bigger and more practical than the first model – it had to be, to make way for the X1 beneath it – but still smaller than the X5. So now it’s more of a junior SUV than a hatchy crossover.
A recent addition is the X3’s less practical, more coupe-like cousin, the X4. Undaunted by the bile flung at the X6, BMW has replicated the ‘sports activity coupe’ formula on the sector below. This time, we must say, rather more successfully.
Let’s start with the ride. On the X3, it’s comfy rather than sporty, although you can option adaptive dampers to tighten things up a bit around corners. So it’s not as sharp as other BMWs, but it’s not supposed to be. Instead, this is a more relaxing thing to drive, with the emphasis on smoothness and economy rather than an ability to attack hairpins. The X4 is more focused, with slightly stiffer settings and a greater sense of tied-down control with the adaptive dampers. It’s not a match for the Porsche Macan it’s priced alongside but, impressively, isn’t far off.
BMW says 40 per cent of X3 buyers are women, who don’t want anything more hardcore in a market like this. That’s why the X4 is here, you’d have to assume – although even that doesn’t offer a petrol engine. Saying that, the pair of 3.0-litre diesels (single- and twin-turbocharged) are properly good and way more potent than the basic 2.0-litre. On the X3, it’s available in rear-drive 150bhp guise – the first 2WD X3 ever.
On the inside
Thanks to its growth spurt, this X3 is now about the same size inside as the original X5. So there’s plenty of room for two six-footers in the back, and at 1,600 litres (seats down) bootspace is comparable to a big estate. The X4 shrinks this – it has less rear headroom and a much less practical boot, although its sheer size ensures it’s still hardly cramped. Importantly, it feels like a BMW in both; they share an interior that’s laden with soft-touch plastics and premium-look surfaces. Earlier X3’s poor quality is no more.
You might think that the X3’s second-gen enlargement has made it more of a guzzler. But BMW’s efficiency wizards have been busy with their spells, making this one of the most efficient cars in this class. The rear-wheel drive 150bhp diesel can do an eyebrow-raising 60mpg and emits 124g/km CO2 – that’s the best an X3 has ever been. The X4 is similarly efficient and even the range-topping 35d, despite its 5.2-second 0-60mph dash, can average more than 47mpg and emit sub-160g/km CO2.