BMW X3 Review
"Performance and poise from this premium SUV"
BMW X3 review - rear side view, driving, blue, 2020

BMW X3 review: the premium SUV that does it all

  • Published 7 May 2020
  • 6 minute read
  • By Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

Introduction

I don’t know how to put this, but… SUVs are kind of a big deal. None more so than the BMW X3, which can be ordered with a cabin that smells of rich wood and leather. Ron Burgundy would be impressed.

Cutting to the chase, the BMW X3 is probably the best premium five-seat SUV you can buy. I wanna say something. I’m gonna put this out there: if you like it, you can take it. At the time of writing, leasing deals start from an affordable £478 a month.

An SUV that does everything wellBMW X3 review - front view, driving, blue, 2020 Available to lease Lease Now

I’ll drop the references to Burgundy, and instead attempt to explain why the X3 is a better choice than the Audi Q5 and Mercedes-Benz GLC if you want a touch of class with your high-riding family steed.

Launched in 2017, the X3 occupies the middle ground in BMW’s range of X-rated SUVs, sitting between the X1 and the X5 in the practicality department. The X2, X4 and X6, meanwhile, are the more stylish, sportier and less flexible versions of their odd-numbered counterparts.


Looks, tech and design

Mmm, it looks good. I mean, really good. Actually, the Ron reference is a bit of a stretch here, because the pig-nosed BMW X3 is hardly a looker. But as SUVs go – and in the context of the cosmetically challenged X4 and X6 – it’s pretty sharp. Even if it looks a little under-wheeled when riding on the 18-inch rims of the entry-level SE trim level.

On the inside, things are very BMW. That’s to say the quality of the switchgear is high, and the wood, leather, aluminium and plastics used throughout the range are first-rate. You also get a superb driving position and a very driver-focused dashboard.

The interior isn't short of bells and whistlesBMW X3 review - interior, 2020Available to lease Lease Now

It is, perhaps, a little dull – feeling more upper-premium than first class. It also lacks the perceived, but not necessarily actual, quality of the Mercedes-Benz GLC. I’m nitpicking, because you’re unlikely to find fault with the X3’s interior, even after a four-year leasing contract.

Standard specification is good, with the SE trim boasting LED headlights, three-zone climate control, an 8.8-inch touchscreen display, heated front seats, electric tailgate, cruise control and ambient lighting. The xLine trim consists of predominantly cosmetic upgrades, including 19-inch alloys, but you also get sports seats and a larger fuel tank.

The M Sport is the real deal, not least because of the excellent 10.25-inch digital instrument display and 12.3-inch touchscreen. You also get 19-inch double-spoke alloys, an M Sport body kit, sports seats and other M Sport goodies. The M40i petrol and M40d diesel performance models complete the core range, while a sporty BMW X3 M is on hand as a rival to the Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 and Porsche Macan.

It’s a spacious SUV. In common with its rivals, the X3 works best as a four-seater, with the fifth, middle rear seat only really suitable for short journeys, small children and people you don’t like. The rear seats fold 40:20:40, with the boot offering an impressive 550 litres of capacity.

Better-looking than many newer BMWsBMW X3 review - rear view, driving, blue, 2020Available to lease Lease Now

The BMW X3 was given a maximum five-star Euro NCAP safety rating in 2017, scoring 93% for adult occupant protection and 84% for child occupant protection. Disappointingly, you do still have to pay extra for some important safety kit. For example, the £700 Driving Assistant pack comprises lane-departure warning, cross-traffic alert, approaching traffic control and rear-collision prevention.

Upgrading to the Driving Assistant Plus adds all of the above, plus adaptive cruise control, lane-change assistant, lane-keeping assistant, evasion aid, steering- and lane-control assist, and wrong-way warning. It costs a meaty £1,750.

Luxury cars that don’t cost the earth


Driving

The BMW X3 is like a high-riding BMW 5 Series saloon, which is the highest praise I can deliver. Seriously – that’s not just a pun. It feels smooth and refined on the move, with plush cushioning and absorption of Britain’s notoriously poor road surfaces.

There’s a precision and accuracy to the way the X3 drives that you don’t find in the GLC or Q5. The steering is well-weighted, body roll is kept in check, and the ride is firm without feeling uncomfortable.

Actually mildly capable off-roadBMW X3 review - driving off road, 2020 Available to leaseLease Now

It will also do the off-road thing if you don’t mind getting the stylish alloy wheels dirty. Sure, it can’t rival the Land Rover Discovery Sport as the ultimate cross country machine, but unless you live at the bottom of a valley or half-way up a mountain, the X3 will cope with most situations. All models come with xDrive all-wheel drive as standard.

The best all-rounder is the 20d, which uses BMW’s familiar 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel. Its breadth of talents – including mid-range punch, relaxed cruising and excellent economy – makes it the engine for family life. It will also sprint 0-62mph in just 8.0 seconds, with acceleration aided by the traction of the all-wheel-drive system.

I’m not sure why you’d need to consider the other engines. The 20i petrol is down on power, slower to 62mph and less economical, while the 30d is undoubtedly impressive, but not sufficiently so to recommend it over the 20d.

The X3 M Performance is awesomely fastBMW X3 review - BMW X3 M Competition, silver, 2020 Available to lease Lease Now

On the other hand, the M40i and M40d are properly rapid performance SUVs, with BMW deploying six-cylinder petrol and diesel engines to devastating effect here. At the top of the tree sits the BMW X3 M Competition – a £75,000 super-SUV that is every bit the bad boy it looks. Your mother would disapprove.

The X3 M is anti-social, out of touch and a little outmoded, but the 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine is a real treat. Leasing deals start at nearly £900 a month…

Or try: Our BMW 3 Series review


Cost and economy

At the end of 2019, BMW launched a new plug-in hybrid variant of the X3. It pairs a 2.0-litre petrol engine with an electric motor to deliver CO2 emissions of just 49g/km and up to 34 miles of all-electric range. Impressive.

Not that I can look beyond the all-round brilliance of the 20d. It claims to return over 45mpg, which is a fine effort for a car of this size. Economy in the 30d drops to a claimed 40.9mpg, which makes the claimed 39.2mpg for the M40d seem all the more impressive.

The X3 20d is an outstanding all-rounderBMW X3 review - side view, driving, blue, 2020 Available to lease Lease Now

The 35.8mpg claim for the 20i makes it hard to justify, while the M40i is supposedly good for 30mpg if you take it easy – which you probably won’t. In case you’re wondering, the X3 M Competition claims around 24mpg, but use the performance to the full and you’ll halve that.

Super SUVs: affordable family cars to take you anywhere


Verdict

I have to nitpick to find fault with the BMW X3. The only rival that comes close for me is the Volvo XC60, which offers a relaxing Swedish cabin and a more comfortable ride. But lacks the BMW’s driving precision.

Reasons to choose the X3 over the alternatives? The interior feels good, the way the car drives is outstanding and there’s enough room for the family and their belongings. Not only is the X3 20d the sweet-spot in the range, I’d argue it’s the sweet-spot in the mid-size family SUV segment. It really is that good.

Don’t act like you’re not impressed, said Ron. You stay classy.

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