BMW’s mid-sized X3 is the second-oldest ‘off-road’ vehicle in its line-up, after the X5. Built since 2003, the X3 has evolved into its third generation for the 2018 model year and the current version is up to 55kg lighter than its predecessor, while also featuring claimed class-leading aerodynamics and a wealth of high-end technology to make it feel like a truly premium proposition.
Taking on upmarket rivals including the Audi Q5, Mercedes-Benz GLC, Jaguar F-Pace, Land Rover Discovery Sport and Volvo XC60, the third-gen X3 is offered with a quartet of four- and six-cylinder turbocharged petrol and diesel engines, all of which are mated to the company’s acclaimed eight-speed automatic gearbox and ‘xDrive’ all-wheel drive. In finest BMW tradition, the X3 attempts to blend the generally refined manners demanded of SUVs in this class, while at the same time possessing a chassis that’s honed to be sharper than those underpinning all its chief rivals.
Did you know? The BMW X3 was originally built by Magna Steyr in Austria, but from the MkII onwards, production moved to Spartanburg, in the US.
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The BMW X3 ramps up the rolling refinement and interior quality significantly when compared to its immediate predecessor, without sacrificing any of the brilliant chassis engineering that makes this German mid-sized premium SUV so good to drive. It’s powered by a range of impressive, relatively efficient TwinPower Turbo engines and here’s a decent, albeit not ground-breaking, spread of petrol and diesel options to choose from.
The overall technology count is high, yet a lot of the most spectacular equipment is on the cost options list, rather than being standard fit. It’s also a shame the styling of the third-generation X3 isn’t a million miles removed from the MkII and it’s one of the pricier SUVs of this size out there, but the overall package is so accomplished that the BMW simply has to be on your potential shopping list if you’re in the market for this sort of vehicle.
Technology & Connectivity
Performance & Handling
Spec & Trim Levels
Significantly improved interior
Mighty M40i range-topper
We Don’t Like
Expensive with desirable equipment
Lack of a hybrid model at launch
Without ever asserting that the third generation of BMW X3 is unattractive, we must say we’re a little surprised by how much it looks like the old, outgoing version. In its proportions, stance and details like the line of its glasshouse, the MkIII could very well just be a heavily facelifted example of the previous X3 that was on sale from 2010.
There are some differences that are easier to spot, such as the huge kidney grilles, the LED light clusters front and rear, and the additional contours on both the bonnet and along the SUV’s flanks, but overall this is a piece of car design that embodies the old chestnut ‘evolution, not revolution’. The X3 does, however, look classy in all its multifarious guises – especially as the M40i, which has bigger air intakes, larger alloy wheels, silver door mirrors, twin-spaced exhausts, and an M Performance body kit. It’s just that we’d have liked a few more distinguishing flourishes for this latest generation of the popular BMW SUV.
It’s a much better story within, as the X3’s cabin has seen a dramatic upturn in quality. Again, we’re not saying the old X3’s interior was poor, but the standard of the materials used, the design of the central fascia and the layout of the major driver interfaces are all superb in the newer car. Chiefly this is because the higher-spec variants enjoy a 10.25-inch freestanding touchscreen for the iDrive infotainment, although be warned that the standard affair is a much smaller 6.5-inch colour display. Nevertheless, the X3’s passenger compartment is a lovely place to spend some time and with more and more upmarket options loaded into it, the cabin begins to take on the ambience of something as luxurious as a 7 Series.
This third-gen BMW X3 has grown in every dimension bar height, which is to the benefit of interior space and practicality. There’s plenty of room in the back seats for two tall adults to sit in comfort, while the SUV can take five people in total, although the usual problem of a raised transmission tunnel affects legroom in the centre-back seat. Multi-way adjustment of the front seats and steering wheel allows for all drivers to get a good position, although electric operation of the seats is an lb830 option and lumbar support is another lb210. Visibility out of the X3 is excellent in all directions and there’s an additional nod to storage needs in the front, where the stowage area ahead of the gear lever has grown to accommodate two cup holders.
All models get 40:20:40 split rear seats as standard, while access to the boot is good thanks to a flat loading lip. There’s no extra space in the MkIII’s cargo area compared to the MkII, because with all seats in place there’s 550 litres of room at the back and with them folded down – a simple task thanks to easy-to-use levers near the hatch opening – that rises to 1,600 litres. There’s also a neat underfloor storage area that can accommodate the luggage cover when it’s not in use, which is a useful touch.
Technology & Connectivity
Although, as already mentioned, the base models get a 6.5-inch colour display, it’s still a touchscreen and it still comes with sat-nav. Further, every X3 will feature Bluetooth, DAB, a 20GB hard disc drive and BMW ConnectedDrive services including Emergency Call, Online Services, BMW Teleservices, and Real Time Traffic Information.
