What is it?
The all-new BMW X3. Not just a facelift, this is the second generation of the firm’s Land Rover Freelander rival. Incidentally, though, it’s now little smaller than the original BMW X5.
It’s probably greener than your SUV preconceptions would have you believe – the usual array of BMW Efficient Dynamics gubbins (start-stop, brake energy regeneration) mated to a 2-litre turbodiesel engine results in CO2 emissions of 149g/km, which is less than a 1.2-litre Fiat Panda 4x4.
There’s also a host of electronics under the skin to aid the driving experience. Variable Sport Steering effectively replaces BMW’s Active Steering and optimises the steering ratio for the speed and situation, while Variable Damper Control does what it says on the options list, allowing you to tweak the suspension set-up between Normal, Sport and Sport+.
What’s it like to drive?
Very good, with the usual BMW strengths present and correct. There’s an overall feeling of tautness, and the steering, while a touch on the heavy side at low speeds, is impressively direct when cornering, making the X3 very pointy. It isn’t dripping in proper feel, though we’d attribute at least some of that to the winter tyres BMW had equipped its cars with for the very cold and snowy Austrian launch.
The winter rubber may be partly responsible for the supple ride, too. It feels worlds apart from the previous generation X3, which suffered terribly on rough surfaces. On an array of roads and in a range of weather conditions the new car’s ride is impressive, being communicative but comfortable, even with the dampers in their sportiest setting.
The engine isn’t as great. After analysing sales of its predecessor, BMW will only be bringing the 2-litre turbodiesel to the UK, unless demand persuades it otherwise. And while this engine is powerful enough (the car is brisk), it’s not particularly smooth, and you’ll be loathe to rev it too hard due to the agricultural noise you’ll get in return. Good job it’s torquey, then, and very willing low down in the rev range.
How does it compare?
The X3 betters its closest rivals – the Audi Q5, Land Rover Freelander and Volvo XC60 – on a couple of levels, namely dynamics and running costs. 50.4mpg and 149g/km (£125 a year tax) compare to class averages of 45mph and 160g/km+ (£155+). If you don’t need off-road ability, though, a BMW 520d Touring is better looking, just as practical and cleaner, too.
Anything else I need to know?
The eight-speed auto suits the engine better than the six-speed manual, and despite not being a twin-clutch system, is very quick and smooth, though it’s a £1495 option. Variable Sport Steering (£370) and Variable Damper Control (£910) are options, too. We’re yet to try a car without them.