2015-2017 BMW X3 Review

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2015-2017 BMW X3 Review

Priced From $62,900Information

Overall Rating


4 out of 5 stars

Rating breakdown
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Safety, value & features

3 out of 5 stars

Comfort & space

3 out of 5 stars

Engine & gearbox

5 out of 5 stars

Ride & handling

4 out of 5 stars


4 out of 5 stars

Pros & Cons

  1. ProHandling; big cargo bay; slick, efficient engines.

  2. ConFirm ride; spartan cabin feel; low on standard equipment.

  3. The Pick: 2017 BMW X3 xDrive 20d 4D Wagon

What stands out?

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The second-generation BMW X3 was a sporty medium SUV with enthusiastic, fuel-efficient engines, a slick eight-speed automatic gearbox, and all-wheel drive. Its handling is enjoyable, and its five-seat cabin offers generous passenger and cargo space.

What might bug me?

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On long trips, wishing you had a spare wheel and tyre. If you puncture a tyre on the X3, you just keep driving: the tyres will still work when they’re flat. That’s great, provided you can get a new tyre fitted soon. Once it has lost air, an X3’s run-flat tyre will last for about 80km.

That your mobile device can’t connect to the X3’s multimedia system via the same cable it uses for other connections. You have to buy a special cable from BMW.

What body styles are there?

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Five-door, five-seat SUV-style wagon only. The BMW X3 drives all four wheels, and it is classed as a medium SUV, higher priced.

What features do all BMW X3s have?

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Cruise control. Dual-zone climate-control, which lets you set different temperatures for each side of the cabin.

A reversing camera, and parking sensors front and rear.

Windscreen wipers that operate automatically when it rains. Extremely bright bi-xenon headlights that turn on automatically when it’s getting dark. Long lasting LED daytime running lights, and fog lights front and rear.

A multimedia system with a digital radio, Bluetooth connectivity for phone calls and audio streaming, auxiliary and USB input sockets, a voice control function, and satellite navigation.

Controls for the multimedia system on a leather-trimmed steering wheel. A power-adjustable driver’s seat that can remember your setting (which makes it easy to restore after a companion has driven the car). A power-operated tailgate.

BMW Connected Drive, which can transmit vehicle information to a service centre for routine maintenance or breakdown assistance, or to emergency services in the event of a crash. It also allows you to search the web, and includes apps that provide news, weather and other information.

Driving Experience Control, which lets you adjust how lazily or immediately the car responds to your pressure on the accelerator pedal. You can select Comfort, Efficiency or Sport mode.

Aluminium alloy wheels, fitted with run-flat tyres (these allow you to keep driving after you have punctured a tyre, and also help you maintain control if a tyre loses air pressure suddenly).

Six airbags: two directly in front of the driver and passenger; one on the outer side of each front occupant to protect the upper body; and airbags on each side to protect the heads of front and outer-rear occupants.

Electronic stability control, which can help you control a skidding car. All new cars must have this feature.

Every BMW X3 carries a three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty.

Which engine uses least fuel, and why wouldn't I choose it?

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You can choose from four engines in an X3: two turbocharged diesels and two turbocharged petrols. As is common BMW practice, each X3 model is named for the engine that propels it.

Both diesels use less fuel than either petrol, and it is the 2.0-litre four-cylinder in the xDrive20d that uses least of all, consuming 5.3 litres/100km on the official test (city and country combined).

The main reason you might not choose this effortless diesel is that you would like your X3 to be genuinely quick rather than moderately powerful. The bigger, 3.0-litre, six-cylinder diesel in the more expensive xDrive30d transforms the X3, with about 40 per cent more shove available. Yet is still very economical, using 6.0 litres/100km on the official test.

Of the petrol engines, the 2.0-litre four-cylinder in the xDrive28i offers similar performance to the 3.0 diesel, and delivers it more smoothly, while using about 25 percent more fuel (7.5 litres/100km).

The other petrol engine powers the least costly X3, the xDrive20i. It shares its 2.0 litres and four cylinders with the engine in the 28i and uses just as much fuel, but it is much less powerful. The xDrive 20i is the least potent X3, but it too is smoother and quieter than either diesel.

Every engine has an automatic stop-start system, which saves fuel in urban driving. It shuts down the engine when you stop, and starts it again when you take your foot off the brake pedal to drive away.

Every BMW X3 comes with an eight-speed conventional automatic gearbox.

What key features do I get if I spend more?

