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.