Only diesel power is offered. The two 2.0-litre four-cylinder engines have either 141bhp (18d) or 181bhp (20d). We haven’t driven the former, but the latter is brisk and flexible, and will be adequate for most buyers. The two 3.0-litre straight sixes have either 255bhp (30d) or 309bhp (35d). The 30d is properly fast, and the 35d is quicker still. The four-cylinder cars have six-speed manual gearbox, with an eight-speed automatic available as an option. The six-pots get the auto as standard.
So far, we’ve only tried the X3 with Variable Damper Control, and it’s an appealing option because it monitors your speed, driving style and the conditions of the road, and then adjusts the firmness of the suspension to suit. You get agile and composed handling, too, and the steering is nicely weighted, although more feel would be welcome.
The engines are not as quiet as they are in some BMW saloons, but they’re still smooth by 4x4 standards, and wind and road noise are kept to a respectable level. The manual gearbox is far less impressive because its shift is rather stiff and springy. If your budget will stretch, it’s worth upgrading to the automatic.
While it’s no bargain, the X3 is competitively priced, and resale values are very competitive with those of rivals such as the Audi Q5 and Volvo XC60. The engines are very efficient – the 18d averages over 55mpg, the 20d over 50mpg, and the 3.0-litre units aren’t all that far behind. Emissions are low, too, meaning affordable tax bills for company car drivers.
The X3’s cabin is built from high-quality materials and the attention to fit and finish is exemplary, so it’s a match for anything in the class. BMW also has a good reliability record, and the manufacturer usually performs pretty well in the JD Power Customer Satisfaction Survey.
Every X3 comes with front, side and curtain airbags, and a host of electronic aids that are designed to keep you out of trouble. What’s more, the bonnet features energy-absorbing deformation zones to improve pedestrian protection. All this helped the car achieve a five-star crash rating from Euro NCAP. On the security front, deadlocks, marked parts, an alarm and locking wheelnuts are all included.
The X3 comes with the latest version of BMW’s iDrive controller, so you can flip through an encyclopedia of entertainment and set-up menus quickly and easily. The driving position is excellent, too, although it may take you a while to get the seat exactly where you want it because the standard manual controls are fiddly.
There’s plenty of space for four six-foot-something adults in the X3, but its wide transmission tunnel means life isn’t so comfortable for a central rear passenger. The boot is large and well shaped, though, and cargo space grows to a mountain bike-swallowing 1600 litres when the rear seats are folded. The backrests are split 40/20/40 for added versatility.
SE spec gives you lots of luxuries, including leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control, front and rear parking sensors, automatic lights and wipers and cruise control. You can add everything from satellite-navigation to a head-up display that projects your speed on to the windscreen. M Sport trim adds some visual muscle with a body kit, bigger wheels, sports seats, and stiffer springs, but costs thousands more.
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