BMW X3: first UK test
* Compact 4x4 tested * Cheaper than previous X3 * More kit, too...
What is it? An all-new version of BMW's compact 4x4 tested on UK roads for the first time
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When a new car is cheaper than the model it replaces, you can't help but wonder whether corners have been cut. Don't bother wondering about the new BMW X3 they haven't.
There's one version available, known as the 20d SE, and it costs 115 less than the previous-generation 20d SE. The new version, though, comes with more standard kit, including leather upholstery, two-zone air-conditioning and an iDrive central systems controller. No scrimping there, then.
There's been no scrimping on the interior, either. Where the plastics in the old car were hard and unappealing, the materials in the new car are positively lush. The cabin is practical, too. There's enough space for four adults to stretch out luxuriously, and it's only a bulky transmission tunnel that prevents a fifth being completely comfortable.
At 550 litres, the boot is also 70 litres bigger than the old car's, and folding the rear seats down gives you a 1600-litre load area.
So how does it drive?
The old car's biggest problem was its bone-jarring ride, so the question is, has this been remedied in the new car?
Unfortunately, it's impossible to tell for sure. Our test cars came fitted with optional Variable Damper Control (910), which adjusts the firmness of the suspension according to your driving style, the condition of the road surface, and whether you've selected Normal mode or Sport mode.
This version is impressively comfortable, even in the sportiest setting. However, we're still yet to experience the standard set-up, so we've no idea how it'll cope with UK's scruffy surfaces.
The VDC-equipped car handles well, too. Body control is tight in both modes, it grips strongly, and although the steering doesn't have the feel you expect of a BMW, it's well-weighted and reasonably quick.
The 181bhp 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine has always impressed in other BMW models, and it feels just as punchy in the X3. The notchy shift on the standard six-speed manual gearbox could annoy you, but the optional eight-speed automatic transmission swaps cogs smoothly and serenely. If you're an auto fan, it's well worth the 1495 BMW charges.
Just because BMW hasn't scrimped, though it doesn't mean you can't. With CO2 emissions of 149g/km and fuel economy of 50.4mpg, it's the cleanest and most frugal 4x4 in the class, while the auto is even cleaner. How's that for attention to detail?
What Car? says
A huge improvement on the old car, and cheaper, too.