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BMW X3 xDrive20d M Sport Automatic review

BMW X3 xDrive20d M Sport Automatic review
02 April 2019

“The BMW X3 M Sport combines luxury, space and utility with aplomb.”

One in three cars that leave BMW’s production floor these days is an X car. The X3 sits between the X5 and X2, although it’s arguably two levels above an X2 in terms of quality and presence. It’s really more of a baby X5.

All versions of the new X3 come as standard with adaptive LED headlights, BMW ConnectedDrive Services, cruise control, an automatic tailgate, heated front seats, Drive Performance Control with ECO PRO, Comfort and Sport modes, ambient interior lighting and a sports multi-function steering wheel.

M Sport model’s look the business with 19” M light alloy double-spoke alloy wheels, M aerodynamic styling (basically a body kit), a lowered sports suspension and high gloss black exterior trim with black roof bars. On the inside, you get an infotainment upgrade to BMW’s 10.25” Professional Navigation system, as well as Vemasca leather sports seats in black, beige, cognac or oyster with contrast stitching.

For most buyers the Professional Navigation system alone makes the M Sport model worth it. If you like your cars to be extra special, the Premium package is a good option to tick. It includes a panoramic glass sunroof. The Technology package comes with loads of extras like the 3DS BMW Display Key, head-up display, wireless phone charging, BMW Gesture Control, a fully digital cockpit and Wi-Fi hotspot preparation.

As if to cement the fact the X3 is no soft-roader, BMW doesn’t offer the option of a two-wheel drive X3. All models have xDrive, BMW’s permanent all-wheel drive system. It can split the torque 40-60 between the front and rear, the effect of which on a greasy road is near limitless traction. Stabbing the throttle out of a junction on a winter’s morning or in the summer’s dew doesn’t faze the X3. You can go about your business and extract every lb-ft of torque from the 20d engine any place, anytime.

Speaking of the engine, the 20d is decent - not exceptional - but that’s par for the course with a diesel four pot these days. The 2.0-litre 20d punches out 190bhp and 400Nm of torque (295 lb-ft) with power fed to all four wheels through BMW’s latest-generation 8-speed Steptronic transmission. You can’t have a manual gearbox. The Steptronic runs as an automatic but lets you manually change using gearshift paddles.

First and second gear are short in the X3 with the transmission quick to change up to a higher gear to exploit the 20d’s low torque band. It will rev out in manual mode but after 4,000rpm you may as well change up. The result is a car that makes smooth rather than scintillating progress. 0-62mph in 8.0 seconds is the headline figure. In the real-world it’s plenty quick enough and from a standing start feels brisker than you might expect because of all that grip afforded by the xDrive system.

When up to motorway speed the 20d really comes into its own. It does all the usual diesely stuff - warms up fast above 50mph, runs quiet et cetera - and with the cruise control on at 70mph it slots itself into eighth gear. Plant the throttle and it changes down to fifth quickly to give you a boost. It’s refined, quiet and economical, returning 39.2 to 40.4mpg combined in WLTP tests. You can reasonably expect high 30’s.

Something you can also expect is a top driving position. The X3 sits higher than a 3-Series but gives nothing away for sportiness. This is an SUV you can drive everywhere and enjoy whether the road is twisty, rutted or smooth.

It’s a car the whole family can enjoy too. It’s a strict five-seater, but the space it offers for five is generous. Three adults can comfortably sit across the second row and the rear seats split fold 40-20-40 (the middle part serves as a ski hatch) so you can configure the seating to your needs. Have kids? The two outermost seats can easily accommodate a child seat a piece and there’s ISOFIX points on both of them.

Open the powered tailgate and the X3’s 550-litre boot is impressive. It’s smaller than the headline-grabbing 981-litre boot on the Land Rover Discovery Sport, but Land Rover have played a trick by calculating their boot space from floor to ceiling. BMW have measured theirs from floor to parcel shelf. So you can see why it’s so much less. In the real-world, the X3 has enough boot space for most people and there’s no wheel arch intrusion. This makes all the difference when loading up awkward items.

If you’ll be towing, the xDrive20d can tow a braked trailer up to 2,000kg. An electric, retractable tow bar is available as an optional extra from BMW for £795. Roof rack bars can be mounted onto the standard roof bars. BMW offers these too although you’ll need to contact your local dealership for up to date pricing.

Our verdict

The BMW X3 M Sport combines luxury, space and utility with aplomb. Throw that dependable 20d engine into the mix and you have a winning SUV. Some competitors are more interesting (Alfa Romeo Stelvio) and some are more stylish (Jaguar F-Pace) but few are as well rounded. This is a solid 8 out of 10 car every day of the week.