As I write this, Ireland has been rocked by severe cold weather. At times the roads were virtually impassable and drivers were on tenterhooks as they worried about losing control. It couldn't have been a better time to have the keys to BMW's new X3 to hand. Especially as it was fitted with winter tyres.
Inside & Out: 7/10
There is nothing daring, unusual or (whisper it) interesting about the exterior of the new X3. It's somewhat at odds with the rest of the BMW range in that way, but it does one thing very well: it mimics the BMW X5. Many casual observers will think it's the bigger car at first glance and that will please buyers no end.
It's not a trick either, as the new BMW X3 is bigger than the outgoing car. That's even more noticeable from inside, where there's loads of room for five. Head- and legroom is generous regardless of which seat you're in and the boot is big - if not exactly cavernous. There's plenty of space for your bits and pieces in the cabin and several nooks in the boot too. The rear seats easily fold flat to free up a sizable volume for carrying big objects.
While we never had an issue with space in the previous X3, we did criticise it for its relatively low perceived quality. This time around things are different and BMW has given the X3 a cabin befitting its price tag. Again there's nothing radical about it, but the materials used are better than before and it feels like the interior of a car that sits between the BMW 3 Series and 5 Series. Cleverly, BMW has ensured that the X5 still retains more of a luxury car ambience than its 'little' brother.
Engine & Transmission: 8/10
While many of us prefer to drive a manual car, there's no denying that automatic gearboxes have improved markedly of late. The eight-speed transmission fitted to our test car is a real gem. In its default mode it slurs smoothly between changes and likes to select as high a gear as possible to reduce fuel consumption. Move the tactile lever to the left and you're in Sport mode, where gears are held onto longer and the down-changes are a little more aggressive. From there you can take over selecting the gears for yourself, which was useful in the icy conditions.
BMW will eventually offer other engines in the X3, but it may as well not bother in Ireland, as the venerable 2.0-litre, four-cylinder unit is all buyers need. In an ideal world it would sound more like one of BMW's six-cylinder turbodiesels, but we can't have everything. It has plenty of low-down urge and the car never feels slow. It's refined most of the time too.
Ride & Handling: 8/10
I don't want to harp on too much about the X3's predecessor, but anyone familiar with the car will acknowledge that, while it was good to drive, it compromised on comfort. The new model retains a sense of agility, but its ride comfort is far superior.
Most of our week with the car there was ice and snow on the roads and we were thankful that the BMW X3 was fitted with winter tyres. These, coupled with the car's four-wheel drive system, meant that we didn't get into a single situation where there was any danger of getting stuck. That included a trip up into the Wicklow Mountains through deep snow and (actually more scary) driving up and down Dublin City's hills as others struggled to go in their intended direction. It really was a formidable combination.
Equipment, Economy & Value for Money: 7/10
Nigh on fifty grand is a lot of money in anyone's book, so the BMW X3 is obviously not a cheap car for the masses. However, it is better value than its predecessor, with more equipment as standard and a lower entry-level price. The automatic version actually emits slightly lower CO2 than the manual X3, but they both sit in Band C for road tax. That's not bad at all for the size of the car.
Given the time of year and conditions, it's no surprise that we failed to get near the official fuel consumption figures: we averaged 34mpg in a week spent in slow traffic and around town in freezing conditions. Expect a lot better with more motorway use.
Standard equipment includes 17-inch alloys, dual-zone climate control, iDrive system with colour screen (but no satnav), cruise control, leather seats and multi-function steering wheel, parking sensors front and rear, automatic lights and wipers, start-stop (even on the automatic) and four-wheel drive.
Dear Santa, I've been a very good boy this year and I'd really like it if you could put the keys of a new BMW X3 in my stocking. Fitted with winter tyres...
BMW X3 xDrive20d automatic
- Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel
- Maximum power: 184hp at 4,000rpm
- Maximum torque: 380Nm at 1,750- 2,750rpm
- Acceleration (0-100km/h): 8.5 seconds
- Maximum speed: 210km/h
- Fuel economy (combined cycle): 5.6 litres/100km (50.4mpg)
- CO2 emissions: 147g/km
- Motor tax band: C
- Annual road tax: €302
- Retail price: €48,906 for automatic model (€45,810 for manual)