Good ride and handling, fine engines, well-finished cabin, many high-tech options
Note that word 'options'. And the steering is a bit numb
What is it?
One in every three cars that leaves a BMW showroom these days is an X. So because these crossovers sell in such big numbers, it's worth the engineers and designers throwing their best efforts into them. A contrast from the first X3, which was half-arsed in all sorts of ways, and the second which was a heap better but still merely merely OK by BMW's high standards.
The new one has to go up against some great opposition – the Audi Q5 is the benchmark for refinement, the Mercedes GLC for comfort, the Jaguar F-Pace for handling and space, the Porsche Macan for all-round chassis excellence. Add some options to the X3 and you can shove it into Range Rover Velar territory.
The early signs are strong for the X3. It's grown. That might make it more cumbersome in cities, but it's a size we know sells well – slightly bigger than the first-gen X5.
It's also done away with some of the slightly oddball design flourishes of previous X3s. It uses BMW's latest surface ideas – lines that seem to be emerging from a viscous skin – and wears them very comfortably.
The new X3 rests on an adapted version of BMW's latest longitudinal-engine components set. That makes it leapfrog the 3 Series for modernity. The new mechanicals and construction techniques shave away the mass – 55kg or so less, despite the extra size – and give the X3 buyer access to some very advanced electronics systems. Beware though, those mostly reside on the options list.
The whole UK launch range is all-wheel drive. It starts as expected with a 20d, and a 30d. For the first time in ages there will be a mainstream petrol engine too, which must say something about the way the world is going. It's a 20i. Last but absolutely not least is the first M Performance model, the M40i, which uses a straight-six turbo petrol of a healthy 360bhp.
Our choice from the range
What's the verdict?
The X3 suddenly has real class. But then it needs to be good because the opposition has launched some great cars against it in the past couple of years. The argument is now close enough that we'll need a group test to sort out the winner.
The X3's chassis is both decent fun through corners and supple over bumps. That's with the one proviso that the ones we've driven have the adaptive dampers, an additional cost of £460 to £750 depending on model. The engines and transmissions are mostly superb to use, and deliver decent economy.
And indoors, it's roomy and civilised, with a good-sized boot. Mind you it should be, as it's no longer by any reckoning compact on the outside.