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Choosing an xDrive 20i or 20d brings you the features common to all X3s. Seats are trimmed in a synthetic material BMW calls Sensatec, and the multimedia system has a 6.5-inch touchscreen display. The wheel diameter is 18 inches.

Spending more for an xDrive28i or 30d gets you the more powerful petrol or diesel engine, and some feature enhancements.

Perhaps the most significant of these is leather trim on the seats. You also get a surround-view monitor, which displays on the multimedia screen a 360 degree view of the car from above (this makes manoeuvres in confined spaces easier). The multimedia screen is bigger, at 8.8 inches. And there is better satellite navigation and a more powerful audio system, with a 20GB hard drive for audio file storage.

Wheels on the more expensive cars are an inch bigger at 19 inches, with lower profile tyres that sharpen the steering a bit. The rear tyres are also wider. And there are other exterior styling changes, among them dual tailpipes rather than a single exhaust outlet.

A large number of convenience, luxury and safety options are available at extra cost on all X3s. They include adaptive suspension (which provides a more comfortable ride), and variable steering (which optimises the steering feel for different driving conditions). Among other options are heaters for the front and rear seats, proximity-key unlocking of the car (you can leave the key in your pocket or bag), hands-free opening of the tailgate, and a large power-operated sunroof.

Also available at extra cost are two active safety packages that offer automatic braking. One is a camera-based system effective at city speeds. The other adds a radar, extends to highway speeds, and brings active cruise control. (For more on X3 safety systems, please open the Safety section below).

Does any upgrade have a down side?

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The 19-inch wheels on the X3 xDrive28i and 30d reduce ride smoothness a bit, compared with the 18-inch wheels and tyres worn by an xDrive20i or 20d. The lower profile tyres on the bigger wheels have less rubber and air cushioning you from the road.

Of eleven colours available on a BMW X3, only two – black and white – are non-metallic and come at no extra cost. Other colours cost about $1900 extra.

How comfortable is the BMW X3?

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The BMW X3’s interior feels a bit drab and basic for a higher priced medium SUV. Its austere design and hard dash and trim materials fall a long way from the warmth and richness of many of the main alternatives, such as the beautifully finished Audi Q5, Scando-slick Volvo XC60 and smart Land Rover Discovery Sport.

The X3’s front seats are flat and firmly cushioned, and the central multimedia screen in xDrive20i and 20d versions is relatively lo-res. The driving position is good, however, and the instrument panel neat and clearly presented. The iDrive multimedia navigation system operates as your intuition expects.

X3 cabin feel takes a step up in xDrive28i and 30d versions, thanks to their leather seat trim and extra equipment that includes a bigger, better multimedia screen, but it’s still not as inviting as the cabins of most similarly priced compact SUV alternatives.

The ride in the X3 is taut to the point of being fidgety on all but newly laid roads, as a result of the sports-slanted firm suspension and run-flat tyres. (The tough construction that lets run-flats work for short distances without air in them means they’re always less forgiving over bumps).

The BMW cabin is a bit below average in its ability to suppress noises from outside, such as tyre roar and wind rustle.

The optional adaptive suspension – BMW calls it Dynamic Damper Control – makes a big difference to comfort in the X3. It takes the edge off sharp bumps, and controls and smooths the vertical motion of the body. Paying extra for it brings your X3 ride quality that approaches that of the best alternative SUVs.

What about safety in a BMW X3?

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Electronic stability control, six airbags, a reversing camera, and front and rear parking sensors are solid safety fundamentals in all BMW X3s.

No X3 has autonomous emergency braking as standard. But this is available at extra cost on any X3, in two active safety packages.

The less costly package, Driving Assistant, includes a camera-based autonomous partial-braking system which works at speeds up to 60km/h. If it detects an obstacle in front – typically a sharply slowing car – it will warn you and if necessary will initiate braking automatically, but it will not apply maximum braking. There is also a lane-departure warning, which alerts you if you have begun to drift out of your lane (a sign of fatigue).

The more expensive package, Driving Assistant Plus, is camera-and-radar based, and it works over a longer range and at highway speeds. To the features of Driving Assistant it adds active cruise control, which will maintain a safe distance to vehicles in front. And it brings you forward collision warning and full auto-braking at speeds up to 210km/h.

Available as a stand-alone option is lane-change warning. This alerts you to vehicles alongside in a blind spot, via a light on the exterior mirror and a vibration through the steering wheel.

The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) awarded the BMW X3 five stars for safety, its maximum. The X3 has a strong body that performed very well in crash tests, achieving perfect scores in the pole and side impact tests on its way to an overall score of 34.58 out of 37.00.

I like driving - will I enjoy this car?