Further up the specification line-up, items such as a TFT instrument cluster, Apple CarPlay, Wifi hotspot, Gesture Control, Remote Services, Visibility and Technology Packages, a head-up display, and a powerful Harman Kardon sound system are all offered – as, of course, is that fantastic 10.25-inch iDrive set-up.
Performance & Handling
BMW launched the 2018 X3 with the two diesel models, badged xDrive20d and xDrive30d. Following soon after came the opening petrol models, the xDrive20i and then the phenomenal M40i performance version. Incredibly, 80% of X3s sold in the UK will be 20d variants, powered by a four-cylinder, 2.0-litre diesel engine that produces 187bhp and 295lb ft for respectable performance stats that read 0-62mph in 8.0 seconds and a top speed of 132mph.
Following that in terms of units shifted will be our preferred all-rounder, the 3.0-litre, six-cylinder 30d, which has 261bhp and a mammoth 458lb ft of torque. These figures allow it to hit 62mph from rest in just 5.8 seconds, while it can run on to 140mph where permitted.
The 30d’s strong torque delivery means that it’s eight-speed gearbox needs only flit from 8th to 7th momentarily to provide adequate thrust for a strong overtake. A 20d has to work its gears more in this regard resulting in a slim gap between the two in terms of real world economy. The 20d will be a bigger seller, but in our eyes the more muscular 30d doesn’t require much sacrifice in efficiency to justify.
That leaves the 20i and M40i battling over around 550 sales per year between them, which is grossly unfair on the rather good M40i. Its 3.0-litre, six-cylinder petrol engine has a robust 355bhp, backed up by 369lb ft of torque. These numbers enable it to blast from 0-62mph in 4.8 seconds, putting it firmly among the fast SUV elite for acceleration.
Better than all the numbers, though, is the consideration that all of these TwinPower Turbo engines are smooth, cultured, and thoroughly pleasant to use, while the eight-speed automatic transmission is an absolute peach. You can’t really go wrong with any of these drivetrains.
Handling and comfort
The X3 has always possessed a sharp chassis and the third-generation car is no exception. Body control is excellent, while there’s an abundance of grip at both ends of the car and reasonably informative, direct steering too. This makes threading the X3 through town or negotiating a tricky series of bends equally stress-free, while the use of acoustic glass for the windscreen (acoustic front side windows are a lb120 option) makes the interior of the BMW a quiet place to be, even when travelling at speed. The ride quality is also pleasingly supple and controlled, which makes the X3 a great family cruiser.
For lb750 you can option Electronic Damper Control, something well worth doing. In Comfort the ride is cosseting even over UK roads, and it’s capable of dispensing with imperfections without fuss. Sport and Sport Plus adds weight to the steering and firms up the suspension for better body control. Selecting either of these modes when leaving a motorway and joining more interesting Tarmac leaves you in no doubt that BMW chassis engineers know their stuff; The X3 remains composed but fun, even on challenging roads. However, the best thing about the Electronic Damper Control is that you can customise Sport mode. Want weightier steering with the cushy ride comfort? Simply configure it to your liking.
We’ve spent plenty of time with the 30d, but it didn’t take long to experience just how refined this model is. The cabin is well insulated from engine noise, with just a slight murmur from under the bonnet when the car is accelerating. Its smooth eight-speed gearbox blends changes together so smoothly that you’ll hardly notice them, not that the larger 30d has any need to charge through its gears quite as frequently as lower capacity engines. There’s some wind noise from the wing mirrors at speed, but we’re nitpicking here. The 30d makes for an effortless way to cover large distances.
Nevertheless, while the driving experience in the 30d – or any regular X3 – is largely brilliant, it’s the M40i that deserves the most glowing plaudits. The steering is heavier and more informative again, it has mega M Performance uprated brakes, the suspension is tuned for handling, and the resulting SUV is one of the most invigorating steers of its type. Granted, the X3 M40i isn’t quite at Porsche Macan levels of driver involvement, but it should comfortably see off the likes of the petrol-powered Audi SQ5 and Mercedes-AMG GLC 43.
Perhaps the M40i’s best aspect is the noise: an M Performance exhaust is fitted as standard and that, along with the gravelly 3.0-litre’s voice, allows the BMW to play a tremendous tune when it’s being driven hard. It’s a wonderful thing to drive quickly, and yet it’s also perfectly civilised when it’s simply ambling along; this is a hard dynamic balancing act to pull off, so credit to BMW for executing it so well with the M40i.
Recommended engine: xDrive30d
As standard, all X3s get what looks to be a strong array of safety equipment. Buyers will enjoy Driving Stability Control including ABS, Dynamic Traction Control, Cornering Brake Control, Dynamic Brake Control with a dry braking function, Start-Off Assistant, and Hill Descent Control, which all go to form the electronic chassis safety net, while inside are six airbags.
