BMW X3 xDrive30d review
BMW's medium SUV, the X3, is reinvigorated for its third generation.
Matt Robinson
Matt Robinson

Published on October 16, 2017

BMW's mid-sized premium SUV, the X3, enters its third generation fully 14 years after the nameplate was first launched. Originally a bit of a duffer with an overly firm ride and questionable looks, the X3 has been slowly evolving and improving through the years to the point that this all-new model might well be good enough to eclipse the Audi Q5, Jaguar F-Pace and Mercedes-Benz GLC in its hotly contested market segment.

In the metal

While we're not saying that BMW has barely changed the exterior of its popular X3 SUV from the outgoing second-gen model to this all-new MkIII, you do need to give the high-riding machine some studious consideration to truly note the key differences; a casual glance might have you thinking it's a mere facelift of the MkII. Chief updates include BMW's current trademark of an absolutely whopping set of kidney grilles, plus LED headlamps and front fog lights, a more heavily contoured bonnet, LED rear lights with broader clusters and a sweeping roofline in profile, with more strakes running along the SUV's flanks. So while this is an evolutionary rather than revolutionary styling exercise, the new X3 does immediately look that bit more polished and attractive than the old car. Job done, for the design team.

It's a much more notable update within, because - while the old X3 hardly had a clunker of a cabin - this one's interior is several notches up the ziggurat for its general ambience. The quality of materials used feels lovely to the touch, while a dashboard focusing on the 10.25-inch freestanding iDrive infotainment screen allows for a more car-like fascia. On the equipment list (whether standard-fit or optional) will be a head-up display, a digital instrument cluster, three-zone climate control and ambient lighting, among much more. Opt for the full, top-level infotainment and the iDrive can be controlled one of four ways: via voice commands; through a series of pre-defined hand gestures beneath the interior mirror; by simply swiping and touching the 10.25-inch screen itself; or, for old times' sake, perhaps you might like to use the oh-so-familiar rotary controller for the iDrive? Look, it's down there on the transmission tunnel. And, believe us, it works the best of all.

All X3s have a new design of steering wheel and a bigger storage area ahead of the gear lever, which now features two big cup holders. And, on the subject of 'all X3s', initial launch models for the BMW will be the 2.0-litre xDrive20d and 3.0-litre xDrive 30d diesel models, plus two petrol options - a base 2.0-litre xDrive20i four-cylinder and then a corking M40i halo variant, with a 360hp engine and the ability to hit 100km/h from rest in comfortably less than five seconds. As you might note from the repeated use of xDrive in their badges, all X3s will be four-wheel drive (no rear-driven models will be offered here) and they all use an eight-speed Steptronic automatic gearbox, too.

Driving it

With only the 30d and M40i on offer at launch (when the 20d will form the vast majority of X3s we'll see on our roads), we opted to go for the diesel for a longer test drive, given the M Performance model will likely be as rare a sight in Ireland as a pink unicorn that can speak Norwegian. Luckily, the 30d's prescribed route took in both on- and off-road sections, giving us a chance to test the X3's mettle in the rough stuff, even if it's highly unlikely most owners will ever venture off the tarmac in their expensive German SUVs.

And, in all environments, the new X3 excels. Ride comfort is superb, without sacrificing every shred of body control as payment, and that brawny 3.0-litre diesel provides ample pace; a 0-100km/h time of 5.8 seconds is rapid by any measure, although it's more the ginormous 620Nm of torque from just 2,000rpm that's going to be of use on the roads. The steering is precise and light, if a touch low on genuine feedback the brakes are strong and that eight-speed Steptronic transmission... well, have you ever heard us complaining about it? The answer is no; no, you have not. Granted, there's a little more diesel rattle making its way through the front bulkhead of the X3 than we remember from the same application of this engine in other BMWs and there's a bit too much tyre noise evident at speed, but overall the xDrive30d proves equally genial and accommodating to be in whether in town, on open roads or cruising along a motorway.

Off-road, the nicely-mapped throttle, the X3's clever four-wheel-drive system and that automatic transmission team up to make rough-road driving as straightforward as popping to the shops for the essentials, although the route we took on was only modestly difficult, rather than terrifyingly impassable. We're therefore not saying the BMW could traverse some of our finest bogs in the landscape around Kilbeggan, but by the same token it should certainly not get stuck at the first sign of some muddy puddles, either.

What you get for your money

Prices start at €57,730, which is for the X3 xDrive20d SE. There are xLine and M Sport trim levels, while the X3 M40i has its own specification. All X3s feature xDrive four-wheel drive and that eight-speed automatic transmission. The xDrive30d tested here starts at €69,190, the xDrive20i petrol model is from €61,380 and the range-topping M40i is €84,980. The whole product is shot through with quality, so while you might have to fork out a bit more for one of these things than you would for, say, a Kia Sportage, sometimes you have to remember the old adage 'you get what you paid for'.


The third-generation BMW X3 doesn't provide any huge surprises. It's quietly assured in the refinement department, great fun to steer (by SUV standards), possessed of a range of exceptional drivetrains and urbanely handsome inside and out. We need to drive the best-selling 20d, but in essence what we have here is one of the best mid-sized premium SUVs you can possibly buy. Sometimes, no surprises are just what we want.


Tech Specs

Model testedBMW X3 xDrive30d
Pricing€69,190 as tested; starts at €57,730
Engine3.0-litre six-cylinder turbocharged diesel
Transmissioneight-speed Steptronic automatic, all-wheel drive
Body stylefive-door, five-seat SUV
CO2 emissions149g/km (Band C, €390 per annum)
Combined economy49.6mpg (5.7 litres/100km)
Top speed240km/h
0-100km/h5.8 seconds
Power265hp at 4,000rpm
Torque620Nm at 2,000- to 2,500rpm
Boot space550 litres rear seats up; 1,600 litres rear seats down
Rivals to the BMW X3