The BMW X3 has long been a strong contender for anyone after a large 4x4; we named it our SUV of the Year between 2011 and 2013. Now the car has been updated with cosmetic changes and more-efficient engine options.
The new look incorporates different front and rear bumpers, revised headlights that look a little sleeker than the ones they replace, and a new surround for the double-kidney grille. It’s a refresh that’s designed to make the X3 look more like its big brother, the X5.
The changes to the engine line-up are more significant, with a new 2.0-litre diesel engine that promises to be more refined than the unit it replaces, as well as trimming a few g/km off its CO2 emissions.
Prices have risen by around £1100, but you get more kit as standard; even entry-level SE models now come with luxuries such as a powered tailgate, sat-nav and heated front seats.
What’s the 2014 BMW X3 xDrive20d like to drive?
The weakest spot of the old X3 was BMW’s 2.0-litre diesel engine, which offered decent economy and CO2 emissions, but was beginning to sound increasingly noisy compared with the more modern units offered by several rivals.
The good news is that the new motor in the revised model (available in the xDrive20d tested here and, in detuned form, in the rear-wheel-drive sDrive18d) is a much more accomplished performer.
In xDrive20d form the engine has 187bhp and 295lb ft of torque; that’s more than enough to ensure comfortable progress in a car of the X3’s size, and the low-rev grunt means you rarely have to stress the engine - but when you do push it performance is pleasingly brisk.
Our test car had the optional eight-speed automatic transmission, which is superb; in manual mode it offers smooth, seamless changes. It’s also worth noting than on the xDrive20d model the auto is actually more efficient than the manual (131g/km of CO2 emissions compared with 136g/km).
On all models except the xDrive35d, incidentally, you can also choose an optional 17in wheel and low-rolling-resistance-tyre package (£340) that cuts a further 7g/km from the CO2 emissions.
The most noticeable difference comes in refinement. While the old xDrive20d’s engine could be heard at motorway speeds, the new edition’s engine note fades nicely into the background when you’re cruising. At higher speeds you’re more likely to be bothered by road noise or a modest rush of wind noise from around the windscreen pillars and door mirrors.
However at lower speed under gentle throttle loads, the automatic gearbox holds on to gears, and lets the torque of the engine pull you along. Normally that's a desirable trait, but it has the side-effect of keeping the engine in a band of revs where is sends a resonant diesel grumble into the cabin.
The rest of the X3 package is largely unchanged, but that’s no bad thing.
The ride is undeniably firm, but there’s enough sophistication in the suspension set-up to keep things comfortable over pock-marked roads. Body control is excellent for an SUV of this size, and while the steering may be a bit heavy for some (especially when parking) it’s really precise when cornering.
Our test car came on wide cross-section rear tyres and the optional (£940) adaptive dampers, which improve overall comfort – we'd recommend the latter to most buyers because they improve body control.
The X3 is capable of swift progress along a B-road, with a surprising amount of involvement for a big 4x4. The chassis feels balanced, body movement is really well marshalled, and there is a huge amount of confidence-inspiring grip in tight corners.
In fact the X3 feels almost as sharp to drive as its sportier sibling, the X4. High praise indeed.
What’s the 2014 BMW X3 xDrive20d like inside?
Don’t expect the face-lifted X3’s cabin to feel like a different world compared with the outgoing model’s. Yes, you get a bit more chrome detailing and some different finishes on the centre console, but the basic interior is unchanged.
That's no bad thing, because it means you get plenty of soft-touch materials throughout and switches and dials that operate positively and feel well damped.
BMW's iDrive infotainment system has been updated to feature sat-nav as standard, and its interface (a rotary dial on the centre console surrounded by shortcut buttons) remains wonderfully intuitive and easy to use. It makes the equivalent systems the Audi Q5 and Volvo XC60 seem decidedly clunky by comparison.
There’s decent space up front for two adults, and two more grown-ups will be comfortable enough in the rear. The central transmission tunnel is likely to make life uncomfortable for a middle passenger in the back, however.
Boot space is unchanged in the new car, so you get 550 litres with the rear seats in place or 1600 litres with them folded. That's pretty much the same luggage room you get in the rival Audi Q5.
There's really no need to venture above entry-level SE trim which, as well as the new features already mentioned, still includes leather upholstery, climate control and front and rear parking sensors.
Should I buy one?
The BMW X3 was a strong package before, and the revisions to the car are in all the right areas. In particular, the 2.0-litre diesel engine’s improved refinement makes the car an even more accomplished all-rounder.
So, if you’re in the market for a comfortable, well-finished, practical and great-driving family SUV, the X3 should be at the top of your shortlist.
What Car? says...