Larger X3 has trademark BMW handling, enhanced practicality and class-leading economy

What is it?

It’s BMW’s new X3 – and it has now officially arrived in the UK.

This second-generation SUV has grown in every dimension, comes with more standard equipment and a more powerful and efficient diesel engine, and yet it’s both lighter and cheaper than the car it replaces. This is our first chance to drive one on British tarmac.

What’s it like?

Eighty-three millimetres sounds like a lot to enlarge a compact 4x4 by, but that’s the growth spurt this car has undergone in terms of length. More than half of that has gone into the X3’s front overhang, presumably to the improvement of pedestrian protection, but there’s also more headroom and significantly more legroom inside the new X3.

There’s now certainly no doubting this X3’s credentials as a full-sized family car. Adults can travel in the back seats in plenty of comfort, and with the seats down, the 1600 litres of storage space available is within touching distance of the most practical cars in the class.

There’s only one engine on offer for now: the new ‘N47’ 2.0-litre commonrail diesel from BMW’s 520d. Six-pot turbodiesels will come later, but BMW’s twin-turbo 3.0-litre petrol is unlikely to make it to the UK.

Producing 182bhp at 4000rpm and 280lb ft of torque between 1750- and 2750rpm, the engine in the entry-level X3 provides class-leading fuel economy of 50.4mpg, claims BMW, and makes it the only car in the class to squeeze into Band F on VED road tax, emitting just 149g/km, or 147g/km if you opt for BMW’s excellent eight-speed automatic gearbox.

Our test car had BMW’s standard six-speed manual gearbox, and was tested in very cold temperatures that effectively disabled its engine stop-start system. Partly as a result of the cold, we suspect, it recorded a disappointing 39.2mpg on a mixed test route.

It rode quietly and handled keenly, with a well-met compromise of comfort, grip, agility and control, albeit on softer-compound cold weather tyres than most UK owners will specify, and with variable dampers that only come as a £910 option.

Our one gripe is a familiar one, with the X3’s steering system. Our test car had both ‘Servotronic’ varible-assistance power steering and BMW’s variable-ratio sport steering rack.

The systems combine to add weight and directness to the car’s steering at speed, but don’t always make it easy to carve a smooth and precise cornering line. They seemed to add unwelcome heft to the X3’s helm at times, too.

Should I buy one?

Probably – provided you can tick the right boxes as you spec it up. We’d certainly include the £1495 eight-speed taller-ratio auto ’box for better motorway economy and stronger residuals, as well as the varible dampers. But we’d stay away from the variable steering.

Get the right spec and this new BMW should make a more multi-talented, well-rounded and sensible family car than most of its competition. And given that the Land Rover Freelander 2, Audi Q5 and Volvo XC60 are among its rivals, that’s no mean compliment.

BMW X3 xDrive20d SE

Price: £30,490; Top speed: 130mph; 0-62mph: 8.5sec; Economy: 50.4mpg; CO2: 149g/km; Kerb weight: 1790kg; Engine: 4 cyls, 1995cc, turbodiesel; Power: 182bhp at 4000rpm; Torque: 280lb ft at 1750-2750rpm; Gearbox: 6-spd manual

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Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

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Add a comment…
Zedboy 1 January 2011

Re: BMW X3 xDrive20d SE

Interesting advice on all things DPF related. Mercedes has accepted back my C250d. It lived on the motorways and travelled 42k in 10 months from new, but still suffered 7 tow-in breakdowns, all DPF related. I nutured it, cared for it from cold, thrashed it, loved it (!!!) - nothing seemed to work. Perhaps it was simply a dud, but I don't think all the new age diesels have been developed far enough prior to production. The chancellor has forced them to produce technology not yet ready for production... Rubbish?!

Submariner Redux 1 January 2011

Re: BMW X3 xDrive20d SE

You cannot expect government to do anything about the gap between official fuel numbers and real life when the government (at EU level) is the cause of the problem in the first place. The numbers generated by the legally-mandated EU-wide emissions testing programme are artificial because the testing regime is completely artificial and unrepresentative of everyday use. That's not the car maker's fault.

If BMW or any other maker decided to publish a "real life typical use" fuel consumption number it would be prosecuted because to do so is illegal under EU law, which is carried forward into UK law.

The law on use of non-official fuel consumption figures in the marketing of cars in the UK is in a 2004 statutory instrument, here:

...and the 2001 SI which the 2004 one amends, which is here:

The relevant bit is:

Dealers' and Suppliers' duties in respect of promotional literature
9. - (1) The supplier of a model of passenger car shall ensure that all promotional literature for that model which is published or made available by him complies with the requirements specified in Schedule 4.

(2) A dealer shall ensure that all promotional literature which is published or made available by him in respect of any model of new passenger car displayed or offered for sale or lease by him complies with the requirements specified in Schedule 4.

Dealers' and Suppliers' duties in respect of confusing marks, symbols etc.
10. - (1) The requirements of paragraph (2) shall be complied with by -

    (a) a dealer in respect of any fuel economy label, fuel economy guide, poster or display provided or exhibited by him in accordance with regulations 6, 7 or 8; and

    (b) a dealer and a supplier in respect of any promotional literature published or made available by him in accordance with regulation 9.

(2) No mark, symbol or inscription relating to official fuel consumption or official specific emissions of CO2 figures which does not comply with these Regulations, shall be included in any fuel economy label, poster or display, or promotional literature if it could mislead or confuse potential end users.

supermanuel 7 December 2010

Re: BMW X3 xDrive20d SE

Maxycat wrote:
If you look at the Honest John website you will find good advice on the different DPF systems fitted to cars. The golden rule is to read the owners handbook and comply with the instructions when warning lights tell you regeneration is needed.

I was aware of the DPF fitted to my car but I had assumed that the 'regeneration' would take place without my noticing. I can tell you categorically that no warning lights ever came up on my Craptiva until the moment that the DPF tried to regenerate on the motorway. No warning whatsoever for a pretty spectacular failure that could have ended very badly were it not for the fact that the motorway was unusually quiet at the time.