Range-topping X3 combines real-world virtues with exceptional performance and entertaining handling

What is it?

BMW’s new range-topping X3, the xDrive30d M Sport, which is now on sale throughout UK showrooms. Combining generous standard equipment levels and advanced chassis technology with class-leading performance and genuinely sporting handling, it’s a car that gives real credibility to BMW’s claim of making the most driver-focused SUVs in the world.

And yet it would hardly matter if this car had half of its dynamic poise and purpose, so convincing is the objective prospect that it represents.

As practical as almost any medium-sized SUV, this BMW trounces its nearest rivals in key areas. Capable of going almost ten miles further for every gallon of diesel than Audi’s equivalent Q5, this car is also faster and more powerful than the Audi, and more than three seconds faster accelerating to 62mph than Land Rover’s most powerful diesel Freelander.

What it like?

A very impressive, fast and desirable family car. If this X3’s armour has a chink, it’s mechanical refinement. Fire the engine up and you’ll find it a little more vocal than the bigger-selling four-pot diesel; significantly less well isolated than it is in a 5-series. It’s far from noisy though, and combined with the eight-speed automatic gearbox that comes as standard, drives the X3 forward with enough mid-range pace to really concentrate the mind.

Equipped with BMW’s optional adaptive dampers, our test car rode fluently enough in ‘Normal’ mode so as not to compromise on comfort, and yet had tighter body control and precise and predictable handling in ‘Sport’ mode. It felt grippy and tautly controlled on turn-in, and much more agile and responsive to drive than most cars of its size.

M Sport specification on the X3 includes variable ratio power steering and BMW’s ‘Performance Control’ active four-wheel drive system as standard, but it doesn’t include active anti-roll bars. So equipped, the X3 corners with a great deal more composure and throttle adjustability than you expect of such a tall car, making it engaging and interactive on a flowing country road.

There’s always enough traction to make use of the car’s performance, and drive is delivered to the road with a sophistication that seems to counteract early-onset understeer very effectively.

In calmer moods, you can also enjoy the compliance of the X3’s adaptive chassis – not to mention, on longer motorway runs, remarkable efficiency from that six-cylinder engine. 47mpg may be a little difficult to match, but you can certainly expect to see 40mpg from this car at a typical motorway cruise.

Should I buy one?

If you’re in the market for a premium brand 4x4, few combine performance, economy and practicality with quite as much success.

It may be that X3s on passively damped M Sport suspension don’t have this car’s breadth of ability but, with that caveat, we’d say that in the real world – where Range Rover Evoques just aren’t practical enough, and Porsche Cayennes out of your price range – BMW’s range-topping X3 has the fast family 4x4 market all sewn up.

BMW X3 xDrive30d M Sport

Price: £39,625; Top speed: 130mph; 0-62mph: 6.2sec; Economy: 47.1mpg; Co2: 159g/km; Kerb weight: 1875kg; Engine type, cc: 6cyls in line, 2993cc, turbodiesel; Power: 255bhp at 4000rpm; Torque: 413lb ft at 2000-2750rpm; Gearbox: 8-spd automatic

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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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Briantea 3 September 2011

Re: BMW X3 xDrive30d M Sport

Been and tried them all, the Q5, Taureg, Sorento, CX60, Landrover, but none had the drive feel and performance of the X3, so have put in my order for the 3.0ltr M Sport. That's when you hit the snag, a 6 month minimum waiting list.

bomb 11 August 2011

Re: BMW X3 xDrive30d M Sport

The Apprentice wrote:
It would have to reverse in, as thats the thin end of the wedge

Lie on your side, knees up to your chest..

philcUK 11 August 2011

Re: BMW X3 xDrive30d M Sport

The Apprentice wrote:
It would have to reverse in, as thats the thin end of the wedge
my first good laugh of the day! thanks :)