BMW X3 Review
The BMW X3 proves that large, luxurious family-oriented SUVs can still have a sporty flavour and be fun to drive
Strengths & weaknesses
It’s easy to understand the appeal of the BMW X3. Although it’s not the largest SUV offered by BMW (there’s the X5 and the plush but expensive X7 for that) it is comfortably large enough for a growing family, yet it’s still compact enough not to feel like a bus in the city.
There is plenty of competition for your cash if you’re thinking of one, though, with the glitzy Mercedes GLC, elegant Volvo XC60 and the sporty Jaguar F-Pace all being appealing alternatives. There’s the Audi Q5, too, and the Land Rover Discovery Sport if you need a relatively compact SUV with seven seats.
Of all those, though, the BMW is the most sporty of the lot, so if you enjoy driving on empty country roads but still want the comforts of a luxury SUV and space for the family, this car will tick a lot of boxes for you. The sportier variants with bigger wheels and firmer suspension give the X3 a less comfortable ride than is the case with some rivals - notably the super-comfortable Volvo XC60 - but it’s still perfectly acceptable, and genuinely very comfortable indeed if you find one that’s been specified with the optional adaptive suspension.
There’s a choice of petrol, diesel and plug-in hybrid power and, as is often the case with BMWs, the available engines are generally excellent. The only slight caveat is that the entry-level petrol model - the 184hp xDrive20i petrol - feels a little underpowered as it attempts to haul along the X3’s substantial 1,875kg weight.
The entry-level xDrive20d 2.0-litre diesel is a better bet. With 190hp, it’s not significantly more powerful, but it develops its punch at lower engine speeds and is generally more muscular in nature. What’s more, it can manage claimed fuel economy of 47.9mpg - which is impressive for this size and weight of car - whereas the xDrive20i petrol model only provides 36.7mpg.
Higher-performance diesels are available in the form of the 265hp xDrive30d and the 326hp M40d, both of which use a smooth 3.0-litre six-cylinder motor, which suits the car well.
For more petrol power, you can look to the 360hp M40i, which can sprint from 0-62mph in just 4.9 seconds. The ultimate high-performance X3, though, is the X3 M Competition, with a substantial 510hp from its twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre engine. This can get from 0-62mph in a scarcely believable 3.8 seconds, which is seriously rapid for this type of car. It is a significant £25,000 more expensive than the next model down, the M40i, though, making it a costly choice.
There’s also a plug-in hybrid model, introduced early in 2020, which combines a total power output of 292hp, up to 30 miles of electric range per charge and an overall potential fuel economy figure of 134.5mpg. There is an electric version of the X3, too, badged as the iX3, although BMW markets this as a separate model.
The interior of the X3 is genuinely impressive. The fit and finish of materials is excellent, and the front seats are comfortable and supportive, even if you have to sit in them for long periods. The layout of the dashboard, meanwhile, is clear and the combination of the large central touchscreen media system and an 'iDrive' rotary controller makes it easy to access all of the car's information and entertainment functions on the move.
On M Sport trim and above you also get a digital instrument cluster in lieu of the more traditional analogue speedometer and rev counter. There’s plenty of standard equipment, too, with basic models getting luxuries such as three-zone climate control, cruise control, heated seats, LED headlights and automatic lights and wipers.
In terms of space, front-seat occupants are very well catered for and, provided there are only two people in the back seats, they get a good deal, too. Introduce a third passenger into the back seat, however, and leg and shoulder room gets a bit tight - the Audi Q5 and Volvo XC60 are more spacious in this respect.
Should I get a BMW X3?
✔ Feels well built inside and out
✔ Plenty of different engine options
✔ Decent levels of standard equipment
✘ Petrol engines are thirsty on fuel
✘ PCP finance is comparatively pricey
✘ Entry-level 20d diesel a bit noisy
SUVs as large as this are never going to feel as agile as a high-performance hatchback, but the X3 makes a decent fist of delivering a sporty driving experience - better than any rivals, with the arguable exception of the Jaguar-F Pace, which also offers an enjoyable drive.
Meanwhile, the plug-in hybrid models deliver the possibility of zero-emission running on short hops - provided you charge them first - and the diesel models promise great fuel efficiency over long runs.
- Models explained
- Trim levels
- Plug-in hybrid
- Best BMW X3 for...
- Boot space
- Should I buy used?
