You’ve no doubt heard it all before – SUVs are the fastest growing segment and manufacturers are scrambling to cash in. But not quite so for BMW, which has a well established foothold in the SUV segment – its X5 was one of the first SUV to break new gorund when it came here 18 years ago and the marque is one of the most established players in that space.
Since then, the German brand has expanded its high-riding stable to offer something for everyone ranging from the X1, X2, X3, X4, X5 and X6. The new X7 isn’t far away either.
The latest X3, now in its third-generation, has grown into the dimensions of the original segment-breaking X5 and at a quick glance you’d be forgiven for missing that this is a new model. But step inside and things are different. It’s a little larger, more refined and the nuts and bolts feel better put together.
Vehicle Style: Premium medium SUV
Price: $68,900 plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 140kW/400Nm 2.0-litre 4cyl turbo diesel | 8spd automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 5.7 l/100km As tested: 6.6 l/100km
Despite being built on an all-new platform, the core of BMW’s exterior design aesthetic hasn’t been messed with and Australian designer Kelvin Luk restricted pen work to updating key elements such as the iconic kidney grille, as well as massaging hiplines and curves.
The changes add up to more presence on the road and a more aggressive yet premium appearance that contemporary SUVs aspire to.
The xDrive20d on test sits one step above the entry level sDrive20i. Whereas the entry-grade is rear-wheel drive (sDrive) with a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol, the 20d gets the same size turbo engine but it’s diesel and drives all-four wheels (xDrive) through an eight-speed automatic transmission.
It’s also equipped with partial leather electrically adjustable seats, wireless phone charging, 18-inch alloys, heads-up display, reversing camera, three-zone climate control, rear parking sensors and 6.5-inch infotainment system with satellite navigation.
Priced from $68,900 without options the entry-level diesel is competitively priced but the car you see here has $19,000 worth of extra kit on it. (Something that’s just as easy to do with rival vehicles too).
Add on the light and airy panoramic sunroof ($3000), Cognac leather seat trim ($2500), Metallic paint, M-Sport pack with bodykit, black exterior ascents, 19-inch alloys and adaptive dampers ($4550) and Innovation pack that adds keyless entry, adaptive LED headlights, parking assist and digital instrument display and the competitive entry-level price evaporates.
But in standard trim there’s still the same level of refinement and quality materials are used throughout, plus some nice standard driver assist technology such as adaptive cruise control, AEB, speed sign recognition, lane departure warning and lane keeping assist are included.
The diesel is also either on par or better than competitors, producing 140kW and 400Nm – producing plenty of shove but a far cry from the impressive 195kW/620Nm xDrive30d – and it’s fairly frugal, drinking a claimed 5.7L/100km.
- xDrive20d: Partial leather seat trim, three-zone climate control, rain sensing wipers, keyless start, 18-inch alloy wheels, wireless phone charging, heads-up display, reversing camera, rear parking sensors.
- Infotainment: 6.5-inch touchscreen, DAB+, AM/FM radio, Bluetooth connectivity, wireless Apple Carplay (optional annual subscription) USB and Aux input, six-speaker audio
- Cargo Volume: 550 litres to rear seats, 1600 litres to front seats
Fourteen years on since the first X3 landed in Australia and the core elements of BMW's interior design are present in the latest iteration. Technology has had a generous boost though, and the fit and feel of nearly every surface, button and lever has improved ten-fold. The X3 feels properly premium – no doubt enhanced by the options – but refinement of BMW’s universally shared interior layout offers a more relaxing space compared to the minimalist Q5, though not quite as elegant as the GLC.
BMW might be reaching the peak of what it can do with this design, but it hits the mark here.
Space has improved slightly over the previous generation too, with a longer wheelbase liberating space in-between the seats, though the boot hasn’t grown. A sign of the changing times, the X3 isn’t at all much larger than the 3 Series sedan except for added clearance and height, but it’s the taller dimension that adds a spacious feeling – enhanced no doubt by the large panoramic sunroof – that’s perfect for putting some breathing space between a growing family.
The front pews are well finished, and electrical adjustments for height, pitch and bolstering gives a snug fit for small and large bodies. The rear seats offer the same level of comfort with simpler adjustment, but leg room is generous, and this is as spacious a car as the original X5 it effectively replaces for size.
