The sleek new X3 has matured into its looks and features this oversized grille
With three more new SUVs in the pipeline for next year, BMW looks set to capitalise on the crossover/4×4 sales boom with a new product range like few other manufacturers.
And before 2018 even gets going we’ve got this new X3 to contend with. If the X3 had a slightly inauspicious start to life back in 2003 that certainly has not held it back since.
Despite the outgoing model’s age, 2016 was its best ever sales year and BMW expects around 11,000 examples of this third-generation X3 to leave its showrooms next year.
That is on top of the 1.5 million-odd X3s that have been sold worldwide over the past 14 years. Not that its rivals are exactly pushovers, mind you.
As well as there being very strong contenders in the premium market in the form of the new Audi Q5 and Volvo XC60, there is also the Mercedes GLC, Porsche Macan and new Range Rover Velar.
This class of car is not short on talent. So at least this new X3 has looks on its side. Having grown to the same size as the original X5, the new X3 has matured into its looks, even if the prominent oversized grille is not to everyone’s liking.
That isn’t the only thing that has changed on this X3 either. Out has gone the entry-level two-wheel drive model, leaving all new X3s with four-wheel drive, plus there is now a choice of two petrol and two turbo-diesel engines.
The former are made up of a 2.0-litre petrol (introduced by BMW which half-expects the next Budget to punish diesels) and also a new 360bhp 3.0-litre in the form of the first-ever M Performance X3.
That’s enough to race the X3 from 0 to 60mph in 4.8 seconds and on to a 155mph top speed if your wallet can bear the brunt of the 34.5mpg average fuel economy.
While that M40i might grab attention it’s the two turbo-diesels – in 2.0 and 3.0-litre forms – that will bag the majority of sales. With economy and emissions at 56.5mpg and 132g/km respectively for the 190bhp 2.0-litre model, it makes a good case for itself.
The new BMW X3 offers a generous 550-litre boot capacity
The only noticeable absence is that of a tax-effi cient hybrid model, as with the XC60, to please business drivers. Thankfully a fully-electric X3 is expected in 2019 followed by a plug-in hybrid for 2020.
On the road the new X3 certainly feels refi ned enough, with the cabin well insulated from road and wind noise and the engine kept under wraps too.
The 3.0-litre diesel also provides plenty of low-down grunt and is well matched to the eight-speed automatic gearbox. By comparison the M40i has a gruffer exhaust note, hinting at its more sporting intentions.
What the X3 doesn’t do, though, is reward the driver with masses of enjoyment, or much information about what the car is doing beneath them.
It is unquestionably more refi ned than its predecessor but with a high driving position (more of which in a moment) the X3 can sometimes feel a little top heavy when cornering with any level of enthusiasm.
The already high-standard interior is better than ever
There is plenty of grip there, together with little body roll but exploiting either of those attributes means a considerably less comfortable drive than either you or your passengers are likely to want to put up with.
That weightier feel on the road and through the steering underlines how this latest X3 might perhaps be a little less sporty in its driving experience than before but the fl ip side to that is that additional refinement.
It is also echoed inside the BMW too, which is where the steps forward have been even greater. BMW’s interiors just seem to get better and better and this new X3 is no exception.
From the excellent build quality to the materials used and the clarity of the dials and instruments, it is a superb place to be and we especially like the matt-fi nish wood trim alongside the X3-embossed alloy door panels.
Also new to the X3 is the same gesture control function as the 5 and 7 Series for the infotainment system. After the fi rst time of using it purely for the gimmick factor, with controls also on the steering wheel and on the dashboard itself, we question why anyone would use it again.
After that it becomes more of a hindrance than a help – often being activated by mistake. But that isn’t true of the X3’s accommodation levels. The front seats have plenty of head and legroom, although they don’t go low enough for us, even in their lowest setting.
The BMW X3 at the Frankfurt Auto Show
There is also a heated steering wheel and heated seats in the front and rear. Even with the large panoramic roof fi tted there is enough space in the back seats for one 6ft-tall adult to sit behind another.
We also like the handy bottle holders in all four doors. Continuing the practicality theme there is also a decent-sized boot: 550 litres with the rear seats up and 1,600 litres with them lowered.
There are also useful pull handles on the side of the boot to lower the rear seats, although there is no spare wheel of any kind, only useless filler. Overall it’s hard not to come away with a huge amount of admiration of this third-generation BMW X3.
Just like the Audi Q5, Mercedes GLC and Volvo XC60, there is no real bad car to choose in this premium 4×4 sector.
Add the Range Rover Velar and Porsche Macan into that mix and it becomes an even tougher choice to make.
But when BMW is about to have an X model-filled 2018 – with the arrival of the X2, X4 and X7 into showrooms – for us this brilliant new X3 looks like one of the best ways to kick-off that forthcoming next generation of BMW’s X models.
● Model: BMW X3
● Price range: £37,980- £51,280
● Engine range: Petrol – 2.0, 3.0-litre; Turbo-diesel – 2.0, 3.0-litre
● Power: 0 to 60mph in 4.8 seconds, 155mph top speed (3.0 petrol)
● Average fuel economy: 56.5mpg (2.0TD)
● CO2 emissions range: 132-188g/km
● Rivals: Audi Q5, Mercedes GLC, Porsche Macan, Volvo XC60
● Rating: 9/10