As BMW's SUV range expands, the new, third-generation X3 remains a keystone with plenty of practicality and enough quality to warrant a high asking price. Here we test drive the 2.0-litre diesel engine that is expected to be the biggest seller in Ireland.
In the Metal:
Previous versions of the BMW X3 were guilty of being less than stunning in the looks department. Even so, the outgoing model notched up over 936,000 sales, with its final year of production proving its most successful. Proof, if it was needed, that the SUV craze isn't subsiding anytime soon.
The new BMW X3 gets a look that highlights the company's usual styling cues. Up front, the kidney grilles are enlarged and accommodate 'Active Air Stream' technology that keeps them shut during cold starts to get the engine up to operating temperature more quickly. New headlights that add visual width to the car are capped off by a more contoured bonnet. Along the side there's the now familiar vent behind the front wheel to aid airflow, one of the many features that make this the most aerodynamic car in its class, according to BMW.
At the back, the 2.0-litre X3 gets circular exhausts, this time one on each side, improving the car's symmetry. The 550-litre boot has a more squared shape than its predecessor's, making it marginally more practical and it includes useful features like a dedicated storage area underneath for the parcel shelf.
Irish buyers can choose between SE, M Sport and xLine specifications. The first two will already be familiar, while xLine adds more ruggedness to the outside of the X3. Metallic looking bash plates on the front and rear bumpers, as well as the side sills, are complemented by grey window frame surrounds.
The interior is similar to that of the current BMW 5 Series, with which the X3 shares some of its underpinnings. It strikes a good balance between functional buttons and a more substantial (now touchscreen) infotainment system on higher grade models. The iDrive rotary controller remains and BMW also offers voice control, so there are plenty of ways to carry out tasks inside the car. M Sport models benefit from a new sports seat design that is quite comfortable, too. Rear passenger headroom is claimed to be best in class and buyers can also add a panoramic glass sunroof that is now 25 centimetres longer than before. Throughout the car fit and finish of the materials seems to be to a high standard.
Having offered rear-wheel-drive versions of the last generation X3, BMW has made all-wheel drive standard across the range this time around. Also becoming a standard fit item is the eight-speed automatic transmission including steering wheel paddle shifters on all models. We've already driven the more powerful BMW X3 30d and range-topping BMW X3 M40i, so now we turn our attention to the 2.0-litre diesel, an engine that should prove to be the most popular choice among Irish buyers.
The four-cylinder unit has less weight sitting over the front axle than the six-cylinder alternative, which helps the nose turn into corners. Traction rarely seems an issue thanks to the xDrive system. It splits power delivery in a 40/60 front-to-rear bias, so there's still more of a rear-wheel-drive sensation when hustling the X3 along with greater enthusiasm. When any loss of traction is detected the transmission can redistribute power to the other wheels accordingly and this happens quite seamlessly. It's worth reiterating that this doesn't merely apply to more spirited driving; we did tackle some challenging surfaces during our drive and, even on standard road-going summer tyres, the X3 never became stuck or seemed challenged. Winter roads in Ireland shouldn't be a problem for it.
With 190hp the four-cylinder diesel isn't lacking in power, although it does make a racket when you do push it harder and the revs rise. All X3s come fitted with acoustic glazing in the windscreen to reduce noise levels and, even though our car also had the same fitted to both front windows, there was still more engine noise seeping into the cabin than the equivalent Audi Q5. And there will be the occasion when you have to push the engine that bit harder; motorway overtakes, for example, require a bit more planning in the smaller engine compared with the buttery-smooth torque delivery of the 3.0-litre model. Still, it isn't what you would call underpowered, with 0-100km/h taking an even eight seconds.
The fuel consumption, when driving more carefully, is reasonable and not too far above BMW's official 5.0 litres/100km figure. The Eco Pro driving mode is best for those watching the gauge, though it does dampen the throttle response. Owners of the previous X3 will also be happy to hear that the suspension and ride quality see much improvement in this new model. There is still the usual BMW firmness to it, but it does an excellent job of soaking up most surface imperfections.
What you get for your Money:
With a starting price of €59,163, the BMW X3 20d is the most expensive of its direct rivals, with the Audi Q5 kicking off at €47,830 (available in front-wheel-drive and manual guise), while the Mercedes-Benz GLC 4Matic is priced from €47,235. That's quite a gap, especially when you consider how equally well-finished those two competitors are, inside and out.
As mentioned above, BMW is also offering the xLine specification that adds a more robust looking body kit to the car. Starting from €60,539, this slots in above the SE line to fill the middle of the range. For those seeking a sportier image, the M Sport model costs €62,991. It features 19-inch alloy wheels, BMW's new Vernasca leather (softer than the familiar Dakota leather), DAB radio and the 'Professional' navigation system. LED headlights, black roof rails and high-beam assistant also feature.
The new BMW X3 certainly looks the part as a premium mid-sized SUV, and most will see no cause for complaint with its smaller 2.0-litre diesel engine. It is quite a bit more expensive than its rivals though, even taking into account standard items such as all-wheel drive and an automatic transmission. The bold styling and sweet handling still give it an edge over some in the segment.