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.