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 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. The last one was nasty inside, rode like a concrete horse and its off-road progress could be scuppered by a twig. This one fixes all that with aplomb.
Let’s start with the ride. 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. There’s electric power steering instead of a hydraulic system (it’s better for fuel economy, but filters out some of the feedback), and an eight-speed gearbox that persistently shuffles up in order to keep revs down.
BMW says 40 per cent of X3 buyers are women, who don’t want anything more hardcore in a market like this. Hmm. Whatever bits God gave you, we reckon you’d appreciate a teeny bit more BMW-ness and less soft road-ness. There’s not even a petrol engine, although the pair of 3.0-litre diesels (single- and twin-turbocharged) are properly good and way more potent than the basic 2.0-litre. This is now available in rear-drive 143bhp 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. Equipment levels aren’t bad, and a base SE car comes with leather seats, parking sensors, plus an iDrive controller. Importantly, it feels like a BMW in here, and build quality is now what you’d expect – all the hard and brittle bits from the old car have been replaced by soft, new and durable ones.
You might think that the X3’s second-generation 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 143bhp diesel can do 55.4mpg and emits 135g/km CO2 – that’s the best an X3 has ever been. Further up the range, the eight-speed auto also reduces emissions: when combined with the 184bhp 2.0-litre diesel the result is 50.4mpg and 149g/km of CO2. Remarkably though, it gets even better this summer, when a facelifted X3 arrives...