Nearly new buying guide: BMW X3

3 December 2020 - autocar

Nearly new buying guide: BMW X3

Keen drivers and comfort seekers alike will enjoy today’s X3

Wine bores (sorry, connoisseurs) will tell you that adult grape juice gets better with age. This is certainly true of the third-generation BMW X3. The first iteration sold well but was a bit naff; the second was considerably better; but the current car from 2018 is the finest yet and it's far cheaper than a similarly aged X5, despite being arguably just as practical.

The engine range consists of two petrols and three diesels that all come equipped with four-wheel drive and a very smooth eight-speed automatic gearbox. The 184bhp 20i is fine for those who do lots of urban driving, but the 187bhp 20d is likely to be of more interest, due to its deeper reserves of torque and lower fuel consumption. For more performance, there's the 30d (261bhp 3.0-litre straight-six diesel engine), M40d (a 321bhp version of the same engine) and the really rapid M40i (355bhp 3.0-litre six-cylinder petrol engine).

Essentially, you will find there are four different trim levels, starting with SE. It comes with LED headlights, 18in alloy wheels, leather seats (the front ones are heated), dual-zone climate control, automatic lights and an electric tailgate. Higher-tier xLine has larger 19in wheels and sports seats, while M Sport gets more aggressive exterior styling and firmer suspension. The two most powerful engine options appear on only the M-badged M40i and M40d, which both have bigger brakes and 20in alloy wheels.

Once you've got behind the wheel of the X3, you'll soon realise that this is one of the best large SUVs to drive. It splits the difference between long-distance comfort and driving pleasure really well, thanks in no small part to a relatively playful chassis with a rear-biased four-wheel drive system and impressively low wind and road noise levels. The only slight criticism is that the steering doesn't have the consistent weighting of some of its rivals. However, few get close to the X3 for ride comfort, particularly on models equipped with adaptive suspension.

Inside, it feels very plush, with plenty of soft-touch plastics, and quality leather on the seats. Space is also plentiful and most drivers should have enough adjustment in the seat and steering wheel to find their ideal driving position – although it's worth noting that adjustable lumbar support isn't standard.

People in the back should have few complaints, although the central tunnel cuts the available space for a middle passenger. You can't get seven seats in the X3, but what it does have is a large, usefully shaped boot with a decent amount of underfloor storage. Standard 40/20/40 split folding rear seats make the most of the available space by being extremely flexible when carrying longer loads and passengers at the same time.

Prices for the current X3 start at £25,000 for an early version, most likely with a diesel engine. Rarer petrol models begin at £30,000. The faster M models are understandably more expensive: from £39,000 for an M40i and £40,000 for an M40d.

Need to know

The most frugal version is the 20d, with an official WLTP average of 45.6mpg. Remarkably, the six-cylinders aren't far off, with the 30d managing 40.4mpg and the M40d 39.2mpg. The petrol cars aren't so good: the 20i averages only 36.2mpg and the 34.4mpg of the M40i would have to be achieved with a very light foot. There have been five X3 recalls. Check with a BMW dealer to see if any work on yours is outstanding. Some owners have reported having the reversing camera stolen. Replacing it can cost around £1000, but you could instead go without and have a plastic cover installed for £133.

Our pick

X3 20d SE: M Sport looks great, but firmer suspension and bigger wheels mean you'll really need to find one with the optional adaptive dampers to soften the ride on badly maintained roads. So stick with an SE with the excellent 2.0-litre diesel engine.

Wild card

X3 M Competition: If you really want to go crazy, this has had a thorough suspension reworking from M division to make it handle sharper (at the cost of ride quality). There's a 503bhp 3.0-litre, too.

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