From £31,945
Good to drive and very quick, but at this price we'd go for the better-looking and slightly bigger X5.

Our Verdict


The BMW X3 is both frugal and rewarding to drive, a rare and clever technical achievement

6 September 2006

What's new? After just two-and-a-half years, BMW’s junior SUV has had a bit of a nip and tuck, including a nose job and bottom tuck. The more interesting news, however, is under the bonnet, where a version of the twin-turbo 3.0-litre diesel used in the 535d has been pressed into service. Offering more power and torque than the equivalent 3.0i petrol (282bhp and 428lb ft v 228bhp and 221lb ft), the six-cylinder unit uses variable twin turbochargers to provide a linear power delivery, yet still maintains an impressive combined fuel consumption figure of 32.5mpg. What’s it like? Quick. Incredibly, the engine pulls to its 140mph top speed with the same vigour as it does to 60mph, the standard six-speed automatic 'box providing seamless transitions. It feels planted too, no doubt thanks to the road-biased set-up of 18in Dunlop SP Sport rubber, spring-strut front and double-wishbone rear suspension. This set-up gives you the confidence to attack the twisty stuff, even if it pretty much rules out any off-road abilities. The steering is sharp, incisive and well weighted and the car feels very agile given its 1950kg kerbweight. Granted, our test car was unladen, but the low-speed ride around town still felt annoyingly stiff, jiggling the driver over broken bitumen. We're still not convinced by the X3's looks, but BMW has made significant improvements by beefing up the nose and removing those awkward bits of black plastic around the bumpers. Inside, enlarged, integrated storage bins on the driver and passenger doors, a three-spoke steering wheel and galvanised metal splashes on the air-con controls and door handles improve the cabin. It’s well screwed together and a nice place to sit, but at motorway speeds, tyre noise and wind buffeting the A-pillars becomes noticeable. Should I buy one? Probably not. It’s good to drive and rapid, but BMW’s biggest practical problem (ignoring the imminent arrival of Land Rover's Freelander 2) is the X3’s better--looking and more desirable big brother, the X5, which costs barely any more. The (admittedly less powerful) X5 3.0d starts at £37,160 to this X3's £36,415. If you were to buy any X3 over an X5, the entry-level 148bhp 2.0d would make more sense.Jon Quirk

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