BMW X3 Road test by Steve Rogers


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MY BMW loving friend has got himself into a fix.

David has been driving his 420d for nearly a year and although he loves it he struggles to get in and out.

I should say David is nudging 80 and has had a new hip – 60 years prancing around a badminton court has taken its toll on his joints – so having to drop into and climb out of a low slung 420 is becoming a painful stretch. And he is taking stick from his wife who would have preferred an SUV this time round but you know what boys and their toys are like.

David always thought SUVs, even BMWs, had shabby handling, made for people who just want to get from A to B and couldn’t care less about a car with street cred.

Then he and his good wife Margaret had their heads turned by my X3 test car. We went through the usual ‘what’s this, what do you think of it’ questions and things got more serious when I took them for spin. They slid effortlessly and painlessly into the seats, were impressed with the quality finish, noting the dashboard looked virtually the same as their 420.

Even before we drove off Margaret was convinced they had made a mistake and should have had an X3, and David was veering to the same conclusion when he experienced the none too shabby performance and surprisingly good body control when I negotiated a roundabout a little quicker than normal.

They are not alone of course. The shift to crossovers-cum-SUVs, call them what you will, has been like a runaway train in the last few years. You may remember it all started in 2007 when Nissan came up with a new take on the family hatchback. Qashqai captured the imagination and raised the bar so high it started a trend that just keeps on rising.

But X3 was around in the days when it was easy for the premium set. Back in 2003 there was very little choice and the then newcomer was able to ride on the back of the impressive X5, not that it was in the same league.

Fifteen years on and we are living in a different world – SUV world. One in three cars leaving the BMW production line is an SUV and with so much quality opposition the German marque has really turned up the wick for the third generation X3.

It has become a big family car – the same size as the original X5 – and those who can afford to shell out nearly 40 grand are in for a real treat. You know what to expect from BMW, quality, precision and attention to detail is here in spades. The cabin is beautifully appointed putting X3 right up there as a contender for best in class.

I’m a huge fan of the new Volvos with their switch free minimalist cabin designs yet I was more comfortable tackling everyday tasks in the Beemer. It is bang up to date with a digital binnacle display, which includes the excellent head up display for speed and navigation directions, but the centre console has a more familiar look and is backed up by an infotainment centre that no longer needs a brain like Einstein to fathom.

Functions like radio, mobile phone, and navigation are behind a 10in screen with selections made via a rotary controller in a panel between the front seats. It is one of the easiest systems to work in any car.

The biggest difference over the previous X3 is how it drives. It sits on a new chassis and with modern construction technologies is lighter than the old car. Don’t be thinking this drives like  a 3 or 4 Series BMW because it doesn’t. It is still a fairly heavy all wheel drive car yet is surprisingly agile through twists and turns.

Granted my test car was the 8-speed M sport but I was quite happy driving in comfort mode which coped well with poor road surfaces.

You get a choice of two and three litre diesels and a new 2-litre petrol although the smaller diesel would be my pick because of its generous spread of torque, strong performance and economy.

So a big step up for X3, a technical tour de force with its driving dynamics and safety systems, but no longer having the luxury of very little opposition. It is now a case of circling the wagons with Audi, Volvo, Land Rover, Jaguar, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz  even Alfa Romeo presenting formidable challenges.

To come up with the perfect SUV would need elements from all of these but for now my money would still go on the Jaguar F-Pace… if only it could have the BMW 2-litre diesel!

Fast Facts

X3 xDrive M Sport

£41,990 (Tested £48,745 with options)

2-litre TD; 190bhp

0-62mph 8secs; 132mph

56.5 mpg combined

This test: 39mpg

144g/km. 1st road tax £515

Insurance group 29

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