The X3 is BMW’s mid-sized family SUV offering. It’s more expensive, larger and comes with a broader range of more powerful engines than the smaller X1, and is four-wheel-drive only. It slots into the BMW family SUV range just below the large X5, even though it is almost the same size inside and out.
Power comes from a range of petrol and diesel engines with either four or six cylinders. While these engines are nothing dramatic on paper, the X3 offers strong performance for this type of car.
BMW X3 xDrive30e
Badged as the xDrive 30e, the plug-in hybrid version of the X3 combines a 2.0-litre 184hp petrol engine with an electric motor for a total power output of 292hp.
This, combined with the car’s 12kWh battery pack makes for a heavy package, but one that’s capable of accelerating from 0-62mph in a quick 6.1 seconds and delivering 30 miles of electric driving when fully charged up and driven gently.
BMW X3 M Competition
BMW’s fastest X3 only comes in high-spec Competition trim, and it uses the same engine as you’ll find in the M3 and M4 performance coupe and saloon. It’s quite a motor, too, delivering 510hp, which is enough to get this big SUV from 0-62mph in less than four seconds.
You’ll pay quite a big price for the privilege, though; when new this car was more than £25,000 more expensive than the next rung down the X3 ladder. In other words, it’s a whole VW Golf more than any other X3, so you'll have to really want such a speedy SUV to go for it.
|Limited stock: Calling SE trim ‘basic’ isn’t really fair - you get heated leather seats, three-zone climate control, cruise control, an electric tailgate, built-in sat-nav and 18-inch alloy wheels, among other goodies.
|Limited stock: xLine trim is the mid-spec point in the X3 range. With it you get 19-inch alloy wheels, silver side sills, sports seats and a larger fuel tank.
|From £17,250: M Sport brings more aggressive-looking sporty styling tweaks on the outside, stiffer, more sporty suspension, a larger central display screen and a digital instrument cluster in front of the driver.
|X3 M Competition
|From £17,250: The twin-turbocharged 510hp engine is the dominating factor in the X3 M Competition, though it also gets 21-inch alloy wheels and significant upgrades to the brakes and suspension to handle all that power.
The 3.0-litre, turbocharged six-cylinder petrol engine in the X3 M40i isn’t the most powerful in the range, nor is it the most fuel-efficient, but it blends performance, refinement, everyday usability and manageable running costs in a way that makes it the real sweet spot of the X3 range.
With 360hp, it’s capable of propelling the big X3 from 0-62mph in 4.9 seconds - as fast as all but the most manic hot hatches. At the same time, it should give you around 30mpg fuel economy - more if you drive it gently, which is impressive for a car of this size and performance. And it does all this while making a lovely silky growl when you work it hard - though the engine noise is never intrusive.
The plug-in hybrid version of the BMW X3 combines a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine (effectively the engine from the xDrive20i model) with a 109hp electric motor, for a total power output of 292hp.
This makes the big X3 a strong performer, but thanks to an 11kWh battery pack, it can go up to 30 miles without using the petrol engine at all when you start with a full charge. That’s not as good as some rivals can offer, but it’s more than enough for short shopping hops. You'll just have to charge it regularly to maximise how far you travel on electric power and to minimise how much petrol the car burns.
|BMW X3 xDrive20d SE: With SE trim being the entry-level version, you’ll maximise value for money without feeling short-changed in terms of standard equipment, while the entry-level diesel can deliver strong fuel economy of 40mpg+.
|BMW X3 xDrive30d xLine: Family load-lugging duties could well include towing a caravan, but even if it doesn’t you’ll be thankful for the extra power the xDrive30d diesel provides over the 20d when your car is full of people and luggage. The rugged xLine trim offers appealing extra kit for not much extra cash, too.
|BMW X3 M40i: The X3 M might be the performance pinnacle of the range, but in everyday driving situations the M40i is more than fast enough, is more comfortable and is more than £25,000 cheaper.
|BMW X3 xDrive20i M Sport: Top-spec M Sport looks good, but it implies a sporty performance that the xDrive20i petrol engine simply can’t deliver - it’s smooth enough, but simply doesn’t have the pulling power to make the big X3 feel sufficiently brisk, considering it's not that economical.
The key rivals to consider if you’re looking at an X3 are the Mercedes GLC, the Audi Q5 and the Volvo XC60. The Volvo exudes an understated Swedish elegance and is very comfortable to be in, but a little dull to drive, the Mercedes is more glitzy than the BMW, but not quite as much fun and the Audi Q5 is a solidly built and stylish car, but a little bland - although it holds onto its value very well, so is good value when it comes to low monthly PCP payments.
