Can the latest tweaks help keep Munich's volume-selling SUV relevant in an ultra-competitive class?

What is it?

The BMW X3 and its rakishly roofed BMW X4 sibling are massive hits for BMW, particularly in China. So the firm has been understandably cautious with this mid-life facelift, leaving the mechanicals largely untouched and instead trying to focus on areas where the model risked falling behind rivals such as the Volvo XC60.

So there are styling changes intended to make it look a bit sportier and add more ‘X-ness’ (that’s BMW parlance for rugged SUV styling) – along with upgrades to the interior trim and technology and a simplification of spec levels, with the most popular optional extra made standard.

Aside from the range-topping M Competition versions (we’ve already sampled the mechanically identical X4 M Competition), the powertrain line-up remains familiar, although every standard model now features a 48V mild hybrid system.

That includes the xDrive 30d version tested here, which is the middle of three diesel options alongside the entry-level 20d and hotter M40d. There are also three petrol-engined choices, and every model offers all-wheel drive as standard.

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What's it like?

The exterior styling changes to the X3 include slimmer headlights, sharper bumper creases and an enlarged kidney grille - but don’t fret: it’s still smaller than many of the firm’s recent efforts. It’s definitely a refresh rather than a redesign. Notably, some of the design tweaks to the grille and other styling elements have been made to give the X3 and X4 more individual identities. Our M Sport test car featured a number of extra ‘sporty’ design elements.

The interior makeover is more substantial, with the adoption of the dashboard design and centre console from the 4 Series. There’s a 10.25in touchscreen and Live Cockpit Plus as standard, which can be upgraded to 12.3in versions with a head-up display, as on our test model. The latest version of BMW’s infotainment system includes Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Amazon Alexa, and is brilliantly usable - especially given the continued presence of a very welcome click wheel.

BMW has made a number of the most popular options on the pre-facelift model standard, including three-zone climate control and sport seats. Aside from the interior upgrade, the dimensions of the X3 remain as before: it’s spacious in the front and rear and has a very usable 550-litre boot.

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Don’t expect the addition of a 48V starter-generator to transform the performance of the X3. In this xDrive 30d model, that small dose of electric boost is rarely noticeable, serving mostly to make the auto stop-start function smoother and allow for greater engine-off cruising. But that’s not a criticism: the 3.0-litre six-cylinder diesel is incredibly smooth as well as pleasingly responsive and powerful.

The xDrive 30d has an official 0-62mph time of 5.7sec, but it’s the usability of the 282bhp that’s most notable, with the 479lb ft of torque easily accessible from low speed, creating the constant impression that more power is readily available at any given moment. But it’s refined, too, and as happy quietly running at low speeds as it is on the autobahn. The ride quality on our test car’s 18in wheels was excellent and the X3 is reassuringly stable even at higher speeds. The powertrain has a claimed economy of up to 44.8mpg, with CO2 emissions of 164g/km.

8 Bmw x3 2021 first drive review dashboard

Should I buy one?

When we subjected the third-generation BMW X3 to our full road test in 2018, our suggestions for improvement centred on making the powertrain more refined and the equipment levels more generous. BMW has addressed both of those points with this facelift, while also adding some extra sheen and polish.

Those improvements allow the hugely successful X3 to keep pace with the likes of the Audi Q5 and Land Rover Discovery Sport in the hugely competitive premium family SUV market. The sort of high-mileage drivers for whom a diesel powertrain still makes sense will find much to enjoy with this 30d model, although it might well be worth considering the saving available with the cheaper but still potent 20d.

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3 Bmw x3 2021 first drive review hero rear


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HiPo 289 20 December 2021

There is a simple test now for choosing whether to buy a new car.  It's the only test you need, given the clear direction of travel in the market.  And it only takes 10 seconds.  You just walk round the back of the car, and if it has an exhaust pipe, you don't buy it. 

Cobnapint 1 November 2021
Drove a pre-facelift one of these and was impressed, apart from the seat comfort.
The infotainment on these is excellent, but I think they've screwed the centre HVAC controls up. There wasn't much wrong with the last set up.
martin_66 1 November 2021
I'd buy one in a heartbeat. If it didn't have that awful digital dash. And those horrible ventilation controls which are harder to operate than their predecessors. And that stupidly fat steering wheel.

Think I'll save myself about twenty grand and buy a two to three year old one instead. And not be a sheep by buying an electric car!