Used BMW X3 (Mk3, 2017-date) review
The third-generation BMW X3 is a real sweet spot in the car maker’s range because it’s good to live with and drive
Of BMW’s various SUVs, it’s the X3 that hits the spot for many people because it’s just the right size. As a result, it’s more wieldy and affordable than an X5, it’s more roomy and usable than an X1, but it has everything that you’d expect of a BMW: a user-friendly cabin, excellent handling, efficient engines, and refinement levels that make long-distance journeys a breeze. The first-generation X3 disappointed in some ways, but the Mk2 was far better, with the Mk3 even better in a multitude of ways. That’s just as well, because by the time it appeared the X3 Mk3 was up against some very desirable and talented rivals, and we’d urge you to look at some of those alongside the BMW, because there are so many excellent options within the segment.
Many third-generation BMW X3 owners passed their driving test and started buying cars at a time when BMW used the slogan ‘the ultimate driving machine’. Back then it was all saloons and coupés, with the occasional estate (or ‘Touring’) thrown in for good measure, but since then BMW has become synonymous with SUVs.
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Thankfully, BMW’s 4x4s are better to drive than most, and they still offer many of the qualities that made those older models so appealing, such as impressive practicality, peerless ergonomics and superb build quality, so BMW hasn’t sold its soul by going all-out to embrace the SUV market.
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Most importantly, the X3 has hit the spot for many buyers, with around two million examples sold since the launch of the first model in 2003, so it’s clearly no dud.
- BMW X3 Mk3 (2017-) – luxurious SUV with driving appeal.
The BMW X3 Mk3 went on sale in November 2017. There were two diesel options: the 187bhp xDrive20d, with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, and the 261bhp xDrive30d with a 3.0-litre straight-six powerplant. The sole petrol option was the 355bhp M40i, with a twin-turbo 3.0-litre straight-six engine.
By the time the first cars were delivered in January 2018, a 181bhp xDrive20i had been added to the range, with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine.
The hottest X3 yet, arrived in September 2019: the 503bhp X3 M Competition. For those who wanted ultimate economy, the X3 xDrive30e plug-in hybrid appeared in spring 2020, just as the X3 xDrive20d gained mild hybrid tech as standard.
A facelift in September 2021 brought updated infotainment, range-wide mild hybrid tech, refreshed exterior styling, more standard equipment and a 335bhp M40d option.
Which one should I buy?
Whether you buy a petrol, diesel or plug-in hybrid X3 you’ll probably love it, although the latter will return disappointing fuel economy if your journeys are mainly long-distance and high-speed. Shorter trips are the hybrid’s forte, so you can use electricity more of the time.
All X3s have an automatic transmission, so it’s just a question of picking which trim you want, and they’re all pretty generously equipped. The entry-level SE comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, three-zone climate control, adaptive LED headlights, adaptive cruise control, heated front seats and a powered tailgate.
Move up a level to the xLine and you’ll have 19in wheels, sports front seats, brushed aluminium exterior trim and subtle body styling. The M Sport has a more prominent bodykit, bigger brakes, sport suspension and a 10.25in dash display.
Alternatives to the BMW X3 Mk3
The BMW X4 might suit if ultimate practicality isn’t key, because it has the X3’s great powertrains and user-friendly interior, with a great drive too.
Audi’s Q5 also has some impressive engines, plus it’s roomy and practical. It’s also very refined, just like the Mercedes GLC, which is comfy and has a superbly designed cabin.
The Porsche Macan leads the class when it comes to dynamic excellence; it’s roomy and incredibly refined, but costly to buy and run. A Range Rover Velar looks great inside and out, but running costs are high and reliability can be patchy; the Jaguar F-Type looks stylish and is fun to drive, just like the Alfa Romeo Stelvio.
Volvo’s XC60 majors on safety and has a fabulous interior, plus there’s a huge choice of powertrains.
What to look for
All X3s came with xDrive four-wheel drive as standard, along with an eight-speed automatic transmission; there was never a manual option for any of the different derivatives.
The X3 makes an impressive tow car, with most models capable of pulling up to 2000kg. Some derivatives can haul 2400kg though, including the xDrive30e, the M40d and the M40i.
The third-generation X3 is known as the G01 by BMW, to separate it from its predecessor, which was the F25. The original X3, launched in 2003, was codenamed E83 by BMW.
Some owners have had problems with the factory-fit Bridgestone run-flat tyres cracking or wearing prematurely. Some have switched to Pirellis and found that they wear better.
The cabin is a real X3 high point, for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it’s full of premium materials, secondly it’s well designed so everything is easy to find. And thirdly, there’s plenty of space whichever row you’re sitting in.
The back seats have plenty of head and leg room, but this doesn’t come at the expense of boot space because there’s loads of that too. With the back seats in place the boot can stow an impressive 550 litres; drop them and this jumps to 1,600 litres.
As with all BMWs, the X3 comes with Condition-Based Servicing, which is a variable-servicing programme that tells the driver when maintenance is required, based on oil levels, wear rates of individual components and how hard the vehicle is driven.
With normal driving, an oil service is due every 16,000 miles or so. Parts are replaced when necessary rather than according to a set schedule, so there are no fixed prices for the services, but as a rule of thumb you’ll pay £209-£231 (depending on which engine is fitted) for an oil and filter change.
Also replace the air and fuel filters and this cost jumps to £375-£398, while fresh brake fluid is required after three years and then every other year, at £52. Lifetime coolant is used and all X3 engines are chain-driven, so there are no cambelts to replace.
BMW has recalled the X3 Mk3 eight times so far, the first in December 2018 because of a component within the steering system working loose.
The rear spoiler working loose led to the next recall, in July 2019; two months later another campaign was launched because some X3s left the factory with poorly made seat frames.
Sub-standard parts in the front suspension led to recall number four, in October 2019, then there were two recalls in April 2020, one because of airbag glitches and one because of faulty front seatbelt buckles.
The most recent recalls were issued in November and December 2020, the first because of short circuits in the battery packs of plug-in hybrids, the second because of the possibility of seatbelts working loose.
Driver Power ownership satisfaction
Following on from a 49th place in our 2020 Driver Power new car survey, the third-generation X3 notched up a 61st place in the 2021 poll, out of 75 cars. That put it behind the Mercedes GLC (38th), while the Mazda CX-5 came third.
The highlight of X3 ownership is the roomy and versatile cabin, the big boot and the user-friendly dashboard. Everything else is mid-table as best, with the ride, running costs, value and overall quality all getting a thumbs down.
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