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.