BMW turns up the heat in the competitive SUV sector, bringing an all-new X3 to a class that’s recently had new entries from Alfa, Audi and Volvo
On the road
On the road
The growth and the pace of development in the premium SUV sector is as hectic as ever, with BMW becoming the fourth brand in less than a year to bring a new product to the class. The company follows on from the Audi Q5, Volvo XC60 and the Company Car Today CCT100 Award-winning Alfa Romeo Stelvio with its third-generation X3. And that lot is without mentioning the established competition in the form of the Jaguar F-Pace, Land Rover Discovery Sport and Mercedes-Benz GLC.
BMW describes its new off-roader as “one of the most dynamically competent and technically advanced SUVs in its class”. The new line-up is completely four-wheel drive and comes only with the eight-speed automatic gearbox – the manual accounted for only 5% of the previous car’s sales, so it isn’t even available on the new model.
The engine range will be dominated by BMW’s excellent 2.0-litre 190hp diesel, branded 20d, although there’s also the potent 30d with 265hp, a petrol alternative in the form of the 184hp 20i and, for the first time, a performance-orientated M-branded car in the form of the 360hp M40i, although that turbocharged 3.0-litre petrol model certainly won’t be the most sensible company car choice in the range.
The three-trim line-up kicks off with SE, and moves up by £900 (a jump most buyers are expected to make) to the xLine, which offers a raft of improvements around the look and feel of the car, including an upgrade from 18- to 19-inch alloy wheels, themselves a £935 upgrade if optioned on SE trim, and sports seats. The top M Sport model driven here is another £1,600 and adds the visual adornments well-trodden by
M Sport variants from across the manufacturer’s range. With the exception of the high-performance M40i, all the engines are available with any of the three specifications.
Though it looks as though the design is very much evolutionary, on closer inspection there are some noticeable changes. The front is most obvious, with a bonnet that’s much more sculpted as you look down from the driver’s seat. That leads to a larger grille and headlamps that are farther apart – with LED headlamps on higher trims – designed to make the car look wider and lower. At the back are new 3D LED tail lamps, and all cars get twin exhausts, which are wider for the bigger engines.
Overall, it’s not a dramatic restyle, and takes at least a second glance to spot the new car, but current owners will recognise the change.
On the inside, all cars now get a sports steering wheel as standard, and the X3 features a new style of leather upholstery that’s called Vernasca. It replaces the Dakota leather that has adorned BMWs in recent years.
The X3 is the first ‘X’ car to get three-zone climate control as standard, and the optional £1,190 panoramic sunroof is claimed to be the largest in the class.
It’s certainly a lovely cabin, and steps up significantly in terms of matching the best that rivals such as Audi and Volvo offer for quality of materials and overall look, feel and usability. Indeed, the infotainment system that comes as standard on the M Sport spec is a particular delight to use. The top trim gets the larger 10.3-inch system with the upgraded Professional navigation system, rather than the system with 6.5-inch screen that comes on the other models.
Worthy of note are the optional Driving Assistant and Driving Assistant Plus packages. At £670, the former offers lane-departure warning, lane-change warning, collision assistant to brake the car when it detects a pedestrian (when you’re doing between 6mph and 37mph) or vehicle (operating at up to 50mph) and crossing-traffic warning to alert a reversing driver of potential collisions. The Plus package is a pricey £1,750, but adds active cruise control, lane-control aid at up to 130mph to keep the car in the centre of the lane, evade assistant to help avoid collisions and alerts to warn drivers that they are approaching a junction or going the wrong way past a no-entry sign.
Though undeniably expensive at the moment, this is technology that will start to filter down to standard fit, and the cheaper package in particular has duty-of-care value that could override the option cost.
In addition, the standard-fit BMW ConnectedDrive portal continues to impress for its ability to integrate the car into working life through a variety of apps. It can integrate the user’s Outlook calendar into the navigation system and alert the driver if there are traffic problems on the route they’ll be taking that day, before they even get in the car. It’s also worth paying the £60 to add the Remote Services function that includes the ability to remote lock and unlock the car, locate it from within 1500 metres and send a Google search to the car’s navigation.
There’s plenty of storage space between the front seats, and larger rear passengers will find plentiful headroom and just about enough legroom.
Though the boot is the same 550 litres as that in the previous X3, BMW’s claims of it being a squarer and more usable space ring true, and there’s also now space beneath the boot floor to stash the load cover.
On paper, it’s a shame there isn’t any real emissions reduction, with CO2 stalled above the 130g/km mark for the dominant 20d engine; 132g/km for the SE due to its smaller wheels, and 138g/km for the higher trims. That’s actually 2g/km higher than the outgoing 20d model using the carryover diesel engine, although the new car sits in the same BIK tax band.
