What Car? says...
What do the BMW X3 and the X-Men have in common (other than names with Xs in)? Answer: They're both wildly popular. While the last X-Men movie grossed more than half a billion dollars, BMW has sold well over 1.5 million examples of this family SUV.
Like the Marvel characters, the X3 is a bit of a mutant. It's based on the BMW 3 Series executive car, but is longer, taller and wider. So, does it superpowers too?
Well, in theory at least, basing an SUV on a keen-handling saloon car should pay dividends when it comes to efficiency, driver involvement and refinement. And because the X3 is related to the 3 Series, it inherits that car’s fantastic engine line-up: BMW offers diesels, turbocharged petrols and plug-in hybrids (PHEVs).
There’s also a hardcore, performance-focused version, the X3 M Competition, which is more like the Hulk than Professor X. Or, if you're looking for the closely related electric SUV see our BMW iX3 review.
Anyway, back to the regular BMW X3... we've driven it, and over the next few pages, we'll tell you how it rates in the important areas, including performance and handling, interior quality, boot space and more.
We'll also compare it with the main rivals (or should we say, archenemies?). There are quite a few out there, including the Audi Q5, the Land Rover Defender, the Lexus NX, the Porsche Macan and the Volvo XC60.
Once we've helped you decide which model to go for, make sure you get it for the lowest price by using the free What Car? New Car Deals service.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
Our pick of the BMW X3’s engine line-up is the 187bhp mild hybrid 2.0-litre diesel, the 20d. It offers strong performance, with 0-62mph in just 7.9sec. It’s much punchier than the Land Rover Discovery Sport D200 and barely trails the Audi Q5 40 TDI in a drag race. The 282bhp 3.0-litre straight-six diesel (30d) is quicker still, and its extra power makes it an even more relaxing car to drive.
Petrol engine choices start with the 2.0-litre 184bhp 20i. We’ve yet to try it, but its 0-62mph time of 8.4sec is a little bit slower than the Discovery Sport P250, and some way off the 6.1sec on a Q5 45 TFSI. For ultimate performance, there's also the BMW X3 M Competition – which we've reviewed separately.
There’s also a petrol-electric plug-in hybrid (PHEV) version called the xDrive30e. Officially, it can do around 30 miles on electric power from a full charge, but when we tested it on our real-world test route, it managed 24 miles before its petrol engine fired into life. In the same test, the Lexus NX 450h went 33.4 miles and the Volvo XC60 T6 Recharge managed 34.9.
Suspension and ride comfort
Passive, non-adjustable suspension is standard on most X3s that don’t wear an M Sport badge. We've yet to try it, but it's likely to be more comfortable than the M Sport trim’s stiffer suspension, which gives it a firm ride on most roads. The xDrive30e M Sport is the exception: it has softer suspension as standard, but the weight of the PHEV batteries means the ride remains somewhat brittle.
M Sport versions, including the xDrive30e, offer adaptive suspension as an option. That lets you switch between different settings, from softer Comfort through to a firmer Sport Plus mode. It delivers the best ride comfort on the X3, but it’s expensive because it comes as part of the M Sport Pro Pack.
The M40i and M40d models have their own sports suspension set-up, with a version of the adaptive suspension system as standard. Both are lower and stiffer again, but the adaptive set-up has enough adjustment to make it work well on all but the roughest roads.
The range-topping M40i and M40d get that letter at the beginning of their name because they've been fettled by the BMW Motorsport Division, and their bespoke suspension set-up makes them very nearly the best-handling larger SUVs on the market. The best remains the Porsche Macan – mainly because of its more communicative steering. The X3’s is still accurate, and in pretty much every other respect has the Macan matched.
In fact, even the regular versions of the X3 are great to drive, feeling very agile with tight body control. The Audi Q5 gets close for driver enjoyment, and both are miles ahead of the more roly-poly Discovery Sport, the Lexus NX and the Volvo XC60. Just be aware that the xDrive30e's extra weight (from its battery pack) and softer set-up mean it leans over a bit more in corners than the regular models.
Noise and vibration
The X3's 20d diesel isn’t the smoothest four-cylinder engine in the class – the Audi Q5 40 TDI takes that trophy. The six-cylinder 30d engine is a different matter, and is very smooth, even when you give it some beans.
The sporty M40i can play the role of a raucous performance SUV or, if needs be, a relaxing cruiser, all with just a switch of driving mode. In Sport mode, the exhaust bellows, pops and bangs, yet it's almost silent when you flick it to Comfort mode for relaxed motorway travel. The diesel M40d is similarly versatile, but with a slightly less dramatic soundtrack. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the xDrive30e, which is as quiet as a church mouse when it's running in electric-only mode, and is ever so hushed even when the petrol engine's running.
