What is it?
The BMW X3 xDrive35d, or the quickest and pokiest X3 SUV you can buy in plain English. It costs £40,205 in SE trim, or £42,225 in more assertive M Sport spec, tested here.
Our previous criticisms of the X3 have been a lack of grunt. This is convincingly rectified with the fitment of a 309bhp, 464lb ft 3-litre turbodiesel engine that can hustle the near two-ton X3 to 60mph in well under six seconds. That’s hot hatchback quick.
It’s mated to an eight-speed gearbox, with a paddle-shift operated manual mode and an appealingy smooth nature in auto, while there are Normal, Sport and Sport+ modes for the chassis, steering and powertrain, the latter making the stability control system more lenient. Stop/start technology helps contribute to claimed 162g/km CO2 emissions and 46.3mpg fuel economy.
What’s it like to drive?
While the X3 can’t shrug off its heft and height, this is as car-like as SUVs come. The steering boasts appealingly (if artificially) high levels of weight, especially in Sport mode, and you can adjust the front end with impressive precision for something that ain’t a sports car. Ride comfort is impressive when you’re in Normal, and usefully firmer in Sport when an interesting stretch of road crops up.
The engine is an absolute stormer, too – the relentless way it lets the X3 pile on speed can prove hard to resist at times. It even sounds quite good. And its pairing with the eight-speed auto gearbox is an spot-on; left to its own devices, the transmission is excellent, while its paddle shifts are snappy and intuitive enough to compel you to actually use them once in a while.
While an identically engined 5-series Touring will be a sharper drive still, if you require soft-roading ability or desire a higher viewpoint on the world, this range-topping X3 is undoubtedly the drivers’ small SUV of choice.
How does it compare?
A 5-series Touring with the same engine is a smidge quicker, but costs seven grand extra and has barely more boot space. If you must have an SUV, there’s really nothing to match the X3’s speed, economy and more compact size (the most powerful diesel Range Rover Evoques and Audi Q5s have at least 70bhp less). You need to sail past £50K and buy the behemoth (and 30mpg) Audi Q7 4.2 TDI for similar performance.
Anything else I need to know?
The X3 might now be a thoroughly appealing car under the skin for people like us, but don’t expect the reactions of fellow road users to be any more accepting of BMW X products.