To drive, the X3 impresses pretty much across the board. The long-proven 190hp diesel engine popular across large swathes of BMW’s range is powerful and refined, and mated to a great eight-speed automatic transmission that doesn’t miss a beat. Ride quality is better than the previous car’s, although it’s still a touch hard. Nevertheless, it gives the car great composure and doesn’t compromise comfort as much as before in the search for a driving experience that’s sportier than most other SUVs’. The only weak point is a steering system that doesn’t always give the most linear of feedback and feel, especially noticeable when making small adjustments. The auto’s creep function is also a touch aggressive. But overall it’s an impressive all-rounder, with refinement to match any rival, especially at higher speeds.
The X3 enters a very competitive and high-quality marketplace, and fills the role of all-rounder. It’s not as efficient as several key rivals, and the X3’s residual value, while still comfortably over 40%, isn’t quite, according to Kee Resources, at the level of Audi and Volvo competitors. But top-spec SUVs equivalent to the X3 M Sport 20d are so competitively priced, with £1,650 covering the P11D of seven different models from the Volvo XC60 R-Design’s £40,200 to the Land Rover Discovery Sport HSE Black’s £41,850, that small differences in everything from residual to SMR, again not an X3 forte, can be decisive in whole-life-cost terms. SMR cost apart, the BMW isn’t poor on paper in any area, just in the pack across the board, and still relies on its impressive driving and brand qualities, and its connectivity and technology, as well as steps forward in interior quality in particular, to grab attention.
This is BMW’s third X3 SUV, with the first dating back to 2003, when BMW launched a little brother to its X5 off-roader. The growth of the sector and its progression into more and more worldwide markets can be depicted by the original car (pictured) selling 615,000 units worldwide before it was replaced in 2010, while the second-generation car managed 936,000 in its eight-year lifespan that ended last year.
In fact, 2017 was the car’s most successful year, despite a replacement model looming large by year end. In the UK, that equates to 9,000 of the 39,000 X-branded cars BMW registered in 2017.
Targets for the new model are set at 1.6 million units, and if it hits those it’ll account for around 12% of BMW’s total volume worldwide in 2019.
The X3 sits fairly centrally in a widening range of BMW ‘X’ products, from those humble days of just X3 and X5, the brand will soon cover off the numbers from one to seven when the X7 range-topper arrives late this year. The X2 launches imminently as a coupe-rooflined version of the baby X1, while the new X4 was recently unveiled and does the same coupe-styling trick on the X3.
What they said
What They Said
"I see the X3 as a fantastic car for the corporate sector. The overall market is moving towards flexibility, SUVs have had tremendous growth and this car is a driver’s car so you don’t need to sacrifice dynamics by having a SUV. It’s really exciting for us to have a car that steps up a gear."
"The outgoing car has been very successful for us; its reputation has sold itself. This new model will deliver a similar step-change as we saw from the first generation to second generation in materials, refinement, the way it’s built and its performance."
Steve Oliver, general manager, corporate sales, BMW Group UK
Need to know
Three things we like...
Interior quality and the usability of the infotainment both impress
There’s a good-sized storage area in the middle of the cabin
The soothing orange glow to the door trims is a pleasant touch
...And one we don't
It’s a shame the image of the car on the parking system is a 5-Series, not an X3
The X3 is another example of BMW offering the best-driving cars in a class, although the steering occasionally has an artificial feel.
Generally decent levels of kit from SE upwards, although it’s a shame Apple CarPlay connectivity and rear privacy glass aren’t standard.
Decent boot space, good stowage up-front and good rear headroom. Rear legroom just about suffices.
Premium quality options cost premium prices, but the range of ways to kit out an A8 is impressive. Our test car had more than £36,000 of optional extras.
The X3 is well proportioned and looks good, although it’s another example of cars gently evolving design-wise, and the change from the look of the previous X3 isn’t exactly stark.
Comfort and refinement 9/10
Refinement is excellent at high and low speeds, and the X3 rides better than its predecessors have done.
Great quality: the cabin looks and feels like the premium offering it is.
The infotainment system works sensibly and scores highly for usability. The optional CarPlay system had to be prompted rather than connecting automatically, but otherwise the system is clever and easy to navigate.
Whole life costs 7/10
Residuals are good in isolation but others are a touch ahead, and emissions haven’t moved on from those of the previous car. Others have better running costs.
CCT opinion 8/10
A very good all-rounder, the X3 improves in almost every area against its predecessor.
A car with few weaknesses, although it would have been nice if emissions had come down, and BMW could also have done more to make the new X3 look different.