Range-topping X3 exhibits an impressive blend of performance, practicality and desirability

What is it?

The range-topping version of BMW’s revised BMW X3 SUV. When launched back in 2011, this second-generation X3 established itself as the best-driving car in its class, this potent X3 xDrive35d M Sport version in particular.

The Porsche Macan S Diesel has since arrived to try to take the X3’s performance diesel SUV crown, but the BMW’s blend of performance, practicality and quality remains a tough formula to beat, despite the obvious desirability of the Porsche.

BMW has looked to improve that formula with some fuel economy tweaks to the potent twin-turbocharged six-cylinder diesel engine, and although the power and torque figures remaining the same as before, performance is slightly improved. Some subtle cosmetic tweaks have also been made inside and out, while a whole suite of new safety and assistance systems has been added.


What's it like?

It’s the sheer pace of the thing that grabs you initially. This really is a very rapid car, 0-62mph taking just 5.3sec, despite its near two-tonne heft – the sort of shove to really focus the mind. That benchmark sprint makes the xDrive35d a full second quicker than the Macan diesel over the same measure, and it's alarming how quickly you can pile on speed in a straight line.

The potent engine is a belter all round, feeling a tad more refined than its pre-facelift application and a good match for the smooth yet quick-shifting eight-speed auto’. We averaged just over 36mpg on a 300-mile test route – an impressive return for something of this size and weight and with four-wheel drive.

Our test car was equipped with Variable Damper Control, a £650 option. So once you’re over the pace of the car, you can marvel at how impressive the body control is. There’s plenty of grip and the X3 never struggles to transfer its considerable power and torque to the road.

The handling is predictable; flowing bends are to be enjoyed, especially if you engage the sportier driving modes, which sharpen the throttle and add weight to the steering. Reign back a bit and the smooth, comfortable ride can be enjoyed.

The steering is precise enough but lacking in feel, and a slightly unusual gripe concerns the fat M Sport steering wheel: you’ve got to have some big hands to be able to grip the thing the whole way around, making it feel clumsy to use at times.

The rest of the package is the same as in the rest of the X3 range; that means plenty of space inside, a commanding driving position and easy-to-navigate controls. 

Should I buy one?

A Porsche Macan S Diesel may just shade the X3 xDrive35d on handling, but the BMW’s superior engine, practicality and economy make it the one to go for in the performance diesel compact SUV stakes. Plus, unlike the Macan, you won’t have to join a lengthy waiting list just to get hold of one.

As impressive as the X3 xDrive35d is, though, its xDrive30d stablemate, which uses a 255bhp single-turbo version of the 3.0-litre straight six, does much of the same job for more than £5000 less. That is the X3 we’d nudge you towards.

Price £45,395; Price as tested £51,170; 0-62mph 5.3sec; Top speed 152mph; Economy 47.1mpg (combined); CO2 157g/km; Kerb weight 1925kg; Engine 6 cyls in line, 2993cc, twin-turbo, diesel; Power 309bhp at 4400rpm; Torque 465lb ft at 1500rpm; Gearbox 8-spd automatic 

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Mark Tisshaw

Title: Editor

Mark is a journalist with more than a decade of top-level experience in the automotive industry. He first joined Autocar in 2009, having previously worked in local newspapers. He has held several roles at Autocar, including news editor, deputy editor, digital editor and his current position of editor, one he has held since 2017.

From this position he oversees all of Autocar’s content across the print magazine, autocar.co.uk website, social media, video, and podcast channels, as well as our recent launch, Autocar Business. Mark regularly interviews the very top global executives in the automotive industry, telling their stories and holding them to account, meeting them at shows and events around the world.

Mark is a Car of the Year juror, a prestigious annual award that Autocar is one of the main sponsors of. He has made media appearances on the likes of the BBC, and contributed to titles including What Car?Move Electric and Pistonheads, and has written a column for The Sun.

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ralphsmall 3 December 2014

X3 35d

I drive an SQ5 beautifully built and faster than the BM. We have a Macan S diesel in the family Slower but the Porker is a car built by drivers for drivers the SQ5 a car built by drivers for Audi drivers, but if you grab it by the balls it does go.
288GTO 3 December 2014

I have to say that if I were

I have to say that if I were in the market for a fast medium sized 4x4, I would buy the often overlooked Audi SQ5. I think it looks better than the BMW and has a better image than the Porsche, IMHO.
Oilburner 2 December 2014

I should really not like this car

The criticism above is no doubt correct. But somehow I like it: a smallish 4x4 with a straight six engine and shed loads of power, sounds good. Come on, this would have to be a great car to own and use, wouldn't it?