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First Drive: The BMW X3 combines off-road capability with a premium feel

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BMW has released its latest X3 SUV, and James Baggott has been to Lisbon to see what it’s like

What is it?

This is BMW’s mid-range X3 SAV – or Sports Activity Vehicle, if you speak corporate nonsense.

The X3's front end has been lightly revised over the previous version
(BMW)

Unfairly branded a bland offering by some, it has been reworked by the manufacturer for 2018 with tweaked looks, new technology and improved refinement. But has the German firm done enough to keep buyers interested?

What’s new?

For a start, upgrades to the looks are relatively minor. At the front, there are new LED headlights, an active air flap for efficiency, and new fog lamps.

The X3 proved capable off-road
(BMW)

Round the back, you’ll spot redesigned rear lights with an optional LED upgrade and twin tailpipes for all engine models. Inside, there’s a smart new iDrive system, upgraded steering wheel, improved driver assistance aids and fresh materials to make it even quieter on the move.

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What’s under the bonnet?

We tested the X3 xDrive30d, which comes with a 3.0-litre twin turbo diesel engine offering 260bhp and a whopping 620Nm of torque. That lump is good for 60mph in 5.6 seconds, fuel economy of 49.6mpg and emissions of 149g/km. It’s a punchy, powerful unit that feels great on the road and capable off it and will probably account for 15 per cent of sales in the UK.

The BMW X3 is the firm's latest sports activity vehicle
(BMW)

A sporty X3 xDrive M40i will arrive early next year. It features a 355bhp, 3.0-litre twin turbo-charged petrol engine that makes for 60mph in 4.8 seconds and serves up 500Nm of torque. An xDrive20d will also be offered and is likely to account for 30 per cent of sales. All come with a smooth, eight- speed automatic gearbox.

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What’s it like to drive?

Our test drive on the international launch was short and mostly off road, where the xDrive30d impressed.

It offered plenty of grip in testing conditions and hill descent control got us down some tricky inclines with little fuss. The refinement is certainly noticeable in the cabin – new acoustic glass keeps the noise down and there’s little diesel clatter. It’s pleasantly sporty when you want it to be, too. On the tight Portuguese countryside roads, it gripped well and was good fun for an SUV.

How does it look?

BMW says the looks of the X3 show off its ‘power and poise’, but it’s easy to see why it gets some stick for being bland.

The X3 retains a sleek profile
(BMW)

Although smart, the design is hardly challenging, and few will be able to tell it apart from its bigger and little sisters. The new rear-light design is smart, though, as are the interior improvements, which include a new steering wheel and fresh materials.

What’s it like inside?

The highlight inside is the iDrive system. The refreshed layout is a joy to use, with commands by gesture, voice, touch or using the iDrive control.

The interior of the X3 features high-quality materials
(BMW)

It offers new connectivity with live weather updates, in-car wifi and can even share your journey information with your contacts via text message. Luggage space is good, with 550 litres with the seats up and 1,600 when you fold them down using the powered rear back-rest button. There’s even a slot under the boot floor for the parcel shelf – a useful trick that we wish more manufacturers had thought of years ago.

What’s the spec like?

Standard equipment includes 18-inch alloys, three-zone air con, ambient lighting, Bluetooth, BMW ConnectedDrive including navigation and online services, parking assistance and rear camera, heated front seats and 6.5-inch touchscreen. Like most BMWs, the real treats reside on the options list, though.

An eight-speed ZF gearbox is fitted as standard
(BMW)

A head-up display, larger 12.3-inch screen, and clever tech including active cruise control, steering and lane control assist plus semi-autonomous driving in traffic jams, all cost you extra.

Verdict

BMW hasn’t tweaked the X3 formula too much with its latest model, and with 1.5 million sales chalked up over two iterations, dramatic changes probably weren’t needed. Yes, the looks might be a little boring, but it’s very capable off road, great fun on it, and refined inside. Add some useful new technology and you’ve got a car that will help BMW keep a firm grip on the mid-sized SUV sector for some time yet.

FACTS AT A GLANCE

Model as tested: BMW X3 xDrive30d
Price: £44,380
Engine: 3.0-litre twin turbo diesel
Power (bhp): 260
Torque (Nm): 620
Max speed (mph): 149
0-60mph: 5.6s
MPG: 49.6
Emissions (g/km): 149

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