BMW X3 emerges from the shadows
Can the revamped X3 finally compete with rival offerings from Audi and Land Rover? Geraldine Herbert puts it to the test
The X5 was a huge success for BMW so it came as no surprise when they unveiled a smaller version. But when the X3 hit our showrooms in 2004, it proved a huge disappointment.
Instead of a shrunken X5, what arrived was an awkward-looking car, awash with harsh plastic inside. Things improved in 2010 with the second generation and now further enhanced for 2015; so can the new X3 finally emerge from the shadow of its big brother, the X5?
Styling changes are not immediately apparent, and include restyled headlamps and a new more prominent kidney-grille. Other subtle retouches have been made to the front and rear bumpers while the LED indicators are now housed in the new exterior mirrors. Four new exterior colours and five new wheel designs broaden the scope for individualisation.
The cabin is classy and well finished throughout. Space is good in the front, and rear passengers won't complain about legroom but while it is possible to accommodate three in the back, it is more suitable for two as the transmission tunnel seriously compromises legroom. All three seats fold down individually and the boot can swallow 550 litres, and 1,600 litres with the seats folded.
The X3 feels much more like a car than an off-roader and the high driving position makes for great visibility. It drives very well and feels much lighter and more agile than its size would suggest. Even through hard bends, it is beautifully controlled. Despite all this comfort, it is also reasonably competent off road, as a drive across some grassy terrain in the Curragh proved.
Powering our test car was the new 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel engine that is not only more refined but also more powerful and frugal. It produces 190bhp, 400Nm of torque and goes from standstill to 100km in just over eight seconds. According to BMW, it will return five litres per 100km or 56.5 mpg and CO2 emissions are 138g/km.
Options include a new entry-level sDrive 18d that promises 60.1mpg and CO2 emissions of just 124g/km, but it is rear-wheel drive only and the least powerful of the range. There is also a 3.0-litre to choose from, but if you want serious performance, the range-topping X3 xDrive35d, with over 300bhp and more than 600Nm of torque, is the one to choose.
The new BMW X3 is available in SE, xLine and M Sport trim levels. Standard equipment is good and includes Nevada leather upholstery, two-zone air conditioning, cruise control, DAB radio, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, 17-inch alloy wheels, front and rear PDC, drive performance control, rain sensor and automatic headlights.
Our test car was equipped with the top trim M Sport and a starting price of €55,910, which is fairly competitive when you look at rivals with similar power and top level specs. Volvo's XC60 starts at €54,545, a similar Audi Q5 starts just over €55,000 and a comparable Discovery Sport from Land Rover will cost more than €58,000. However, options on the X3 are expensive and our test car came with a media package and navigation system, adding €2,454, while other extras including a reversing camera, auto-dimming mirrors and extended storage, which pushed the price of our options to more than €8,000, giving a total price of €62,866.
While the X3 may not have the road presence of the X5 or the sportiness of the X6, it is a vast improvement on the previous version. For smart styling, a spacious interior and impressive road performance, the X3 is one to consider for the style-conscious family.