BMW X3 (2010-2018) Review
You don’t have to give up on a sporty feel with a relatively large, family-friendly SUV with a touch of luxury, as the BMW X3 proves
Strengths & weaknesses
The BMW X3 is a car that holds a very broad appeal. As a fairly large SUV (it’s actually not significantly smaller than the more expensive BMW X5 that was sold at the same time) it works fantastically as a family car, it feels suitably upmarket (as it should, given the badge on the nose), and it’s nimble, stable and quick (at least with the more powerful engines) which makes it good fun to drive. It also has the lofty driving position and chunky styling that is so integral to the appeal of SUVs.
The version built between 2010 and 2018 improves significantly on the model before it, with much more cohesive styling, better build quality and a far more comfortable ride. All of which is a good thing, because this generation of the X3 was on sale for a full eight years - a long time for a car to go without a major redesign.
Early on in its life, the X3 had fewer rivals, with the competent but slightly dull Audi Q5 and popular Volvo XC60 being the main ones. Towards the end of this version’s life, though, both the Volvo and the Audi had been significantly updated and the was further competition in the form of the equally sporty Jaguar F-Pace, and the smart-looking Mercedes GLC.
Because this version of the X3 was originally launched at a time when around half of all new cars sold were powered by a diesel engine, this is the only fuel choice - there’s no petrol option and no hybrid model available. Fortunately, that’s not too much of an issue, since the relaxed power delivery of a diesel engine - where most of the punch comes at low engine speeds - really suits a large, relatively hefty SUV like the X3.
The X3 was initially available as the 184hp 20d, with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel engine or as the 30d or 35d, which both had 3.0-litre six-cylinder diesels with 258hp and 313hp respectively. A lower-specification 18d with just 143hp and rear-wheel-drive (all other X3s have four-wheel-drive) was introduced in 2012.
A minor design refresh in 2014 brought slightly more powerful versions of the 2.0-litre diesel engine, meaning that the 18d now had 150hp and the 20d 190hp. Gearbox options are a six-speed manual and an eight-speed automatic.
Up until 2014, you could choose between SE or M Sport trim levels. The SE gets 17-inch alloy wheels, leather seats, dual-zone climate control and a 6.5-inch central media system controlled by BMW’s iDrive rotary controller - making this system easier to use while driving than many other systems where you have to tap away at the screen. Upgrade to the M Sport and there’s slightly more sporty exterior styling, sports seats, firmed-up sports suspension and 18-inch alloy wheels.
From 2014, SE models also got heated seats in the front, built-in sat-nav, and an electrically powered tailgate. There was also now an xLine trim level, with a few styling tweaks and plusher leather, while M Sport cars now featured 19-inch alloy wheels. The ride on the M Sport cars is rather firm, but that can be addressed if you find one that was specified from new with the optional adaptive suspension package, which allows you to adjust how firm the ride is.
The classy design, sense of space and a dash of luxury means a ride in an X3 is a treat for front seat passengers, while those in the rear will be perfectly happy as long as there are only two of them. Add a third adult, and the middle seat passenger will struggle for legroom and shoulder room.
Should I get a BMW X3?
✔ Fun to drive for a large SUV
✔ Muscular and smooth diesel engines
✔ Plenty of standard equipment
✘ Interior of later models a bit out of date
✘ Rivals are more spacious in the rear
✘ No petrol or hybrid options available
The BMW X3 is made via an uncomplicated recipe: make it big enough for a family, provide muscular yet economical diesel engines, ensure it’s more fun to drive than most of its rivals and give it a suitably lofty driving position.
The result is a capable and attractive large SUV that will look good on your driveway, impress the neighbours, deliver reasonable running costs and be good fun to drive.
Yes, there are more spacious options, and the newest examples of this generation of the X3 feel a bit dated compared with fresher competition from Mercedes and Volvo in particular, but if you want an upmarket SUV that’s fun to drive, it’s an easy one to recommend.
- Trim levels
- Best BMW X3 for...
- Boot space
- Should I buy used?
|BMW X3 SE
|Limited stock: SE trim on the X3 still brings plenty of goodies with it, including dual-zone climate control, leather seats and 17-inch alloy wheels. Later models get built-in sat-nav, too.
|BMW X3 xLine
|Limited stock: xLine trim was introduced in 2014 and features 18-inch alloy wheels, upgraded leather trim and some unique exterior details.
|BMW X3 M Sport
|From £17,250: With the M Sport trim, you get sports seats, uprated suspension, unique styling and 19-inch alloy wheels on post-2014 cars.
The most impressive engine in the all-diesel X3 lineup is the 3.0-litre six-cylinder model in the xDrive35d. This smooth-spinning diesel delivers an impressive 313hp, which is good enough to allow it to sprint from 0-62mph in just 5.3 seconds, which is on par with many sports cars.
If you have enough space (and no speed limit to worry about), it can push the X3 all the way to a top speed of 152mph, which is quite amazing for a tall and relatively boxy SUV. While you may never get anywhere near this speed, having such a muscular engine makes accelerating along slip roads very easy and overtaking tractors on country roads stress-free.