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The BMW X3’s dynamic focus gives it adroit handling and the engines are eager – and in the 28i and 30d, potent. If you can live with the ride comfort compromise that results from the X3’s fixation on sportiness, you’ll enjoy driving it.

The happy, effective and economical pairing of each engine with the ZF brand eight-speed automatic gearbox makes the BMW smooth, agreeable and easy to drive in the city, and effervescent on country roads, where gearchanges are swift whether you choose to take gear selection into your own hands or leave the gearbox to its own shift maps.

However, the ever-busy ride, with the firm, flat front seats, takes some of the shine off the X3’s urban enjoyment potential. On bad roads, it’s not smooth or soothing.

The X3’s dynamic downfall is the shortage of feel from its steering at low to middling speeds. If you’re a keen driver, that may leave you feeling a bit detached from the driving experience. However, the sense of steering connection improves at high speeds, or when you steer the X3 with verve. So as a sporty tourer on country roads, the X3 comes together as one of the more rewarding SUVs among the alternatives.

The optional Variable Sport Steering makes a big difference to responsiveness around town, and makes the X3 even more satisfying when you’re driving it sportily.

The 28i and 30d have muscle, which is terrific for sporty driving and for effortless overtaking and hill climbing. In contrast the least costly X3, the 20i, has enough accessible grunt for easy urban and highway driving, and the power reserves to keep up with most traffic when asked to climb hills.

The 20d sits in between, offering some of the 28i and 30d’s effortless feel but not their ultimate oomph, or the high-speed enthusiasm of the 28i.

The BMW X3 is an above average off-roader among compact SUVs, with effective all-wheel-drive and a hill-descent control system standard. Nevertheless, this breed of high-riding wagon won’t get you much further down the beaten track than an all-wheel-drive passenger car.

How is life in the rear seats?

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The X3’s rear compartment offers good leg and head room. However the seat cushion is low and flat, and the backrest angle is a bit too reclined for optimum long-haul comfort.

The dull, plain presentation evident up front is even starker in the rear. Back seat occupants also suffer the X3’s busy ride and average suppression of outside noise.

Back-seaters get a good view forward and out of deep side-windows, as well as their own air-conditioning outlets on the rear of the centre console.

How is it for carrying stuff?

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The X3 is great for carrying stuff. It has a generous loading aperture that leads to a cargo bay that’s bigger than those of most of the alternatives. It can swallow 550 litres of luggage behind the back seats.

A 40-20-40 split-folding backrest gives the X3 excellent flexibility for carrying rear occupants and large or long luggage items. With all three backrest sections folded – they don’t fold completely flat – the X3’s carrying capacity opens up to 1600 litres.

Tie-down points on a pair of runners on the cargo floor provide the means to secure luggage.

The powered tailgate becomes very useful with the addition of a contactless opening function, which comes with proximity key entry in the optional Comfort Access pack. It lets you open the tailgate by swiping your foot below the rear bumper, which is handy when you’re loading the car with both hands full.

The X3 comes with roof rails that make it easy to attach rooftop luggage devices.

Where does BMW make the X3?

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The BMW X3 is built in the United States.

What might I miss that similar cars have?

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Not much, if you consider all the extra-cost options. However, this second-generation X3 was introduced in 2010 and some more recent designs – the Mercedes GLC and Audi Q5, for example – offer more extensive active safety suites.

Some cars of about this size offer a third row of seats, for carrying up to seven passengers – notably the Land Rover Discovery Sport among premium alternatives.

Perhaps a longer warranty: the Lexus NX SUV is covered for four years, and the less-costly Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage for five and seven years respectively.

Possibly a petrol-electric hybrid powertrain, for better energy-efficiency around town, which you can have in a Lexus NX.

Among other cars worth considering are the Volvo XC60 and Jaguar F-Pace.

I like this car, but I can't choose which version. Can you help?

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Our reviewers think the BMW X3 xDrive20d – the less costly of the two diesel X3s – provides the best blend of value, power and fuel economy.

When did BMW update the X3?

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The third-generation BMW X3 arrived in November 2017. It has a 50mm longer wheelbase, and a more streamlined body penned by Australian BMW designer Calvin Luk.

Three turbocharged engines are available: 2.0-litre, 140kW diesel four-cylinder (X3 20d); 3.0-litre, 195kW diesel six-cylinder (X3 30d); and 2.0-litre, 185kW petrol four-cylinder (X3 30i).

WhichCar will feature a separate range review of the new model soon. In the meantime, here is an overview of 2018 BMW X3 prices and features.