Paul Horrell’s 2018 BMW X3 Review with pricing, specs, performance, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.

In a nutshell: BMW’s mid-size SUV is now good enough to justify its runaway sales success. Launches with a new performance model too.

2018 BMW X3 30d (European spec)

Price $NA + orc Warranty 3 years/150,000km Engine (tested) 3.0l turbo straight-6 diesel Power 195kW at 4000rpm Torque 620Nm at 2000-2500rpm Transmission 8-speed auto Drive four-wheel drive Body 4708mm (l); 1891mm (w exc mirrors); 2138mm (w inc mirrors); 1676mm (h) Turning circle 12.0m Towing weight 2400kg (braked), 750kg (unbraked) Kerb weight 1820kg Seats 5 Fuel tank 68 litres Spare Space saver Thirst 5.7L/100km combined cycle Fuel Diesel

THE MID-SIZE crossover class is very busy these days, and the competition is red-hot. As usual BMW faces its traditional foes in Audi’s new Q5 and Mercedes’ refined, comfy GLC. Don’t disregard the new Skandi-cool Volvo XC60 either. But if BMW is a sporty brand it also has to face up to the Porsche Macan, Jaguar F-Pace and Alfa Stelvio too.

The first-gen X3 back in 2003 was a shocker, the worst car BMW made at the time: ugly, hard-riding and badly finished inside. The second generation, now ending its life, made amends in most areas, but it still lacked fluency for the driver. It also spawned the horrible X4, a sin for which we won’t easily forgive it.

With this new generation the X3 goes onto BMW’s very latest longitudinal engine platform. That gives it access to a series of lightweight measures in body, suspension and seats, and those save 55kg model for model. It also has a very high-tech electronic architecture, and with it all sorts of fancy high-tech options.

The European range has diesels in 2.0-litre four-cylinder and 3.0-litre six-cylinder sizes. Nothing surprising there. But there’s also now a 2.0-litre fuelled by petrol, showing the way the market is shifting. Finally the M40i is a semi-M model with a stonking 265kW petrol turbo six. All have eight-speed autoboxes and electronically controlled all-wheel drive.

As is the habit of the car industry, the X3 has grown. It’s now bigger than the first-gen X5.

What’s the interior like?

It’s an impressive place to be, even if you don’t start ticking option boxes: there’s nicely finished leather over the seats, and aluminium garnish on the dash and doors. Pay a little extra and those finishes can be upgraded with some very nice open-pore wood.

Instruments have the usual superb BMW legibility. The optional head-up display is the best in the business, not just for size or clarity but for the way it prioritises information when you need it. Also, the tablet screen has moved onto the top of the dash in this new-model X3. With that the air-vents, stereo controls and climate controls have also correspondingly risen up the centre stack, making those buttons and knobs easier to decipher and reach.

This also makes the forward console storage bin bigger – it’s covered by a blind. And the door pockets hold litre bottles.

The seats are supportive up front. The ones in the photos are the sports chairs fitted to the xLine trim level, but the standard ones are perfectly OK. 

In the back, space has grown, as you’d hope in a vehicle that now has a 2864mm wheelbase. Legroom is fine for a 1.90m passenger behind a 1.90m driver. The bench is a true three-seater, and proves it with three ISOFIX points. Rear passengers get independent climate control, vents and lights and a power outlet. Two cup holders live in the armrest.

The boot is boxy and big at 550 litres. Under the floor is another storage box, and slots to put the luggage blind and the dog guard net while the seat is folded down. Stout rings are ready to accept load tie-down cords and there are also tracks for load dividers.

Two centre screens are available. The one in our photos is the optional 10.5 inch hi-res. You can control it by touch, with swipes and pinch-zooming et cetera. Hard to see why you’d need to when the iDrive controller is now so good.

Another option is gesture control but no BMW staffer has managed to convince me that’s anything other than a gimmick. The system so far recognises only a small number of inputs and they anyway have very simple  physical controls to do the same thing. Honestly, twirling your finger in the air to reduce stereo volume makes you feel like a right plonker when there’s a perfectly good volume knob right there.

But the navigation and telephony systems are first rate for basic usability. The higher-level connectivity apps are ridiculously complicated and BMW has great trouble explaining either how to use them or what the point is. And they often fail to work anyway.

