Formula X3

The new BMW X3 combines style, comfort and driving chops


The X3 is as pleasant and nonchalant as a typical family wagon.

These days, a family man—or woman—seeking a car that’s a hoot to drive is more likely to pick a sports utility vehicle rather than a traditional sports car. It’s roomier and more practical, and thus easier to justify, too.

BMW has been cramming into every nook and cranny of the SUV genre, or in its parlance, the sport activity vehicle.

The all-new BMW X3 has grown significantly since its first iteration (this is the third one), in both maturity and outright size.

Size first: the new X3 is already bigger than the original BMW, the X5 from 1999.

As for styling, it looks quite handsome. The huge twin nostrils and large bumper aero cues add to the distinctive looks, which stop just short of being too brash.

The rear, with its sculpted LED taillights, balances the looks nicely, with a more classic wagon-like appearance.

The M styling package on our test unit adds 19-inch wheels, and various M-branded bits—from steering wheel to pedals, to door frame trim.

The cabin is a harmonious mix of sporty and luxurious elements.

Trim for the doors, center console, and dashboard is done in a metallic texture with embossed geometric pattern. This meshes properly with the blue stitching on the black leather seats and soft-touch dashboard plastics.

The increased length and width allow for a bigger cabin, suitable for adults both front and rear.

The cockpit has a large LCD display screen and analog gauges.

Large door openings make for easy ingress and egress, something we can’t take for granted in sporty SUVs.

Instead of the classic BMW twin dials, the X3 has a large LCD display screen in front.

The analog gauges are digital representations. The good aspect is that the gauges reconfigure themselves according to mode, with the right circle becoming a fuel-efficiency meter in economy mode, and a red-rimmed tachometer in sport mode.

There’s a bit of missed opportunity here in that the digital display can show different kinds of gauges, but not the fully customizable information that, say Audis, do—showing a navigation map, for example.

The driver’s seat in the X3 feels comfortable and properly supportive for a long drive, whether its with the roadside whizzing by, or, more likely nowadays, trundling through thick city traffic.

The X3 is powered by a familiar engine, the 2.0-liter diesel unit also found in the X1, X2, and even the Mini Countryman.

With 190 ps and 400 Nm, acceleration is sufficiently responsive.

XDrive for all-wheel drive system

The added weight of the X3 versus its lighter siblings does blunt the response, but sport mode is just a push of a button away from quicker delivery of thrust.

The BMW plays the part of family car well. There’s plenty of back-seat room for three passengers, with enough space for knees, elbows and feet.

The transmission tunnel is relatively unobtrusive these days.

In the back, there’s 550 liters of boot space, and additional small compartments underneath the floor, too.

The rear seats fold individually to accommodate larger cargo. The rear seats enjoy their own climate control setting and vents.

With all the concessions to practicality and accessibility, we were rather concerned whether the X3 is still a BMW at heart—putting driving pleasure first.

Roll it out of the garage in economy or comfort mode, and indeed, the X3 is as pleasant and nonchalant as a typical family wagon.

Its steering remained precise, although the helm and the ride seemed too soft.

The rear has a more classic wagon-like appearance.

You can drive the X3 to the office and back at a normal pace, and think that it’s very keen and competent. Let it off its leash, even a little, and the BMW driving dynamics still show through.

The X3 takes a well-planted set when going around a tight turn at speed. Bumps and quick corrections to the steering wheel faze it not one bit. It sticks to the driver’s intended path, subtly signaling that it’s ready for more.

Confidence and responsiveness, with a huge dollop of comfort—that’s apparently BMW’s formula for driving pleasure nowadays. It’s one we can vouch for.

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