The 2.0-litre diesel (badged xDrive20d) has more than enough low-rev pulling power to ensure comfortable progress, so you rarely have to push the engine. Performance is pleasingly brisk when you do, though.
The two 3.0 diesel versions (xDrive30d and xDrive 35d) are much stronger when revved, and pull even harder from low revs. Unless performance is paramount, though, we’d stick with the cheaper and more efficient 2.0-litre diesel engine.
You can change gear yourself perfectly happily with the manual gearbox, but the eight-speed automatic transmission (optional on the 2.0-litre diesel and standard on 3.0-litre models) is a much better bet. In manual mode it offers smooth, seamless changes, and if you leave it in automatic mode, it's intelligent enough to pick the right gear for most situations.
BMW X3 ride comfort
SE-trim models ride fairly well, smoothing over smaller imperfections skillfully and staying relaxed and composed at speed. Uneven roads cause some side-to-side shimmy, but the same is true in most of the X3's high-riding rivals, including the Land Rover Discovery Sport.
However, M Sport-trim cars have overly firm suspension that we'd strongly recommend avoiding. You're jostled around far too much along pockmarked roads and the ride doesn't even settle down too much on the motorway. The standard 19in alloys don't help matters. Fortunately, if you're desperate for the aggressive looks M Sport trim brings, you can have the softer 'SE' suspension for no extra charge.
Optional variable damper control suspension if our preferred option, though. This allows you to slacken the dampers (by pressing a button) to soak up potholes and broken road surfaces around town, or stiffen things up for more composed handling along twistier roads (see handling section).
BMW X3 handling
Pay extra for variable damper control suspension and you can make swift progress along a B-road in your X3, with a surprising amount of involvement - for an SUV, anyway. The chassis feels balanced, body movement is well marshalled, and there's lots of confidence-inspiring grip when you're going around tight corners.
You might find the steering a bit heavy (especially when parking) but it’s precise when cornering - although it doesn't have quite as much feel as that of the Land Rover Discovery Sport.
Cars with regular SE and M Sport suspension are less impressive. The former sways about more through corners, and the latter is far too firm. Hit a bump mid-corner and it'll knock you off your line far too easily.
BMW X3 refinement
The xDrive20d’s engine sounds a bit gruff, especially at low speeds, but it settles down to a background hum at cruising speeds. On the motorway, you’re more likely to be bothered by some wind noise from around the windscreen pillars and door mirrors, and road noise, especially on versions with big alloy wheels.
The 3.0-litre diesels transmit less engine vibration through to the soles of your feet, but still sound strained when pushed hard. The manual gearbox that’s standard on the 2.0 diesels is rather stiff and notchy, so we'd definitely recommend forking out for the eight-speed automatic (standard on the 3.0-litres). It shifts gears smoothly and is generally one of the best automatic gearboxes anywhere on the market.
This entry-level 2.0-litre diesel engine has 187bhp; that’s more than enough to ensure comfortable progress in a car of the X3’s size, and the low-rev muscle means you rarely have to work it hard. CO2 emissions are also impressively low for a car of this size. Just be sure to avoid the standard six-speed manual gearbox; the optional eight-speed auto is much better.
Stronger than the 2.0-litre engine in the xDrive20d and smoother, too, although still sounds strained when revved hard. Unless performance is a priority, we wouldn't bother with this 3.0-litre engine – it's fairly pricey and not that efficient.
This range-topping 3.0-litre engine is the quickest of the bunch but also the most expensive and thirstiest. Unless performance is a real priority, we’d recommend sticking with the entry-level 20d – it’s more than nippy enough..