The old X3 was one of the few chinks in BMW’s armour. Slightly out of proportion and with a harsher ride than some military vehicles, it was a rare case of the Bavarian manufacturer messing things up.
“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me you can’t get fooled again,” George W. Bush eloquently stated, and taking his advice on board BMW have decided to get it right this time.
The new X3 has been improved in every way. To start with, they’ve dropped every engine but the one you need. All X3s, in Britain at least, come with a 2.0 litre 184bhp diesel.
When it comes to ride, handling and build quality, BMW are in the same ballpark as the best of the opposition, but when it comes to internal combustion engine technology they’re way out in front.
The 2.0 litre diesel powers the not inconsiderable bulk of the X3 from 0-62mph in just 8.5 seconds, making it as smart off the line as many a hot hatch.
It also returns better than 50 miles per gallon on the combined cycle. I’m struggling to think of an engine outside the BMW stable that can equal that power-to-weight-to-economy ratio.
The new X3 is 79mm longer and 28mm wider than the car it replaces, making it almost as long and slightly wider than the original X5. It’s also 25kg lighter than the outgoing X3, and BMW have taken the opportunity of a redesign to sort out the proportions the old model was too tall and skinny.
The increased dimensions result in a much roomier cabin: in particular rear leg and shoulder room is much improved, and six-foot-plus passengers can sit comfortably back there. The boot has a large 500 litres of space, rising to a van-like 1600 litres with the rear seats folded.
There’s nothing else van-like about the interior, however it’s awash with quality. Comfortable leather seats and a built in iDrive screen come as standard, and the standard of the plastics, wood and switchgear is top notch.
X3 ownership starts at £31,135 for the six-speed manual version, but I’d recommend stumping up the extra £1500 for the automatic version.
It comes with eight forward gears, which are changed between virtually seamlessly. The automatic matches the manual’s 0-62mpg time and fuel economy, and actually pips it very slightly in the emissions stakes, with a CO2 figure of 147g/km rather than 149g/km.
There’s a hill descent control button that helps lend the X3 a modicum of off-road ability, and BMW’s fine iDrive system that replaces a wealth of buttons with one simple-to-use dial.
Drivers can choose from three suspension settings Normal, Sport and Sport+. But even on the last-mentioned setting the ride is more comfortable than the old X3. Set to Normal, it’s even more cosseting than the comfortable Audi Q5 and Land Rover Freelander.
It’s a quiet motorway cruiser, with engine, tyre and wind noise all well dampened.
BMW have always produced the most ‘car-like’ drive of any SUV, and the X3 handles excellently, gripping well through corners with very little in the way of body roll. Unless you’re a farmer and really need to go off-road at which point the X3 will probably struggle against sturdier rivals like the Freelander there really isn’t much to criticise here.
Although the cover price has gone up, so has the level of standard equipment and BMW claim the new car actually represents a £115 saving over the old model. As far as I’m concerned, the new X3 is the best car in its class.
Price: £32,660.0-62mph: 8.5sec.Top speed: 130mph. Economy: 50.4mpg. CO2 emissions: 147g/km.