December 2010

BMW X3 xDrive20d SE

New X3 is considerably larger

December 2010

picture of car from the frontpicture of car from the rearpicture of car interiorpicture of car in detail

Overall rating

4.0 out of 5 stars


  • Much improved ride quality
  • Impressive economy considering size
  • Spacious and practical interior
  • Strong base specification


  • Increased size edges into X5 territory
  • Expensive optional extras
  • Usual slight springiness to manual gearchange
  • Transmission tunnel slightly restricts centre rear seat usage

Following the arrival of the more compact BMW X1 model, the German manufacturer has heavily revised the larger X3 to avoid the two models straying into each others territory. No longer the baby of BMW's SUV range, the X3 is now a bigger and more mature vehicle.

Prior to the arrival of the X1, the X3 was the smallest model in BMW's SUV line-up. But with the new model stealing that crown, BMW has had a rethink of the X3's positioning and created a new version with a slightly different agenda.

The new model is noticeably bigger - putting it closer in size to the X5 model and raising passenger and luggage space. A more sophisticated exterior design gives the model greater presence and BMW has also taken the opportunity to redress the issues that saw the outgoing model receive some negative press. Chief among them is ride quality, dealt with using an all new suspension layout.

The model is initially available in the UK with a single engine option; a 2.0-litre diesel unit that powers the vehicle through a permanent four-wheel drive system. It employs an intelligent stop-start system alongside BMW's usual Efficient Dynamics package to produce extremely impressive fuel consumption and CO2 emission figures.

Also available on the model for the first time is the option of BMW's eight-speed automatic transmission in lieu of the standard six-speed manual. It also uses stop-start to achieve even greater fuel consumption. Specification for the initial SE trim level model includes a full leather interior and Hill Descent Control for greater off-road prowess. As usual, a large range of options is available including sophisticated multimedia entertainment and connectivity systems and a Head Up Display.

Our verdict on the BMW X3 xDrive20d SE

The new X3 is a massive improvement over the old. Not only larger and more economical, it also boasts a significantly improved quality of ride and a better driving experience all round. The addition of stop-start alongside BMW's standard energy saving measures is a real bonus and a smart, luxurious driver-focussed interior boosts the feeling of greater maturity that's present throughout the vehicle.


Despite the generous specification, the new X3 actually boasts a cheaper base price than the outgoing model, but is still priced as a premium product. Tempting optional extras are freely available and will push up the purchase price. Regardless, the excellent fuel economy and impressive emissions make the X3 hugely competitive in terms of running costs and taxation particularly considering the permanent four-wheel drive.

Space and practicality

A large and spacious vehicle, the X3 affords impressive levels of leg and headroom for front and rear passengers. The transmission tunnel makes a dent in the legroom available for the central rear passenger, but the rear will comfortably accommodate two adults over a long journey. A large boot is compliment by a rear bench that folds 40-60 as standard, 40-20-40 optional, and there's plenty of trinket space, pockets and cubby holes in the cabin.

Controls and display

The optional Head Up Display system proves highly beneficial for the driver, neatly displaying essential information in line of sight, although it can struggle against bright sunshine. Even without it, the instrument and control layout is efficient and ergonomic, taking minutes to become acquainted with and easily operated on the move. A sturdy feel to the controls is pleasing and the large colour display is effective at conveying a wide range of vehicle, trip and multimedia information.


BMW has gone to great lengths to address the ride quality issues that plagued the previous generation of X3 with a completely new suspension system. The changes have been a success and the model now rides extremely well on all manner of surfaces. The driver-oriented cabin makes life extremely easy and comfortable for the driver with controls within easy reach. Decent equipment levels including dual-zone climate control also benefit passengers. The stop-start system proves notably unobtrusive and is intelligent enough to anticipate when it should refrain from switching the engine off. Road and wind noise are well contained, although the diesel unit can occasionally produce a little noise in the cabin.

