X3’s new 2.0-litre four-pot diesel has its merits, but bigger six-pot remains the more appealing choice

What is it?

This is the latest version of BMW’s popular BMW X3, benefiting here from a host of minor cosmetic updates and a new 188bhp TwinPower Turbo 2.0-litre diesel engine.

We tested the lightly revised SUV four-wheel-drive xDrive form and M Sport trim, with the optional automatic gearbox and paddle shifts.

On paper, the four-cylinder diesel appears to be a sound option. It produces 188bhp and 295lb ft, propelling the X3 from 0-62mph in a sensible 8.1sec.

A claimed average of 54.3mpg is good for a car in this class and CO2 emissions of 138g/km mean you’ll pay road tax of £130 a year.

What's it like?

You might expect a four-cylinder diesel in a 1820kg 4x4 to feel a little strained, but the BMW’s engine does an acceptable job. Its delivery is smooth and linear, and it revs to 4500rpm with ease.

Even at 60mph there’s enough left in reserve to allow for comparatively swift acceleration, aided by the quick-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission.

What can’t be ignored is the instantly identifiable acoustic signature of the engine. It’s hardly raucous, but there’s an ever-present diesel note, even when cruising.

Its constant presence, in conjunction with a moderate amount of road noise, detracts from the BMW’s otherwise pleasing nature. The transmission also has a tendency to hang on to higher gears, occasionally loading the engine up and causing some resonance and drone.

Otherwise, the BMW is a fine driving machine with few negative traits. It steers in a precise, easily controlled fashion with minimal body roll, although the steering is a little heavy.

It stops swiftly, visibility is good and it’s easy to manoeuvre. The ride is also delightfully smooth and controlled, and wind noise low. Overall, it’s a relaxing, competent performance.

It’s hard to fault the BMW’s appeal elsewhere. It’s a smart-looking and sensibly sized SUV with an upmarket interior. There’s lots of space front and rear and a big boot adds to its practicality. Even under the bonnet the BMW X3 is well finished, further reinforcing its high-end feel.

Should I buy one?

If the potential economy or tax benefits of the four-cylinder appeal to you, then the BMW is by no means a poor option. Its performance, overall appeal and general characteristics are unlikely to disappoint.

If you can tolerate ditching M Sport trim’s cosmetic extras, the superior six-cylinder diesel BMW X3 is available for £2155 more in lesser SE trim. It’s a comparatively small hike and, for many, the six-cylinder won’t prove to be much more costly to run for private buyers. It’s also faster and more refined and better suits the BMW’s premium status.

However, if you wanted to retain the cleaner, more sporty looks of the M Sport – but with a six-cylinder diesel – you’d have to pay a more significant £5155 more. Company car drivers, considering either trim level, will also have to pay a substantial hike in company car tax for the 3.0-litre diesel version.

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BMW X3 xDrive20d M Sport

Price £37,635; 0-62mph 8.1sec; Top speed 131mph; Economy 54.3mpg (combined); CO2 138g/km; Kerb weight 1820kg; Engine 4 cyls, 1995cc, turbo diesel; Power 188bhp at 4000rpm; Torque 295lb ft at 1750-2500rpm; Gearbox 8-spd automatic

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Kiernan 20 August 2014

Strange Review

Seems like a strange review this, almost as if the intention was to find fault with everything. Surely it's no shock that the 6 cylinder 3.0d is the nicer engine to use - this will be the same for the 320d v 330d, but I've not seen that conslusion before.
Relative to the competitors in its sector, the X3 is still one of the best of the bunch, and yet I can't help thinking that this review is overly negative.
Have a look at What Car? for their review of the same car, and you'll see they give it 5 stars. OK, a review is always subjective, but this seems odd to me.
Lewis Kingston 20 August 2014

RE: Boot pictures

Morning Mr Burt. We cover the practicality side of the X3 in our main review, linked to at the side, where you will also find shots of the boot. The first drives focus on what's new or different about the particular derivative in question, as opposed to being all-encompassing reviews.
Mr Burt 20 August 2014

Could not be arsed!!!!

Interesting alternative to an estate car. So why no image of the boot. Size, load bay level etc would be much more useful than a picture of the engine or the gear selector.
I take it the photographer could not be arsed, or autocar just picked some stock BMW images and the editor could not be arsed.
I will take a look on the BMW site autocar, please don't let the potential requirement of your readers cause you extra work. Meh!