BMW X3 30D M Sport

A bulky-looking SUV that drives like a sports car

Price: £39,975
Engine capacity: 3.0
Top speed (mph): 130
0-62 (seconds): 6.2
Fuel economy (mpg): 47.1mpg
C02 emissions (g/km): 159g/km

In the predictable area of north London in which this writer resides, 4x4s are a common sight. A quick count yesterday morning put them at about one in five of the cars on my street. Which, as critics of Chelsea Tractors have noted ad nauseum, ad infinitum, is ridiculous for a city drive. But the new X3 makes it seems almost sensible.

Weirdly, my unscientific survey of Crouch End's cars suggested that the larger BMW SUV, the X5, is vastly more popular on my local crammed, double-parked streets. This may explain why the 2011 X3, first released earlier this year, is now almost the same size as the earlier models of the X5 (so, of course, the new X5 is about 20cm longer and 10cm wider than the new X3). And on initial impressions it looks huge.

The size is handy for families, though. As the parent of a single cat, I thought I ought to test the comfort of a long drive by inviting some football-fan friends on a road-trip up to Manchester.

A huge pile-up on the M1 certainly gave us chance to test the comfort and size of the cabin. There's ample stretching room and the Nevada leather trim makes the driver unworried about the slobs eating Maryland cookies in the back seat. There were four of us, but you could easily fit five adults in there. There's a 550-litre boot, too. Which – given the high performance of this particular model – makes you wonder, what's the point in splashing out another £10,000 on the more expensive X5? Unless your ego is so tender as to not want to drive a "mid-range" Beamer.

The early 2011 X3s were generally seen as a best-in-class move forward and the 30D M Sport re-up delivers an almighty zip and the kind of tight drive that you'd expect from a smaller car. It also does with better emissions and fuel economy than rivals with similar spec, such as the Freelander 2 SD4 and the Audi Q5 S 3.0. A hearty well done.

The other big journey I take is a mad early-morning weekend rush to the Midlands, which certainly tests the car's unerringly fast acceleration. Yet even this dash doesn't drain the petrol tank too badly. Indeed, fuel preservation is aided by the German giant's new Efficient Dynamics systems (though, if you're buying an SUV for the city, this may not influence your thinking too much). The most notable of these is the increasingly common auto stop-start function – which cuts out the engine while idling at lights or in traffic.

The engine emits a beautiful hum upon starting (though road noise is well controlled) and flipping the damper control to Sport to stiffen up the suspension makes country A-road driving nearly sports-car dreamy.

All the 30Ds come loaded with mod cons, as you'd expect, including BMW's parking cameras, featuring rear and top-down live views of the car. They combined with normal beeping parking sensors, which make it so easy to park that's it's less like maneuvering a bulky SUV and more like a quite dull game of early Grand Theft Auto. It'll certainly help you if you're buying it to live on those double-parked city streets.

The M Sport is simply a great car. Whether it's worth going up in spec from the regular X3 2-litre (from £31,440) to the 40-grand 30D M Sport depends on your finances. But it's still decent value even at this big price.

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