Road and wind noise are very well suppressed, almost matching the serenity of the Q5 at 70mph, but the bigger wheels fitted to sportier versions add more drone on coarse roads. All models get a fantastic eight-speed automatic gearbox that's among the smoothest examples out there in the family SUV class.
The interior layout, fit and finish
Driving position and dashboard
The traditional lofty SUV driving position is present and correct in the BMW X3. The standard front sports seats are comfortable on long journeys and keep you in place through bends with its supportive side bolsters.
M40i and M40d models come with an electrically operated driver's seat with a memory function. That's also available as an option on lower trim levels as part of the Comfort Plus Pack. All models provide a good range of adjustment for the seat and steering wheel, but it’s frustrating that BMW doesn’t include adjustable lumbar support as standard on any trim. It’s relatively cheap to add, though, and we'd definitely recommend doing so.
The X3 has a 12in driver’s display with digital dials as standard, and a head-up display is an optional extra on all trims as part of the Technology pack. The X3’s dashboard has lots of physical buttons for all its major functions, rather than the harder-to-hit touch-sensitive buttons that the Land Rover Discovery Sport and others are fitted with. Overall, the X3’s dashboard is an example of how to make a well-equipped car easy to use.
Visibility, parking sensors and cameras
Seeing out the front of the X3 is pretty easy, thanks to its large windscreen with relatively narrow pillars. It's easy to judge traffic at roundabouts and T-junctions, and looking over your shoulder gives you a decent view of what’s going on behind.
To make manoeuvring easier still, BMW gives you front and rear parking sensors, a rear-view camera and a parking assistant system that can steer the car into spaces. If that’s not enough, there’s also the option of a 360-degree surround-view camera.
Visibility at night is taken care of by bright LED headlights, which you can pay extra to upgrade to adaptive LED headlights that can stay on main beam without blinding other road users. The adaptive lights are standard on the M40i and M40d.
Sat nav and infotainment
All X3s have a 12in touchscreen display with sharp graphics, and intuitive and responsive software. It can be controlled using the iDrive rotary controller between the front seats, which is much safer when you're driving than reaching out to touch the screen. Most rivals don't have a dial, and that's a big part of why we rate iDrive as the best infotainment system on the market.
A DAB radio, Bluetooth, built-in sat-nav, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring, and a 12-speaker sound system come as standard. Wireless phone-charging and a 16-speaker, 600W Harman Kardon stereo are available as optional extras.
You don't have to choose the most expensive trim levels to get that feel, either: M Sport, M40i and M40d models have slightly glossier finishes in places, but the cheaper versions feel just as sturdy.
That said, some buyers might be disappointed that the interior design is lifted from the cheaper BMW 3 Series. The X3 does look a bit dour inside next to the brighter look of the XC60 – although we’ll leave the final word on aesthetics up to you.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
The BMW X3 is among the best large family SUVs for front seat space. Its high roofline ensures that tall adults will have no problems with head room, and leg room is top-notch too. The wide interior means you and your front passenger won't be invading each other’s personal space.
Each front door has a decent-sized bin and the glovebox is no mere token effort. The front armrest lifts to reveal a generous cubbyhole and there's another cavernous space for your keys or wallet in front of the gear selector.
A couple of tall adults can sit in the back of the X3 in relative comfort, with similar head and leg room to that offered by the Audi Q5. Introduce a third, though, and all three will find it more of a squeeze around the shoulders than they would in the Q5, the Land Rover Discovery Sport or the Volvo XC60 (which offers one of the most spacious environments for rear passengers in the class).
The outside rear seats each offer a generous door armrest and a decent door bin, and the centre seatback can be folded down to become a central armrest, complete with cupholders. There’s also the option of reclining backrests as part of the Comfort Pack, which is worth considering if you want to help your rear passengers relax. You get them as standard on the Discovery Sport and Lexus NX.
You can't have the X3 as a seven-seat SUV – it's strictly a five-seater. The larger BMW X5 and the Discovery Sport are available with seven, plus there are some excellent non-premium seven-seaters, including the Hyundai Santa Fe.
Seat folding and flexibility
The front passenger seat in the X3 can be adjusted manually for height, but lumbar adjustment is merely an option on all variants. Electric seat adjustment, with memory settings, is standard on top trim levels.
The rear seats split in a 40/20/40 configuration and fold flat to open up more space for bulkier items. The back seats don't slide back and forth to allow you to balance leg room against boot space, as they do in the Discovery Sport and on pricier versions of the Q5.
Most versions of the X3 have a 550-litre boot, which should more than fulfil the needs of an average family. It can swallow eight carry-on suitcases with the parcel shelf and rear seats in place. That’s one fewer case than the Q5 can take, but the same tally as the Discovery Sport and the XC60.