All UK models will also get a Thatcham 1 alarm and technology called Active Guard, which attempts to mitigate low-speed collisions – it’s essentially Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB). However, in its most basic form, Active Guard doesn’t give early audible and visual warnings, instead only alerting the driver when the car is about to hit the brakes hard. If the more advanced early warning systems are required, buyers need to option up the Driving Assist or Driving Assist Plus packages. Furthermore, there’s no driver’s knee airbag, which is a serious omission on a car at this level.
There are some really high-end safety toys available for the X3, though, because if you dip into the options list, you can add City Collision Mitigation, Forward Collision Warning, Lane Departure Warning, Preventative Pedestrian Protection, Parking Assistant Plus with Surround-View, and even something called BMW Personal CoPilot – incorporating Active Cruise Control, Steering and Lane Control Assistant, Lane Change Assistant, and Lane Keeping Assistant with side collision protection. Thus, spend some money and the BMW will be one of the safest machines on the market; it’s just a shame about the lack of a knee airbag and the very simplistic version of AEB across the board.
Spec & Trim Levels
BMW offers ten colours for the X3 and they’re all largely monochrome affairs, the emphasis firmly on silvers, greys, and blacks. A few browns are even sprinkled into the mix, such as Terra Brown metallic, but it’s a very sedate paint palette for the SUV. Standard, no-cost colours are a flat white or black, with all the other finishes commanding a lb670 premium. Best of the lot is Phytonic Blue metallic, a signature shade for the X3 and one that makes the M40i, in particular, look superb.
There’s a Luxury trim level on the continent, but here in the UK, BMW is sticking with three grades, which are SE, xLine, and then M Sport. Unsurprisingly, when it comes to modern BMW buyers’ tastes, fully 60% of new X3s leaving showrooms are expected to be M Sports, while the M40i is a top-level specification in and of itself. Even SE X3s will feature 18-inch alloy wheels, three-zone climate control, ambient lighting, Drive Performance Control switchable modes, a Parking Assistant with reversing camera, and Park Distance Control all round, to name but a few items. Stepping up the X3 tree sees alloys up to 21 inches in diameter, a panoramic glass sunroof, a heated steering wheel, Comfort Access, and more on offer.
Size and Dimensions
Max towing weight unbraked – braked
750kg – 2,400kg
For the power and performance they offer, the two diesels’ figures of 56.5mpg and 132g/km CO2 (20d) or 49.6mpg and 149g/km CO2 (30d) are impressive, although it should be borne in mind that these numbers are achieved on a standardised test and therefore not likely to be attainable in real-world driving conditions. The M40i is obviously the heaviest on fuel, turning in 34.5mpg with 188g/km. In terms of taxation, the best for Benefit-in-Kind is the xDrive20d SE, at 25 per cent, while almost all X3s will attract the lb310 ‘rich car’ penalty for VED from years two to six of ownership, as the list prices are, in the main, the wrong side of lb40,000.
Reliability and servicing
The X3 is very new so long-term reliability cannot be fully assessed as yet, but as it uses tried and tested drivetrains and BMW on-board technology, it should prove to be a dependable car. Extra peace of mind should be provided by the standard three-year, unlimited mileage warranty, which can be extended beyond 36 months for fixed annual fees.
Like many modern BMWs, the X3 has condition-based servicing, which means it can monitor wear and tear on various components depending on the owner’s driving style and then offer alerts as to when it requires maintenance. That means there’s no real solid servicing schedule or pricing structure, as it will entirely depend on how you drive the SUV as to running costs. That said, BMW still offers Service Inclusive, which covers all maintenance costs for the first three years/36,000 miles for a one-off payment, if you’re worried about potential ongoing bills.
Condition-based servicing – car determines maintenance schedule and requirements
Condition-based servicing – car determines maintenance schedule and requirements
With a starting price of nearly lb38,000, the BMW X3 has a windscreen sticker to match its prestige status. That puts it in the same ballpark as the Audi Q5, Mercedes GLC and Volvo XC60, it’s considerably cheaper than a basic Porsche Macan, but the Jaguar F-Pace undercuts the BMW and it’s also worth asking the question of how much the Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace can offer for considerably less cash. Also, once you start adding the desirable options, the BMW’s ticket will inflate quickly. So, while the X3 is competitively priced for the class, it can’t be considered a conspicuous bargain.
Pricey it may be, but the M40i performance X3 comes with much of the bells-and-whistles interior and otherwise optional kit as standard.
Any model with the xDrive20d engine will offer a great blend of torque and parsimony – which is why four in five X3s will be 20d variants.
The creamy, low-range grunt of the xDrive30d makes it the most easy-going X3 of the lot. Finish it in xLine specification.
Has all the traditional Audi ‘elan and interior quality, with a reserved chassis to offset those traits.
Great aesthetics and superb handling mark out Jaguar’s first attempt in the SUV segment.
Mercedes’ GLC is a very strong all-rounder that looks a little more daring than the X3.
Porsche offers arguably the best driving experience of any SUV on sale, but space is tight in the rear.
Swedish company Volvo goes for comfort over speed with the XC60 and it works – brilliantly.