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BMW X3 review - strong engines help make this an impressive SUV

Do you really need an X5?

Evo rating
Price
from £33,945
  • Decent to drive, strong diesel engines, good interior tech
  • Bested by Macan dynamically, numb steering, slightly stiff ride, dated interior design

The X3 has matured during the past five years, and from rather awkward beginnings with the first generation model is now a highly competent product. As the X5 has grown, so the X3 has moved into territory once held by its big brother, possessing a more manageable footprint on the road while still offering plenty of space inside.

The all-diesel engine range is one of the X3’s strongest features, and while the 2-litre xDrive20d is never going to be seen as an enthusiast choice, its performance on paper is actually entirely respectable. Its fuel consumption and emissions are excellent, too, but it can’t compete with the smooth, torque – albeit more expensive- performance of the straight six models.

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As a driver’s SUV the X3 is hampered by numb power steering and a ride that can be abrupt, but while it can’t match a Porsche Macan, it’s still towards the more dynamic end of the medium-sized SUV spectrum

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> Performance and 0-60mph time - Healthy engine outputs ensure the X3 has surprisingly sprightly performance - the quickest models reach 62mph in 5.3sec.

> Engine and gearbox - Like petrol cars? The X3 won't be for you - BMW has chosen, perhaps sensibly, to limit sales to the diesel models. They're strong and smooth though, particularly the inline-sixes.

> Ride and handling - Feels much like a 3-series on stilts, with sporty, agile handling. Little steering feel though and it's not as entertaining as a Porsche Macan.

> MPG and running costs - Diesel lineup means some impressive on-paper economy figures. Eco Pro mode helps drivers get the most from every gallon.

> Interior and tech - Practical, high-quality and well-built, the X3's cabin is much like other BMWs. That extends to the driver-focused centre console.

> Design - Every inch a BMW 'X' product, and looks very similar to the larger X5. Hardly pretty though - the X3 is more about presence than style.

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Prices, specs and rivals 

The X3 range starts at £33,945 for the xDrive20d SE (add £1310 for auto). Prices rise to £35,445 for the XLine and £38,590 for the M Sport. Six-cylinder models cost upwards of £40,450 and the flagship xDrive35d M Sport is £46,050.

There’s an array of standard equipment: all models come with heated leather seats, Bluetooth connectivity, DAB radio, front and rear parking sensors and BMW Drive Performance Control. The XLine gains a number of cosmetic upgrades including, larger, 18-inch alloy-wheels and satin aluminium exterior trim. The M Sport gets 19-inch alloy-wheels, M Sport body kit, sports seats, sports suspension and a sport+ mode added to the drive control.

The premium compact SUV market is much bigger than it was when the X3 initially launched. Rivals include the £29,995 Lexus NX, the £32,580 Audi Q5 and the £34,950 Mercedes-Benz GLC.

The Lexus trades the BMW's precision in corners for quiet and smooth petrol engines and a hybrid option (and fairly striking styling), but there's no diesel available. The Audi is smartly styled but hardly exciting (sporty SQ5 apart) and the GLC, the newest on the market (and also available as the GLC Coupe) has a great cabin and refined engines, but isn't that interesting to drive.

The Porsche Macan is the best car to drive in the sector, but prices start at £43,553 or £45,942 for the Diesel – which can’t match the performance of the xDrive35d. 

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