The boot is a practical square shape, with very good access and no loading lip, making it easy to lug heavy items in and out. You’ll find hooks, nets and decent under-floor storage to help keep items in place. With no option of a sliding rear bench, you can’t increase the boot’s size without reducing the seating capacity.
The xDrive30e's battery pack raises the boot floor and subtracts about 100 litres from the boot volume. We found it a real squeeze to fit in seven carry-on suitcases. It still provides a reasonable space that's fit for a large buggy, but if you want a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) with a truly generous boot take a look at the Lexus NX 450h.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Costs, insurance groups, MPG and CO2
When it comes to buying a BMW X3 with cash, there’s little to separate it on price from its main rivals. Generous discounts are available from dealers, as well as through our hassle-free New Car Deals pages. The X3 is predicted to depreciate quite a bit more after three years (as a percentage of its list price) than an Audi Q5, Land Rover Discovery Sport and Porsche Macan. PCP deals are relatively pricey as a result, with higher like-for-like monthly payments than the equivalent Q5.
The xDrive30e plug-in hybrid (PHEV) is the obvious choice for company car buyers, with by far the lowest CO2 emissions in the line-up and a generous company car tax break. If you can keep its battery topped up and run on electric power alone most of the time, you won’t pay much in fuel costs (although there are better PHEVs out there).
Our pick – the 20d with 48V mild-hybrid assistance – still makes sense if you're a high-mileage driver because its near-50mpg WLTP average economy will trounce the xDrive30e's when its battery has run out. Across the X3’s engine line-up, the official fuel economy figures are impressive compared with many of its rivals.
Equipment, options and extras
The entry-level X3 trim, xLine, comes with a reasonable amount of standard kit, including 19in wheels, LED front foglights, sports seats, sport leather steering wheel, three-zone climate control, cruise control, powered boot lid, and more off-road-focused exterior styling.
M Sport trim, which is extremely popular, offers a sportier appearance. We reckon it’s worth ticking the box for the optional M Sport Pro Pack, mainly because it introduces adaptive suspension for a plusher ride, but it also brings a host of other goodies. Range-topping M40i and M40d feature even bigger 20in wheels and upgraded brakes among their upgrades.
BMW didn’t perform particularly well in the 2022 What Car? Reliability Survey, finishing in 16th place out the 32 manufacturers that appeared. The X3 itself fared much better, though, with the petrol version finishing in fourth place in the large SUV class, and the diesel ranked tenth. That’s ahead of the Audi Q5, the Mercedes GLC and the Discovery Sport.
Every X3 comes with a three-year, unlimited-mileage warranty to protect you against large unexpected bills. That policy is matched by Land Rover and better than Audi’s 60,000-mile limit. It also includes a three-year paintwork warranty and a 12-year anti-corrosion guarantee. The xDrive30e PHEV’s battery is covered by a separate six-year or 60,000-mile warranty.
Safety and security
All X3s come with stability control, six airbags and a tyre pressure monitor as standard. Euro NCAP awarded the model five stars in its crash tests. If you look at the individual scores, the Q5 provides slightly better protection to adult and child occupants in the event of a crash, but the two cars are very close. The XC60 is ahead of both, and is one of the class leaders for safety.
Automatic emergency braking (AEB) is standard with the X3. Blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assistance, rear cross-traffic alert and traffic-sign recognition are among some of the helpful safety options available with the Driving Assistant packs.
Security firm Thatcham Research has carried out tests on the X3’s resistance to theft. It scored very highly, achieving above-average marks for guarding against being stolen or broken into.
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Our favourite version is the xDrive20d in xLine trim. The 190bhp four-cylinder 2.0-litre diesel engine has 48V mild-hybrid assistance and accelerates from 0.60mph in 7.9sec. It’s an efficient choice, and entry-level xLine trim includes plenty of equipment.
If you upgrade the X3 from entry-level xLine to mid-level M Sport, the car gets a sportier look, with extra exterior trim and 19in M light alloy wheels. It also adds leather upholstery and an M-specific steering wheel.
It depends which engine you choose. Most versions have 550 litres of boot space – enough for eight carry-on suitcases. The plug-in hybrid model (xDrive30e) has a smaller, 450-litre boot because of the battery pack fitted below the floor.
|RRP price range||£48,005 - £65,250|
|Number of trims (see all)||4|
|Number of engines (see all)||6|
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)||hybrid, petrol, diesel|
|MPG range across all versions||141.2 - 48.7|
|Available doors options||5|
|Warranty||3 years / No mileage cap|
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)||£1,242 / £4,709|
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)||£2,484 / £9,419|