Adam Hurrell takes the BMW X3 for a spin and finds it’s a great car, but not good enough to set the world alight…
I have to admit that I am quite a fan of soft off-roaders like the BMW X3. I like the idea that you can own a car that drives like a normal car but can, when the going gets tough, get the owner out of sticky situations.
The BMW X3 entered the market back in 2003 and is marketed as a compact SAV, or sports activity vehicle, which is actually different to an SUV, although the differences aren’t immediately obvious. All very complicated I know.
The X3 had a major face-lift in 2010 and is being changed again for 2015. There are alterations to the exterior, with a slightly more aggressive front-end, new headlamp units and a redesigned kidney grille. There are also some subtle changes to the interior trim.
The version I drove, the new 2.8i petrol with an 8-speed semi-automatic transmission, certainly had enough power to keep up with the Muscat traffic without any problems and it performed very well on the highway. My test drive route also included a bit of rough track driving and the X3 handled the change of surface with ease. The car felt planted and secure at all times and I never got the sense the X3 was out of its depth or struggling.
However, it’s important to note that there are no manual overrides for the xDrive system beyond the driving modes that come as part of the car’s software set-up. It does not come with low-range or a rear or central diff-lock. But then the X3 honestly isn’t designed for the sort of driving that would require them. If you need to drive down a slightly rough track to get to your weekend campsite then the X3 will handle it – just don’t attempt any serious off-road heroics.
The xDrive system is BMW’s four-wheel drive system and it’s immensely clever. Many compact SAVs have a default power distribution set-up of a 60/40 split between front and rear, which only changes when selected by the driver. What makes the BMW system different is that it constantly measures the traction of each wheel and distributes power and torque accordingly automatically – allowing for minimal driver input and maximum peace-of-mind.
The driving position and interior is typical BMW, with high quality materials and a solid feeling. It did take quite a bit of adjustment for me to get comfortable however, and there wasn’t quite enough space for my right foot when the cruise control was engaged. Changing manually via the paddles behind the steering wheel, with the car in Sport mode is definitely the best way to make the most of the 245bhp on offer. As is so often the case these days, the changes were seamless.
There’s plenty of boot space and the rear seats have enough legroom for children and teenagers. Although the car is spacious, if adults are going to be in the back on a regular basis, I personally would recommend looking at the BMW X5. Body roll was well controlled thanks to the four springs and multi-link rear suspension set-up and the X3 drove much more like a normal hatchback than its looks initially suggested.
Visibility is good and with the sunroof open the interior feels light and airy. The BMW X3 is a highly competent family car with some off-road ability, that can certainly step up to the plate when conditions become more strenuous. It drives well, has room for five plus their luggage and can get up that very steep kerb without too much trouble.
The trouble is that the X3 is very forgettable at the same time. There isn’t really any part of it that gets me excited – which is a shame.
Engine: 2.8i twin turbo 4-cylinder
Transmission: 8-speed semi-automatic
Top speed: 210kph
0-100kph: 6.5 seconds
xDrive traction system
Parking sensors and
Adaptive LED headlamps
Driver information system
Multiple driving modes
“Bring on the next adventure”
“Very good. Very forgettable. ”