The BMW X3 is barely changed from before, but that's OK because it was already pretty good. Has a small round of 2022 model year updates made any major difference? We try the xDrive30d model out for size.
In the metal
I think it's fair to say that few, if any, SUVs are all that great looking. They've become increasingly amorphous, almost identical bar the details. So, we can forgive the BMW X3 for not being the best-looking car in its class - it is, after all, not committing any particular crime in that regard.
It is a little different now, however. BMW has given the X3 a freshen-up for 2022. With more than 1.1 million of these sold (if you combine sales of the X3 with those of the mechanically-identical X4) since 2017, unsurprisingly BMW has been careful in the extreme with the changes it has made. No point in rocking the boat, etc.
On the outside, the changes are mostly focused on the front, where the grilles are now a little deeper and closer together, as well as being conjoined with a small strip between them. The effect isn't as striking as that of the all-electric iX SUV - thankfully - but in combination with slimmer headlights (they've had 10mm chopped out of their shape), the X3's face is certainly a little more defined than it was. You can upgrade the lights to either Matrix LED units (which block out sections of the high beam to avoid dazzling other road users) or, if you're feeling really flush, BMW Laser Lights, which can throw a high beam for an eye-melting 650 metres.
At the back, you'll find new brake lights with a more 3D-effect going on and, as with the headlights, all the beam is now provided by LEDs. There's a redesigned tailgate too (electrically operated as standard) and a new rear undertray with flush-fitting exhaust trims.
It's not what we'd call especially pretty, but it does look impressive in the matte 'Frozen Grey' paint of our test car, and while we'd say that the Jaguar F-Pace is still the best-looking car in this class overall, the X3 can at least rest easy in that it's still way, way better looking than the original 2003 X3...
Inside, there are new screens, with the standard-fit infotainment display now a 10.25-inch unit, with an optional upgrade to a 12.3-inch screen. The X3 doesn't get the latest-gen version 8.0 of BMW's infotainment software (so far, that has been reserved for the iX and i4), but it does get an updated version 7.0, which includes integrated apps such as Spotify and Amazon Alexa.
The entire system has been designed to work more closely with your mobile phone and the BMW app, including allowing you to send navigation instructions to the car before you set off, and the ability to receive over-the-air software updates. On-board, the navigation system now has cloud-based functionality, which allows for improved live services (assuming you can keep a good 4G signal going...). The 'Hey, BMW' digital voice assistant can do a few more things too, including altering the air conditioning, opening and closing the electric windows and switching the driving modes.
The cabin has physically changed a little too, with a new centre console between the front seats that basically follows what the 3 Series and 5 Series have already done, plus updated and improved seats, which get a higher-quality leather trim as standard. There's also now standard-fit three-zone climate control.
There's plenty of space in the back seats too, enough to make you question the need to upgrade to the larger (but not all that much roomier) X5. At 550 litres, the boot is competitive in the class, but not outrageously huge.
Under the bonnet, all of the engine options now come with 48-volt mild-hybrid assistance, or you can choose from two electrified models - the plug-in hybrid X3 xDrive30e, or the all-battery iX3. Here, we're testing the updated 3.0-litre X3 xDrive30d diesel, with four-wheel drive (which is also standard on all models aside from electric iX3). It's a model that is fast becoming unfashionable (big engine, diesel...), but one that still has a remarkable breadth of capabilities.
BMW has changed nothing when it comes to how the X3 drives, but that's OK because it was, and remains, brilliant. I wouldn't say that it's clear and away the class-leader in that regard, because the likes of the Jaguar F-Pace, Mercedes GLC and Audi Q5 are all snapping close to its heels, but there's something about the X3's four-square solidity on the road, and its meaty steering feel that just inspires massive confidence. True, you'd have more fun driving a lower-slung 5 Series Touring for similar money, but if you must have an SUV, then the X3 is certainly filed in the very top drawers when it comes to driver appeal.
It's not even too firmly sprung, but rides instead with a firm-but-yielding gait that never allows too much body lean, but which equally won't have you reaching for the local osteopath's number on speed dial.
The 3.0-litre engine is the true star of the show, though - if we're allowed to say such things about a big diesel engine in the current climate. True, we really ought to be steering you towards the all-electric iX3, but if your regular driving involves endless motorway miles, and doesn't allow you time to recharge, then this 30d X3 is still an astonishingly compelling option. The 48-volt mild-hybrid system helps to save a bit of fuel around town by making more of the stop-start system, and it allows the X3 to 'glide' on idle for surprisingly lengthy periods when you're on the open road. The extra 11hp that it adds to maximum acceleration doesn't seem to count for an awful lot, but then when you're already deploying 650Nm of torque, it's hard to feel where the extra electric thrust is coming from. You'd feel it more on the smaller, less punchy four-cylinder 20d model.
Refinement is excellent, with just a distant rumble to tell you that something up front it burning dead dinos, and the effortless overtaking urge that the engine has in reserve will be hugely welcome on single-lane country roads. BMW quotes 7.6 litres per 100km consumption and, while our short test drive didn't allow us to put that too much to the test, it looks like a beatable figure if you're driving gently.
You do sit up slightly high in the X3 - a seat that dropped an extra few millimetres would be nice - but visibility all-round is excellent, aside from the chunky D-pillar blocking your over-the-shoulder vision a little.
What you get for your money
At €75,290 as tested, value is not the X3's strongest suit. How could it be, one supposes? Standard kit for xLine models includes the digital dials, three-zone climate control, leather (actually man-made Sensatec) upholstery, sports seats, the ten-inch touchscreen, 19-inch Y-spoke Ferric Grey Wheels, high-gloss black with pearl chrome interior trim, sports leather steering wheel, reversing camera, aluminium roof rails, acoustic glass, front heated seats, ambient lighting, front and rear parking sensors, adaptive LED headlights, high beam assistant, driving assistant, parking assistant, BMW emergency call and BMW connected services.
Upgrade to our M Sport model and you get 19-inch M Y-spoke midnight grey alloy wheels, high-gloss shadow line exterior trim and roof rails, aluminium 'Rhombicle' with pearl chrome interior trim, M aerodynamic body styling, M Sport multi-function leather steering wheel, M Sport suspension, remote control including integrated key, performance control and variable sport steering.
There are no substantial changes to talk about with the 2022 BMW X3, so our conclusion remains the same - buy a 5 Series Touring instead. Seriously, though, if you really want a premium SUV, the X3 has style, quality and driver appeal to spare.