So we’d recommend saving your cash and sticking to the standard 6.5-inch screen, which is still perfectly readable as still has excellent responsive navigation that’s traffic-aware via a built-in SIM. Apple CarPlay is also on offer. The top-level 16-speaker Harman Kardon Logic 7 surround-sound system properly does the business too.

What’s it like on the road?

The 30d engine is like a velvet catapult sling, and tickling its accelerator releases its pent-up energy. The turbo spools up, the transmission might drop a gear or two, but you don’t really feel these things happening as identifiable mechanical events. Instead it’s just a soft-edged but forceful push in the back, and a sense of the rest of the traffic being sucked backward.

It’s not an entirely silent engine, but as the revs climb its noise is a smooth six-cylinder concerto rather than a harsh dieselly rattle. When on song, it’ll haul the big X3 from rest up to 100km/h in 5.8 seconds.

We also tried the top-range M40i. Its 265kW petrol engine really does haul when you floor it. And to the sound of a classic BMW high-revving straight-six, too. One of the great automotive pleasures, even if it’s more muted since the arrival of turbos. It’ll romp to 100km/h in 4.8 seconds.

But in a bid to save fuel, the autobox’s strategy is normally to keep revs very low, and so if you’re just at middle throttle openings it’ll stay in high gear and the sound is drab and laboured. So you might want to flick the down paddle, or switch the transmission to sport mode.

Both or diesel and petrol testers were fitted with optional adaptive dampers, and the M40i has a suspension tuned by the M people. But it’s not a rough-riding corner-destroyer. There’s still some nice suppleness in the chassis at speed, and it rounds off urban potholes too.

The steering is fairly eager, and as you use the accelerator out of a bend you can feel the power shifting to the back axle and the car balancing itself nicely. Understeer is seldom an issue. But the steering is a bit numb in feedback. Oh sure, pretty well all SUVs have that problem, but the rival Porsche Macan is a little more vivid.

The 30d has a softer ride but still manages to keep decent composure through bends. It’s a well-judged setup. Wind and tyre noise are pretty well subdued too, adding to everyone’s comfort.

Off-roading isn’t a huge design priority in the X3, but it’s not a joke. Here are the underbody angles: approach 25.7-degrees (which is OK), departure 22.6-degrees (not very good even among soft-road rivals), breaker 19.4-degrees. Wading depth is listed at 500mm. I tried a dusty, steep and moderately rutted forest track and it felt secure, partly thanks to a well-calibrated hill descent control system. There’s a degree of underbody protection on the xLine trim version too.

But a wheel often dangled, as there’s not a whole lot of articulation. Don’t expect to find any terrain response systems, or liftable air suspension, never mind low box.

What about safety features?

It’s too new to have been crash-tested by NCAP in Europe or Australia. That said its structure and safety systems are related to what’s in the BMW 5-series. That car has scored very highly, both for occupant protection and for the effectiveness of the collision mitigation city-brake system, which of course detects vehicles and pedestrians.

Other standard features to avoid slow and high-speed accidents include a reversing camera, all-round park sensors and bright LED headlamps.

Optional driver assist packages run all the way to semi-automated driving in a few limited situations such as highways. The active cruise control works down to stop-go traffic speeds, and is backed up by steering and lane control assistance, which actively nudges the steering to keep in lane, though of course the driver can easily push through these artificial inputs if he or she wants to go in a different direction.

Lane change blind-spot warning also uses steering nudges to help prevent you steering into the path of an overtaking vehicle. The same sensors also give cross-traffic warning when the X3 is reversing out of a parking space onto the road. A good feature, so why’s it optional?

So, what do we think?

The BMW X3 does well all the things you want an SUV to do well, like being roomy and comfortable and safe too. It’s also good to drive but it’s much bigger than its been, eclipsing now the first-generation X5 which, at the time that model arrived, we thought was a monster.


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About Author

Paul Horrell

Paul's working life has been paced out in cars. He began road-testing when the VW Golf was in its second generation. It's now in its eighth. He covers much more than the tyre-smoking part of the road-test landscape. He roots around in the financial machinations of the car corporations and the apparent voodoo of the technologies. Then he clarifies those complications so his general readers – too busy to lodge their heads up the industry's nether regions – get the fast track on what matters and what doesn't. A freelance writer living in London, he usually gets around the city by bicycle, which adds to his (sometimes justified) reputation as a bit green and a bit of a lefty. He's a member of Europe's Car of the Year jury.

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