The BMW X3 has come a long way since the shoddy quality and awkward design of the first-generation, launched in 2003. The 2010 MkII shot to the top of the class, but with a new crop of premium SUVs – including the Jaguar C-X17 and Lexus NX – on the horizon, BMW’s had to up its game once again.

For the X3’s mid-life facelift, the marque has focused on improving economy, refinement and kit levels. This is especially true of the X3 xDrive 20d we tried, which gets a revised version of BMW’s ubiquitous 2.0-litre diesel.

Power has been increased by 7bhp to 188bhp and torque by 20Nm to 400Nm. The result is 0-62mph in 8.1 seconds – an improvement of four-tenths – while the optional eight-speed auto boosts economy by seven per cent to 54.3mpg with CO2 emissions of 138g/km. That’s 6.4mpg and 16g/km better than the 175bhp Audi Q5 2.0 TDI quattro SE.

Sacrifice 4WD (standard on the 20d, 30d and 35d), and the rear-drive 148bhp sDrive 18d goes one better, delivering best-in-range economy at 60.1mpg, and emitting emissions of 124g/km.

The big difference, though, is much-improved refinement. Whereas the old engine was coarse on start-up and rattled as the revs rose, this new unit hums away, accelerates smoothly and has plenty of overtaking punch.

Noise isolation is now on a par with Audi’s, and makes Mercedes’ equivalent 2.1-litre diesel seem rough. Twinned with our test car’s optional eight-speed auto, it’s happy ticking along in self-shifting mode. Take control with the paddles and there’s just enough excitement to remind you this is a BMW.

The suspension and steering have been left alone, so the X3 tackles bends just as precisely as the previous car and makes the most of its high ground clearance with a wonderfully supple ride. The sharp steering weights up through the four driving modes, and despite a fair bit of body roll on turn-in the car always sticks to the line like glue.

There was little wrong with the way the X3 looked before, but the facelift brings a little nip and tuck nonetheless. There are twin circular headlights, reshaped bumpers and LED indicators in the wing mirrors, while inside are new cup-holders, a piano black centre console and more trim colours.

Hardly revolutionary, but it’s worth noting the X3 has loads of rear space, plus a 550-litre boot that expands to 1,600 litres via the 40:20:40 split-folding seats – sitting between Land Rover’s larger Freelander and Audi’s smaller Q5. The trim structure has changed slightly, with the SE now having sat-nav, heated front seats and an auto tailgate as standard.

However, customer demands for the latest tech mean you can now order the X3 with a Driving Assistant Plus package, including lane departure warning and active cruise control with Stop & Go.

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