Storage is plentiful front and back and large cup holders, door pockets and a deep console bin are made for swallowing the piles of devices and toys of modern day living. There’s also a couple of USB charging ports and wireless charging pad upfront that compliments BMW’s (annual subscription) wireless Apple CarPlay, a unique offering in the segment.
The colour heads-up display is crisp and clear, projected onto the windscreen and providing information for navigation directions, music playlist and speed sign recognition overlay. The optional digital dash fitted to this test vehicle is nicer than the analogue dials of base models and adds even more information with lightly customisable layout.
The boot offers 550L of space and the handy 40:20:40 split-fold seats expand that to 1600L, on par with both the Q5 and GLC.
Practical and spacious summarise the interior, but the level of refinement depends on how far you’re prepared to dig into the wallet.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 140kW/400Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel
- Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
- Suspension: Macpherson strut front, torsion beam rear (2.0-litre) or multilink independent rear (1.6-litre turbo)
- Brakes: 280mm ventilated front discs, 262mm solid rear discs
- Steering: Electric power steering, 10.6m turning circle
- Towing Capacity: 2000kg braked, 750kg unbraked, 130kg towball load
Entry-level diesel engines are rarely inspiring and as far as performance goes the 20d here is nothing exciting. But it’s refined and quiet inside the cabin, and the new lighter platform the car is built on helps the 140kW/400Nm oiler reach 100km/h in 8.0 seconds.
Around town that equates to practical acceleration where you need it and the eight-speed automatic, which is a great unit, makes the most of the 400Nm of torque for high demand situations like overtaking at faster speeds.
Add a few adults and some cargo in the boot and the diesel will chug along unnerved, and for bigger trips the X3 can tow up to 2000kg.
For more exciting driving the M-Sport package equipped to this vehicle brings adaptive suspension that changes the suspension from firm (sport) to compliant (comfort). But even without firming up the suspension, which highlights the slightly jittery 19-inch 245/50 run-flat tyres, the X3 has a naturally dynamic ride that’s composed when pushing along.
The all-wheel drive system adds confidence too, but unlike setups that only kick-in the rear-wheels when the system detects slippery conditions, xDrive is always on, sending around 40 per cent of power to the front wheels and the rest to the back. Audi’s new Q5 uses a trick new ‘Quattro ultra’ to disconnect the rear axle entirely for better fuel economy, but the X3 returned 6.6L/100km after a mixture of driving that’s not far off the most frugal units in real world use.
The steering feel is light and not overly connected to the road but is accurate and responsive, however the lane keeping assist was more intrusive than helpful on country roads and had a tendency to steer onto or over lines. Adaptive cruise control worked well though and the driver assist features can be toggled on and off.
ANCAP Rating: The BMW X3 has been awarded a five-star ANCAP rating.
Safety Features: All X3 variants are equipped with seven airbags (dual front, front seat side, full-length curtain), electronic stability and traction control, ABS brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution, tyre pressure monitoring, rear park sensors, and a rear view camera.
The xDrive 20d is also equipped with adaptive cruise control, low-speed AEB, blind spot monitoring, speed sign recognition, lane departure warning and lane keeping assist.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/unlimited kilometres
Servicing: Service intervals occur every 12 months or 10,000km (whichever occurs first) with optional five-year 80,000 servicing program offered at a capped price of $1495. Consult your BMW dealer for full terms, and conditions.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The Audi Q5 was recently updated and offers a similar package with a more modern interior design and overall better tech but it doesn’t feel as refined inside. And its raging success means it might not feel as exclusive among the vast SUV sea.
The Mercedes-GLC is the most premium and classy inside of the bunch but its sleek exterior design sacrifices some interior ambience.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
BMW is a battle-hardened player in the SUV space and it shows. The new X3 focuses on expanding areas that matter - space, comfort, storage and technology -while sticking to what it knows elsewhere.
The engine is one of BMW’s best entry-level diesels yet and while not inspiring it doesn’t feel cheated on power and refinement. Aesthetic updates are only modest but accentuate the best bits of what were already there, adding to a more thoughtful offering than before.
MORE: BMW News and Reviews