Sure when pressed on demanding ‘B’ roads you have to make some compromise for the higher centre of gravity, but it is surprisingly agile with plenty of useable grip.
Ride and Handling
The BMW X3 is equipped with xDrive permanent four-wheel-drive, an electronically controlled system that ensures variable distribution of power to the front and rear wheels. The XDrive system is linked to DSC, Dynamic Stability Control which actively controls the X3 in the event of a skid whether caused by oversteer or understeer.
Our test car was fitted with Variable Damper Control a £930 option which electronically controls the dampers to adapt to road surface conditions and the style of driving. The driver is also able to influence the action of the dampers by means of the Drive Dynamic Control system.
It also enables you to choose between Normal, Sport and Sport+ modes using a button on the centre console. As well as damping behaviour, it can adjust the characteristics of the accelerator, engine response, power steering weight, DSC response thresholds and the shifting dynamics of the automatic transmission.
We liked VDC - the difference between the modes is very noticeable and we particularly liked the fact that you could customize the X3’s behaviour via the TFT screen. We preferred to set the less assisted power steering, yet we did not want the enhanced throttle response or the chassis settings all of the time.
We did not test the X3 off road except for the track to our own house - where there is reasonable ground clearance. The X3 lacks low and high ratio gearboxes but it was very capable crossing our green lane which is just passable by car. There is hill descent control which is great both off road and on road, helping to maintain control in inclement weather and on ice or on steep inclines/hills.
On road the BMW X3 is great to drive - much better than its predecessor and the competition and with VDC it feels more like a hot hatch than an SUV. Sure when pressed on demanding ‘B’ roads you have to make some compromise for the higher centre of gravity, but it is surprisingly agile with plenty of useable grip.
The ride quality is very good but better than the old model soaking up all but the most vicious of pot holes.
In summary the ride and handling is excellent, especially considering that this is an SUV, in fact it is an SUV that can be driven without much compromise.
Ease of Use
We tested the BMW X3 xDrive30d M Sport, getting in and out was a straight forward affair – some people might find the entry height awkward but it isn’t that high.
There is a starting button but as standard the X3 does not come with keyless entry/start which is a shame as having to use the key to open the car and then having to put it back into your pocket and then use a starting button does not make much sense.
The switch gear is of a high quality and is ergonomically laid out – we found the iDrive controller very easy to use. Although the direct radio controls i.e. the volume control is poor – although it is replicated on the steering wheel. The trip computer which is in the lower portion of the instrument panel can be difficult to read depending on the steering wheel position.
The driving position is excellent and our test car benefitted from an electrically adjustable seat which helped us to get into the ideal driving position. All round vision is very good and parking was made easy by front and rear parking sensors. Our test car was also blessed with the optional Reversing Assist camera with Top View (£530) which gives you near all-round vision of the X3 by using cameras at the rear, and in the side mirrors. It gives a top down view which is great for parking, as you not only see what is behind you but you can also see what is down to the side of you.
Although the X3 will seat five an adult in the middle rear seat might find it a bit uncomfortable, apart from that everyone else should feel quite comfortable and there is more room overall than in the preceding BMW X3. Although some drivers may find that their left leg touches against the central transmission tunnel, something that was noticeable in the old X3.
The BMW X3’s foot print is 4648mm long x 1881mm which is 83mm longer and 28mm wider the old X3 but smaller than the Ford Mondeo hatchback which is 4784mm x 1886mm. Its nearest competitor the Audi Q5 is slightly smaller at 4269mm x 1880mm.
Our car test was fitted with the £170 optional 40:20:40 split fold rear seats rather than the standard 60:40 split, which was welcome as it allowed us to keep a child’s seat locked in (on the kerbside) via the ISOFIX fittings whilst carrying cargo.
With the rear seats in place you can carry 550 litres of luggage, with all the seats down this increased to 1600 litres. To protect your cargo from prying eyes there is a well-engineered luggage cover and our car benefitted from an extra Luggage compartment, separating netting (£125) and extended storage (£155) which help to secure your cargo securely in the boot.