- Max Speed
This must be the pick of the X3 range?
Of course it is. It’s got the big straight six diesel in it, an engine that always brightens up whichever of BMW’s big saloons, estates or SUVs it appears in. 261bhp, a fat 457lb ft of torque, 0-62mph in 5.8secs and combined economy of 49.6mpg. Sorted.
But it’s diesel...
I thought we’d discussed this. Look, diesel is not going to be killed off anytime soon. Yes, the higher particulate emissions are why the policy-makers have taken against it, but diesel’s combination of economy and punch is so well suited to these mid-size SUVs as to be basically the only logical choice for people actually buying the cars rather than legislating against them. Yes, residuals will be softer than they have been in the past, but it’s not like petrol SUVs are exactly holding their money brilliantly.
But this one and not the 2.0d?
How much you like the X3. If you’re buying this as family transport, the 190bhp 2.0d does a perfectly good job. You save a bit of money on fuel and monthly repayments, and you’re not fussed about loss of performance.
But I do care about driving.
Then go and buy an Alfa Stelvio. Or a Porsche Macan. Maybe even a Jaguar F-Pace. Because the fundamental issue with the X3 is nothing to do with the engine, but the fact the rest of the car just isn’t very interesting, and good though the motor is, it’s not good enough to overcome that.
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The problem for the X3 is it’s caught in the no mans land between those more dynamically-minded SUVs listed above, and more family orientated machinery such as the Land Rover Discovery Sport or Volvo XC60.
Right where the Audi Q5 and Mercedes GLC are, too?
Exactly, but the Merc is handsome enough to give it an edge, and the Audi’s interior is stand-out, giving them both a USP. The BMW, bless its cottons, does nothing to stand out from the crowd. And fitting it with a beefy diesel doesn’t change that.
The only X3 that might break the mould is the one we haven’t driven yet, the X3 M40i with its turbocharged 360bhp 3.0-litre petrol, but that’s going to be niche at best.
What makes the X3 dull?
It seems content to be middle of the road in all it does. Especially the way it looks, which is far too underwhelming. This is an M Sport model, but the 19s appear tiny in the arches, and nothing about it looks sporty. The driving environment is fine, but where’s the innovation, the clever storage solutions? The same applies throughout the cabin - from the flat rear bench to the plain, fuss-free 550-litre boot. It’s all fine, but nothing about it feels special.
And it costs £45,930, which is an amount you should be able to exchange for something special. Something you enjoy driving. Look, here’s what I think is going on. BMW is having to defend its position in the SUV market. It needs to sell more cars to keep the money men happy, but the X3 is now under pressure from new and varied rivals. So the firm has retrenched, giving us a new X3 that does precisely nothing to rock the boat.
So what’s it like to drive?
In line with what I was just saying, it tries to be all things to all people. Now, it makes a pretty good fist of this. It runs quietly and smoothly along, body control is good, suspension noise – in fact noise in general – is well insulated, it’s adept enough at getting itself around corners with little roll but reasonable control. It’s a decent improvement over older X3s which could be a bit brittle and harsh. But it doesn’t feel nimble, the 3.0d’s standard variable steering doesn’t give you much and competence clearly came before excitement on the engineer’s priority list.
Isn’t that what people want though?
Probably, yes. And this is the most mature X3 yet. But BMW seems content to let its reputation for fine driving wither on the vine. It’s a decision they may come to regret in the face of competition from Alfa Romeo and Porsche.
I assume the engine still knocks it out the park?
No-one builds a better diesel than this. Given the right conditions it’ll deliver a torque storm, or settle back and do 45mpg. With this motor, the X3 is a rapid, capable, effective car. It’s got good grip and polished manners, and if you want a sensible family SUV that happens to be fast and understated, then it’s a good bet. But in the face of more innovative, exciting options, the X3, even the 3.0d, comes across as too safe to attract new buyers to the brand.