Unlike the first two X3s, the third-gen X3 is closer to the 5 Series than the 3 Series. Indeed, the new car is both longer and wider than the first X5, with more length built into both its overall length and (to increase rear space) wheelbase. Weight stays the same at 1825kg, though, the inclusion of more aluminium and composites offsetting the extra size and sound-deadening.
The familiar four-cylinder diesel’s stats stay the same too. Running through a tweaked 8-speed automatic gearbox (there are no X3 manual options), its 187bhp and 295lb ft give it a 0-62mph time of 8.0sec. There’s a new transfer case and a lighter rear differential, and all of the torque can go to either axle as required. Standard hill descent control speaks to the light offroading needs of the X3’s target audience.
An aggressive external restyle is complemented by a less bombastic cabin makeover that majors on plush and interesting rather than different for the sake of it. Materials are high quality, the driving position works well with the comfy new M Sport seats, and there are more storage areas. Only the too-thick steering wheel jars slightly.
Rear space has become excellent. A six-foot-plus passenger can sit behind another one with no problem, and even the centre back seat is perfectly useable. The standard climate control is controllable from the back.
There’s been no increase in boot space (550 and 1600 litres, seats up and down) but the shape has been usefully squared up. Latches in the powered tailgate drop the seatbacks fully, requiring no additional human effort.
The engine displays a new level of refinement and strong performance from 1700rpm to nearly 4500rpm, while the manageable low-rpm turbo lag all but disappears at higher engine speeds. Selecting gears yourself via the tiny, steering-wheel-mounted paddles isn't really worth the bother as the predetermined change speed is biased toward leisure rather than sport.
We wouldn't tick the lock-exaggerating Variable Sport Steering box and nor would we bother with the heavy and unnatural-feeling steering in Sport mode when Comfort mode steering works as well as it does. A 3 Series driver will notice some loss of engagement but the X3 can be thrown through a succession of bends with something approaching gay abandon. Body control is tidy and the good traction gives way to mild understeer in a predictable manner.
Choose the optional acoustic front windows along with the standard acoustic windscreen and you’ll be mightily impressed by the X3 motorway smoothness. Road noise is low and wind noise practically non-existent. Our Moroccan test car had optional adaptive dampers and M Sport-spec 19in run-flat tyres, a firm setup that picked up on road ripples, so we’ll hold off on final judgement of that until we get to try a car in the UK.
The X3 price has gone up (it’s £2000 more in M Sport trim) but so has the standard spec: it now includes a reversing camera, LED headlights and three-zone climate control, along with the extra cabin quality and space and a bunch of semi-autonomous feature options. It runs close to the Audi Q5 2.0 TDI 190 on price, performance and economy, but there’s a cleaner, faster and substantially cheaper alternative on offer in the base-level 4WD Alfa Romeo Stelvio.
A hot M40i is due next month, but the humbler xDrive20d puts in a good performance on handling, quality, practicality and refinement.
BMW X3 xDrive20d M Sport
|Engine||4 cyls 1995cc, turbocharged diesel|
|Power||187bhp at 4000rpm|
|Torque||295lb ft at 1750-2500rpm|
|Rivals||Audi Q5, Mercedes-Benz GLC, Alfa Romeo Stelvio, Jaguar F-Pace, Land Rover Discovery Sport|
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