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Road Test: BMW X3

BMW’s third-generation X3 is a technological showcase, with more to come. By Alex Grant.

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SECTOR SUV   PRICE £37,980-£50,530   FUEL 34.5-56.5mpg CO2   132-188g/km

Within two decades, BMW’s SUV range has expanded from the first X5 to include every segment from the X1 to the first pre-production X7s ahead of its launch next year. It’s a core product offer; a quarter of its UK volume, and continuing to grow. Something this new X3 will play a large part in.

To give some idea of this segment’s popularity, BMW sold 50% more second-generation X3s globally than it did of the first, and it’s expecting to double that again with the third-generation car. Considering this is a segment spanning from Porsche to Volvo, that’s saying something.

Sales aren’t all that’s growing; styling mirrors the X1, which is no bad thing, but it’s now 5cm larger in every direction than the old X3, and bigger than the original X5. But it’s also more aerodynamic, despite rolling on larger wheels (as per customer demand), shares a platform with the latest 5 Series and splits its weight 50/50 between the two axles, just like a BMW saloon.

BMW’s broad SUV line-up means there’s been no need to soften its practicality in the name of sportiness. It’s incredibly spacious and well glazed, with loads of room in both rows and space for three child seats across the back. Though boot capacity is unchanged, it’s reshaped to accommodate bulky items, extended over a folding three-piece rear bench, and augmented by more cubby holes than even the messiest family could fill.

The SE, xLine and M Sport trims are unchanged, though adaptive LED headlights, softer leather, part-digital dials and Park Assist are standard on all versions. One point to note, though, is the 68-litre fuel tank is optional on the SE, which has a

60-litre tank as standard. Also, M Sport is the only version to get the Professional Navigation system, with a bigger screen and additional features. Most of the connected and partially-autonomous driving features from the 5 Series are available as options.

With an electric version due in 2020, and a plug-in hybrid likely too, the X3 also moves the game on in terms of drivetrains, but the launch offer is fairly conventional. A new entry-level 20i petrol and high-performance M40i join the familiar 30d and almost-default 20d, and all have four-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission – only 5% of the old car’s customers picked a manual box.

You’d want for nothing in 20d spec. The engine is barely audible aside from some grumble under load, though all test cars had the £110 acoustic side glass option ticked, and it feels more like a low-slung estate car than a high-sided SUV to drive. Ride quality on M Sport wheels is perfectly acceptable on rough surfaces, though it can bounce a bit at high speed, and the variable steering setup on our test car was a little over-assisted on the motorway: Easily solved by playing with the drive modes. BMW’s sports tourers make a great case as a fit-for-all-needs car, and you’ll sacrifice nothing by moving into its deservedly popular SUVs.

What we think

The X3 offers an appealing package of space, flexibility and on-road driver appeal which could make you question the need for the larger X5.

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Alex Grant

Trained on Cardiff University’s renowned Postgraduate Diploma in Motor Magazine Journalism, Alex is an award-winning motoring journalist with ten years’ experience across B2B and consumer titles. A life-long car enthusiast with a fascination for new technology and future drivetrains, he joined Fleet World in April 2011, contributing across the magazine and website portfolio and editing the EV Fleet World Website.