Car security

An alarm, immobiliser and remote central locking are naturally included as standard. BMW's ConnectedDrive upgrade also includes a system that calls the emergency services in the event of an accident.

Car safety

The X3 is fitted with a comprehensive level of active and passive safety equipment as standard. Dynamic stability control including traction and cornering control are standard as are systems to compensate for wet weather braking and brake fade. Hill-descent control may also prove useful off-road. Driver, front passenger and side airbags are all included as are head airbags for front and rear passengers, front seatbelt pretensioners and belt-force limiters. Tyre pressure monitoring contributes to safety on the move and, of course, four-wheel drive aids traction in slippery conditions.

Driver appeal

Despite the impressive fuel consumption and emissions, the 2.0-litre diesel provides respectable performance. Power delivery is smooth and predictable, meaning there's no disadvantage in terms of smoothness in opting for the six-speed manual transmission. The gearchange itself is positive and direct, but features the curious springiness common to many BMW manual gearboxes. The adaptable steering is excellent offering an ideal combination of lightness around town and feedback on the move. The driving position is similarly impressive and four-wheel drive offers basic off-road potential, too.

Family car appeal

The X3 makes a fine choice as a family vehicle even with its executive leanings. Older children may be kinder to the luxurious leather interior but families will be served well by the practicality, running costs and adaptability of the model.

First car appeal

The BMW X3 is unlikely to attract first time car buyers or young drivers owing to its size, price and premium nature. Aimed more at an executive, mature market, younger drivers in search of similar quality would probably find the BMW 1 Series or Mini-sub-brand more appealing and attainable.

Quality and image

BMW products are consistently among the most highly regarded and the increased dimensions and improved exterior styling of the new X3 will further the appeal. Excellent build quality is another brand staple and moving the X3's production in-house has resulted in improvements in this area. Details such as the patterned rear window element hint at the effort put into producing the model. Interior quality and materials are excellent.


The X3 sits at the perfect height for ease of entry; there's no climb up like a full-size SUV but the tall body and raised rid-height offer an advantage over a regular executive saloon or estate. The rear passenger doors are of a decent proportion and the tailgate is deep, with a minimal sill, and can be specified to operate automatically.

Stereo and ICE (In car entertainment)

A neatly integrated CD and radio system is incorporated in the lower portion of the dashboard complete with a row of quick access buttons. The system uses a version of BMW's revised iDrive system which provides easy access to the various functions. A 6.5 inch screen is standard and sits in the upper half of the dashboard. This upgrades to a massive 8.8-inch screen with the sat-nav equipped systems. Several multimedia upgrades are available, including office connectivity capability. Sound quality is strong across the board.

Colours and trim

As usual with BMW's range of premium models, the BMW X3 is offered in a limited range of colours with a focus on silvers and greys. Red, blue, white and black are the more extrovert shades. A full leather interior is standard for UK cars and five kinds of hide are available. Finishing trim can also be specified, with the brushed aluminium offering a contemporary look and wood options also available.


Despite a considerable increase in external proportions the X3 doesn't pose any major issues when parking. The seating position offers good visibility and the turning circle is not unduly restricted by the four-wheel drive system. Parking sensors are standard with an upgraded system, complete with reversing camera, available.

Spare wheel

BMW Mobility System tyre repair kit stored beneath boot floor, optional run-flat tyres.

Range information

Diesel engine options - 2.0-litre (184bhp). Transmission options: six-speed manual gearbox, eight-speed automatic gearbox, four-wheel drive. Trim levels: SE (extensive options available).

Alternative cars

Volvo XC60 D3 DRIVe version is frugal but front-wheel drive

Audi Q5 Premium quality, handsome, marginally less efficient in 2.0 TDI form

Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0 TDI BlueMotion is cheaper but four-wheel drive will lessen economy

Infiniti EX EX30d is most economical version but not in the X3's emissions league

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