If you need seven seats but still want a premium badge on the bonnet and don’t want to resort to a much larger car such as the Mercedes GLE, then the smart-looking Land Rover Discovery Sport is a capable choice, though the rearmost two seats are best suited to children rather than adults.
If you’re considering the super-fast X3 M, then the Porsche Macan or Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio might also be on your shopping list - the Porsche feels like a more precise driving instrument, but the engine can’t match the BMW’s for sheer exuberance, while the Alfa Romeo has a fine engine and gorgeous styling, but the quality of the interior is likely to be a disappointment.
BMW X3 practicality: dimensions and boot space
The BMW X3 is 4,708mm long, 1,891mm wide (though it’s over 2.1 metres wide when you count the door mirrors) and 1,676mm tall. That makes it very similar in size to its key rivals, the Audi Q5, Mercedes GLC and Volvo XC60.
That also means that the X3 is quite a long, wide car, but standard parking sensors will help take the stress out of negotiating tight parking spaces with confidence.
The X3 is also about the same length as the BMW 3 Series Saloon, though it is a much taller car.
|Weight 1,875kg - 2,080kg
The BMW X3’s boot is a good size at 550 litres, with a usefully square shape and no loading lip so you can get suitcases or other heavy objects in and out with ease. There’s no sliding seat bench, however, which is something that features in both the Audi Q5 and Land Rover Discovery Sport.
Fold the rear seats down, though and you get a cavernous 1,600 litres of room. This makes it a useful family car - whether you mainly plan to carry passengers and a little luggage or occasionally need to drop the rear seats and fit supersized loads inside.
You lose quite a lot of boot space in the plug-in hybrid model, however - at around 100 litres - since the battery pack sits beneath the boot floor, making the boot itself rather more shallow than in other X3 models
|Seats up 450-550 litres
|Seats down 1,500-1,600 litres
The BMW X3 itself was praised by owners for its engines and iDrive controller - which controls the car’s information and entertainment functions - but overall the car only ranked 61st out of 75 models surveyed.
BMWs get a three-year warranty from new, with an unlimited mileage level - while rivals Mercedes and Audi cap their warranties at 60,000 miles.
AVERAGE REPAIR COST PAID BY WARRANTYWISE: £721
As a used car the X3 is pretty tempting if you’re a cash buyer; it tends to lose its value more quickly from new than similarly priced rivals such as the Porsche Macan, Audi Q5 and Land Rover Discovery Sport, so cash prices seem appealingly low.
The downside to this is that the X3 is likely to continue to drop in value faster than rivals, especially if you’re considering a nearly new example. This also means that monthly PCP finance costs may be relatively high in some cases. However, the X3 is an excellent all-rounder, offering a practical and high-quality cabin, decent comfort and an enjoyable drive, along with a broad range of standard equipment. As a result, it is a wise choice for many drivers after an upmarket medium SUV.
Our second-hand pick of the bunch is the xDrive20d in top-spec M Sport guise, since the is by far the most popular variant and gives you the best value for money both in terms of running costs and typical monthly payments.
BuyaCar prices Limited stock
If you want the best balance of decent running costs and overall resale value, the X3 xDrive20d in smart-looking M Sport trim is a desirable configuration, plus can deliver impressive fuel economy of up to 45mpg in everyday driving.
If you’re after a slightly faster model and aren’t too worried about fuel economy, then the 360hp M40i is definitely worth a look. It’s certainly a lot better value for money than the 510hp X3M Competition. And if you want good performance with better fuel economy then the diesel M40d is pretty much as fast as the M40i but can deliver almost 40mpg.
The plug-in hybrid on the other hand, despite a headline fuel economy figure of 140mpg, is only really worth it if you’re a company car user and/or the majority of your journeys are relatively short and you can charge the car at home regularly. Otherwise, you won’t make the most of the car’s electric range and will end up lugging the weight of the battery and electric motor around with little economy benefit to having them.
*Representative PCP finance - 2018 Ford Fiesta 1.0 ST-Line Hatchback:
|PCP representative example
|APR rates available
|Cash price £12,000
|Value of loan
|Fixed monthly payment £218.12
|Annual mileage of 8,000pa
|Total cost of credit £2,755.55
|Term 48 months
|Optional final payment £4,285.79
|Loan value £12,000
|Total amount payable £14,755.55
BuyaCar is a credit broker, not a lender. Our rates start from 6.9% APR. The rate you are offered will depend on your individual circumstances.