There was a time when the X3 was the ugly duckling of the BMW range, not just in terms of its divisive design, but also in its dynamic characteristics. Thankfully, the wooden ride and irritatingly abrupt rebound damping, that had occupants looking like nodding dogs over even relatively mild road surfaces, are long since things of the past.
Despite its more sophisticated chassis setup, the X3 remains far from a wallowing, comfort-orientated SUV, maintaining its position towards the on-road, sporty end of the market segment – although that’s some way short of the Porsche Macan when it comes to driver rewards.
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From behind the ‘wheel, imagine a current 3 Series on stilts and your perception will be close enough. The X3 steers in a manner clearly identifiable with the current BMW doctrine: on an M Sport car, with its thick, squidgy steering wheel rim, that means a light, feedback-free response, with a touch of EPAS-typical vagueness around the straight ahead, but with quick, accurate responses once on lock. Cleverly, these steering rack characteristics belie the weight of the X3, heightening the sensation of agility perceived by the driver.
BMW’s Variable Damper Control adaptive damping is available as a £940 option, tying in to the Drive Performance Control switch that, as usual, offers Eco Pro, Comfort and Sport modes. However, if you opt for an M Sport model, as tested here, you get a firmer setup than SE and xLine versions as standard. Even without VDC, the X3 is a not an uncomfortably riding car, although poor road surfaces taken at speed reveal a tautness to the body control that can have you jostled in your seat. Active Steering is an option, but not one worth paying the extra charge for.