The icing on the cake if you opt for a 35d, however, is its claimed fuel economy of 47.1mpg, which makes it very nearly as fuel-efficient as the lower-powered 30d. If economy is top of your wishlist, however, the 20d 2.0-litre diesel is a sensible choice. It's more than punchy enough for most drivers but offers greater fuel economy and lower purchase costs.
|BMW X3 sDrive 18d: If you’re after the best possible fuel economy, the two-wheel-drive 18d in post-update 150hp form is the car to go for - it’s theoretically capable of 60.1mpg overall, which is very impressive for a car of this type.
|BMW X1 xDrive 20d SE: You really don’t need to look further than entry-level SE spec for family motoring; there’s plenty of standard equipment, and the economical 2.0-litre diesel in the 20d is smooth and sufficiently powerful for everyday family transport duties.
|BMW X3 xDrive 35d: The muscular nature of the smooth-sounding six-cylinder diesel in the 35d is truly impressive. Its 313hp power output is enough to get the car from 0-62mph in just 5.3 seconds; as fast as any hot hatch and many out-and-out sports cars.
|BMW X3 xDrive30d M Sport: The six-cylinder 30d suffers by being not as powerful as the 35d, nor as fuel-efficient as the four-cylinder 20d. The firm ride of M Sport trim can be irritating, too.
The BMW X3’s closest rivals are the Audi Q5 and Mercedes GLC, though both are less fun to drive than the BMW. The Volvo XC60 was significantly redesigned during the life of this version of the X3 - earlier models a reasonable enough, but less well thought out and well put-together than the BMW. XC60s from 2017 onwards, however, ooze Scandinavian cool, have a beautifully thought-out interior, and are great if you want something that’s a little more comfortable and a little less sporty.
If you want seven seats without heading towards a much bigger body style, then the Land Rover Discovery Sport is well worth a look, too. Despite the 'Sport' in its name, the Discovery Sport is less sharp to drive than the BMW and majors on comfort over performance.
BMW X3 practicality: dimensions and boot space
The BMW X3 is 4,657mm long, 1,881mm wide (though over 2,000mm if you count the door mirrors) and 1,678mm tall. This means that it’s practically identical to the Mercedes GLC, Volvo XC60 and Audi Q5 when it comes to exterior size.
It is noticeably more compact than the contemporary X5, which is around 20cm longer and more than 10cm wider, though it's very similar to the original X5 from 2001. Overall, this generation of X3 provides a big-car feel in terms of looks and presence, while being much smaller and easier to drive than larger SUVs.
Although this version of the X3 is about the size of a BMW 3 Series saloon, it offers a more airy-feeling interior, largely due to its extra height.
|Weight 1,660kg - 1,860kg
A decent-sized and well-shaped boot is a definite plus for the X3, as it offers 550 litres of room with the rear seats in place, and 1,600 litres of space when you fold the rear seats down. You can also partially fold the rear seats down, as the rear splits in three parts, which could be useful if you need to mix long loads and rear-seat passengers.
Although the boot space in the X3 is pretty substantial, it’s no bigger than the boot in the Mercedes GLC, Audi Q5 or Land Rover Discovery Sport. The X3 does offer more room than you’ll get in the back of an XC60, however.
|Seats up 550 litres
|Seats down 1,600 litres
Back in 2015, the Auto Express magazine Driver Power owner satisfaction survey ranked the BMW X3 in the top quarter of the 200 models surveyed. More specifically in came 38th overall for reliability and 45th for build quality.
That’s a solid score for a BMW model, a brand that doesn’t always post stellar results in reliability surveys. Upmarket German brands often don't perform that highly, potentially as high list prices bring with them high expectations from drivers.
All X3s of this era will now be out of their original standard factory warranty, however, so if you want an SUV of this age that's still covered by its manufacturer warranty, you’d need to look at the longer warranties offered by SUVs from Hyundai such as the Tucson or Santa Fe (five years) or Kia’s Sportage and Sorento (seven years).
AVERAGE REPAIR COST PAID BY WARRANTYWISE: £721
Given this BMW’s solid reputation for reliability, and its relatively low running costs - especially in the case of the 2.0-litre 18d and 20d models - an X3 is a tempting used buy, even in the case of versions that have covered a reasonably high mileage.
Remember, though, that older cars might have lower initial price tags, but they can still have parts and labour costs that are more akin to what the car cost new. In short - BMWs can be expensive to maintain and repair. Find the best example you can with good service history and it should deliver solid service, but it’s wise to ensure you’ve the protection of an extended warranty if you're after maximum peace of mind.
The four-cylinder 20d is comfortably the most popular engine, while the sporty-looking M Sport is the most popular trim level. Go for a 20d M Sport, therefore, and you’ll have the widest choice of used cars, which should mean you'll be able to find some good deals.
Even though the mid-spec 20d (admittedly in high-spec M Sport trim) is the most common version of the X3 and a good option if you don't need anything particularly fast, it’s worth seeking out the six-cylinder xDrive35d with its punchy 313hp six-cylinder engine if you want something with a bit more zing.
The 30d model is fine, but a lot slower than the 35d so not as satisfying to drive. The 18d, meanwhile, is a bit of a rarity and feels a little bit underpowered compared with the more muscular 20d - and it’s not really much more efficient either.
The SE entry-level trim is somewhat rarer than M Sport trim, but it’s well equipped and represents good value, so is worth considering if you don’t mind not having the M Sport’s chunkier styling.
*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
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