Model/Engine size: 2.0d SE
Fuel economy combined: 43.5mpg
BMW has done it again. Just one year ago, the company hardly appeared in our Green-Car-Guide. Today, there are more BMWs than any other manufacturer. Why is this? Because the brand has applied its ‘EfficientDynamics’ technology to all its cars, instantly transforming many of its models to ‘Best in Class’ in terms of emissions and fuel economy.
The BMW X3 is no exception. In 2.0 diesel form, it manages 43.5mpg. In the 4×4 category, this is only equalled by the Jeep Compass and the Honda CR-V – however the BMW manages to sneak in with lower emissions than its rivals, with just 172g/km CO2.
Amazingly, the X3’s 43.5mpg even beats the diminutive Fiat Panda 4×4, which can only manage 42.8mpg from its 1.2 litre petrol engine – and it’s streets ahead of the hybrid Lexus RX400h, which can only squeeze 34.9mpg from its petrol-electric technology.
And the BMW is twice the size of the Panda, as well as twice as fast. And although the X3 may not have received the best reviews for its performance off-road, it’s actually more capable than you may think, and you would certainly want to be in the X3 rather than the Lexus if you had to wrestle with an off-road challenge.
The X3 (and the X5) has BMW’s xDrive four wheel drive system. This has a fully variable torque split and rear-wheel drive is permanently engaged. The drive system uses an electronically controlled centre clutch, which sends drive to the front or rear axle according to the level of grip. Individual wheelspin is controlled using the hydraulic brake system, which is also the basis of the anti-lock brakes and the hill descent control (yes, as per Land Rover, an ex-BMW owned business). The X3’s dynamic stability control system, which measures the vehicle’s pitch and yaw and sends instructions to the centre clutch to direct drive front or rear, is designed to avoid understeer or oversteer.
The X3 has no low range but it comes with a whole host of electronic trickery to help you out, under the ‘dynamic stability control’ (DSC) label. Dynamic stability control comprises of the anti-lock braking system (ABS), automatic differential brake (ADB-X), automatic stability control (ASC-X), cornering brake control (CBC), dynamic brake control (DBC), electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), engine drag torque control (MSR) and hill descent control (HDC). Phew.
Despite this arsenal of technology, you buy an X3 for its on-road handling rather than its ability to crawl through jungles, and in this area it doesn’t disappoint. If you’ve ever driven 4x4s such as old Vauxhall Fronteras, the X3 is light years ahead in terms of containing body roll on corners – although the X3 doesn’t feel like a small, agile car, it does drive like a sports car in comparison with more traditional off-roaders.
Other traditional 4×4 vices of noise – engine, wind and road noise – have also been virtually eliminated in the X3, so it’s an effortless motorway cruiser – but what else would you expect from BMW?
The interior is a good place to be, especially if you’re spending much time there. And there’s lots of space in the rear.
The downside to the great handling is that the X3 has a bit of a reputation for a firm ride due its hard springs to check the body roll, and the sports suspension option makes this ride even firmer.
Other problems? Well, the looks aren’t great. The bigger brother X5 has always looked chunky and aspirational. The X3 always seems to look too tall and thin, and the front end just doesn’t have the design subtlety of the X5. Larger 18 inch alloy wheels and tyres, as fitted to our test car (along with the body kit, lowered suspension, sports seats, three-spoke sports steering wheel and leather gearlever of the M Sport spec) makes the X3 look more like a proper off-roader than the standard SE trim.
And of course there’s the price. With even the 2 litre diesel SE models approaching £30,000 when options are specified, BMW X3s aren’t the cheapest off-roaders – but if you pay more in the first place, its low levels of depreciation mean that you’ll also get more when you sell it than if you bought a cut-price Korean 4×4.
Performance of the 2 litre diesel is good, but if it isn’t enough for you, then the X3 is also available with a 3 litre diesel including a twin-turbocharged version. We’re not sure why anyone would want one, but it’s also available in petrol guise, as a 218bhp 2.5 litre or a 272bhp 3 litre – not really a great option for anyone looking to minimise their fuel bills.
Also be aware that the automatic transmission, as fitted to our test car, reduces the fuel consumption of the 2 litre diesel from 43.5mpg to 42.2mpg and emissions increase from 172 to 178g/km CO2.
So despite the X3 being the victim of various criticisms in the motoring press, it does actually do a good job of combining a number of virtues: it’s refined, it’s great to drive, it’s right at the top of the most efficient 4×4 choices, it offers added traction and security, and it’s got a good badge. Yes, there’s a huge gap in the cost of these two cars, but if you compared the Fiat Panda, the most economical petrol 4×4, along with its slowest ever 0-60mph time of 20 seconds, and the X3, which is more economical, bigger, faster, and much more comfortable, you’d want to do whatever it took to find the money for the X3.
Fuel economy extra urban: 51.4mpg
Fuel economy urban: 34.4mpg
CO2 emissions: 172 g/km
Green rating: VED band E – £165
Weight: 1820 Kg
Company car tax liability (2007): 24%
Price: £29,310 (From £29,310 to £38,910)
Insurance group: 15
Safety: NCAP N/A
Max speed: 128 mph
0-60mph: 8.9 seconds