The Essentials

  • Price from £31,485
  • What Car? says: 5 star rating
  • Fuel economy: up to 50.4mpg
  • What is it? Compact SUV that's great to drive and more discreet than a Range Rover Evoque


  • Welcome to the lap of luxury: a really classy cabin
  • Diesel auto model is impressively clean and frugal
  • Generously kitted out


  • Rear central passenger must sit legs akimbo
  • Manual version is rather clunky
  • Will it drive so well without Dynamic Damper Control?
  • Drive

    Superb to drive - we defy you to step out of it without a smile

  • Inside

    If electric driver's seat controls were standard, it would be close to perfect

  • Safety

    Plenty of high-tech wizardry to keep you and anyone you might hit safe. Lots to keep your car out of the hands of crooks, too

  • Reliability

    Prepare to join the ranks of satisfied BMW owners who laugh in the face of breakdown insurance

  • Space

    Great for four adults, a fifth gets to straddle the transmission tunnel. Masses of boot room

  • Standard and extras

    All X3s come loaded with goodies from leather seats to all-round parking sensors and cruise control. Extras galore, for a price

  • What's it like to drive?

    The BMW X3 is light on its feet for an SUV, so it's fun to drive as well as extremely comfortable. SE trim offers a great balance between comfort and control, but avoid M Sport models as these suffer from a punishingly firm ride. We haven't yet driven the 2.0-litre diesel with 141bhp (badged 18d) but the 181bhp 2.0-litre (badged 20d) has plenty of oomph even if you travel fully loaded, and will be adequate for most buyers, making the two 3.0-litre diesel models (255bhp 30d and 309bhp 35d) rather unnecessary. These are extremely quick, but they cost a lot more to buy and to run. If you can afford it, go for super-smooth eight-speed automatic gearbox.

  • What's it like inside?

    Unless you opt for a model with electronic seat adjustment, finding the perfect driving position is a touch fiddly. However, once settled, you can enjoy the luxuriously appointed cabin and surf the high-tech iDrive system to control all the major functions.
    The X3 makes a spacious family car, but those in the back might fight over the window seats  the central passenger has to straddle the chunky transmission tunnel. The luggage does better with a vast boot that stretches to 1600 litres with the seats folded. That's a lot of shopping.
    All are fitted with leather seats, dual-zone climate control, all-round parking sensors and automatic lights and wipers. You'll have to pay extra for Bluetooth hands-free phone preparation, though.

  • How reliable is it?

    The X3 didn't feature in the latest JD Power customer satisfaction survey, but both the smaller X1 and larger X5 were awarded a below average score for mechanical reliability.
    However, the X3 comes with plenty of safety kit: as well as front, side and curtain airbags, it gets stability control and Isofix child seat mounts as standard. It was awarded five stars in its Euro NCAP crash test, scoring 88% for adult safety, and 83% for child protection. The Audi Q5 achieved marginally better results, scoring 92% and 84% respectively.

  • Should I buy one?

    The X3 isn't cheap to buy, but the 2.0-litre diesel engine makes it one of the most economical 4x4s to run, and resale values are also strong. The BMW might not have the wow-factor of, say, a Range Rover Evoque, but it makes up for that with more agile handling, a comfier ride and a classier cabin. That's why the X3 is our favourite SUV.