We drove the BMW X3 xDrive20i: again a class of its own…

With the X series model range, BMW is certainly making its mark in the SUV class. The X3 has gained already not less than 1,5 million followers all over the globe and understandably expectations are very high indeed when a successor enters the field.

The third generation of the iconic X3 range made its entry a few months ago in 2017, and we tested – in the trend of the times – the petrol engined 2 litre version, and were truly impressed by the utter refinement, smoothness and power of the drivetrain.

But that is not all, the subtly restyled body and the further perfected suspension add the necessary ingredients to make this X3 again a winner. Just read on…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Iconic styling

The new X3 has gained in boldness and stance, especially at the front end, whilst retaining the typical BMW styling language. We now have a more chunky kidney grille and fog lamps featuring a hexagonal design for the first time.

The xLine, M Sport and Luxury Line trim variants (the latter is a new addition to the line-up) and the range of BMW Individual items enable the appearance of the BMW X3 to be adapted even more precisely to the customer’s personal tastes. In addition to the standard 18-inch light-alloy wheels (previously: 17-inch), customers can dip into the options list for wheel/tyre combinations in sizes up to 21-inch. Our test car in the xLine trim came with “styling” 20-inch alloys.

The X3 breathes individuality and character, with the BMW signature very present in every detail, both inside and out.

We also are quite fond of the instrumentation, and the designers have struck an admirable balance between the look of analog instrumentation whilst using digital indications and have combined the best of both worlds in this respect.

In the interior, the designers have managed to retain the iconic shape and very nice touch and feel of all the important levers and handles, and this makes one feel immediately at home in this BMW. Besides this inherent design qualities, one is invariably impressed by the high level of workmanship and quality which pervades you when sitting in and driving this car.

This BMW is not only timelessly styled with a manifest touch of modernity, it is also clearly built to last. The quality and firmness of the front seats – sports seats are standard in the xLine trim –  is exemplary, and with the wide adjustment range of both seats and steering wheel, soon an ideal seating position is found. We also loved the clear and restful layout of the touchscreen and its different functions, which also add to driving comfort and yes, sheer pleasure of ownership.

Superbly smooth and powerful drivetrain.

Pushing the starting knob and a very refined 1998 cc four cylinder springs to life. Make no mistake, this unit develops 184 hp between 5000 and 6500 rpm, but is completely docile and flexible. It is mated to an equally smooth and alert 8 speed Steptronic auto transmission. Pulling power is abundant, and in normal fluent urban driving conditions the revs hardly go above 2000 rpm. Understandable, as this unit develops hefty 290 Nm of torque from as low as 1350 rpm over a wide rev range to 4250 rpm.

The heart of a car is its engine, and here this 2.0i totally convinces. Of course, the typical BMW zest and liveliness is present, with an effortless acceleration from 0 to 100 km/h in 8,3 seconds. High speed cruising on the motorway is what this SAV (Sport Activity Vehicle as BMW calls it) is made for, and it stays whispering smooth and stable, reaching a top speed of a good 215 km/h.

One can choose between “eco pro”, normal and more sporting driving modes; not only the instrument displays light up differently, the responsiveness of the engine and transmission is also markedly distinctive. In the “sport” mode, the agility and nimbleness is just superb. Also the handling is even more precise and firmer, enhanced further by the optional adaptive suspension pack our test car was equipped. In the “eco pro” mode, progress is super smooth, and even a coasting function is built in when one lifts the throttle at speed.

Physical miracles just don’t happen, and we registered an average consumption of 8,2 liters/100 km. With a petrol engine in a rather heavy car (1790 kg kerb weight), the consumption depends even more than ever on your chosen driving style. The manufacturer quotes 7,3 l/100 km as official average, with CO2 emissions being 168 g/km.

The 4WD system of the X3 is just excellent, in this sense that I is there when you need it, but succeeds in being totally unnoticed in ordinary everyday driving conditions. A button for activating the hill descent is the only thing which reminds you of it in the interior.

Superb ergonomics, comfort and connectivity.

Practical and comfortable, the X3 range has always been. Comfort levels are further raised by a host of new equipment options like three-zone automatic climate control, the Ambient Air package, active seat ventilation, the cargo function of the standard 40:20:40 split/folding rear seat backrests, just to name a few. Boot space is quite adequate by the way with a standard volume of 550 liters, extendable to 1600 liters.

We enjoyed  the BMW Personal CoPilot, sporting the latest generation of Active Cruise Control and the Driving Assistant Plus safety package, including Steering and lane control assistant and Lane Keeping Assistant with side collision protection.

But there is more. The second pillar of BMW ConnectedDrive – alongside the BMW Personal CoPilot driver assistance systems – is formed by BMW ConnectedDrive Services and apps. As a result, the new BMW X3 now also features BMW Connected. Working on the basis of a flexible platform, the Open Mobility Cloud, this new integrated digital concept for enhanced personal mobility uses various touchpoints (such as smartphones and smartwatches) to integrate the car seamlessly into the user’s digital life.

This means, for example, that it can transfer mobility-related information, such as addresses from calendar entries, from a smartphone into the car, enter them automatically as destinations into the navigation system and calculate the optimum departure time for the journey. Brave new world, isn’t it?

Gesture control allows various navigation and infotainment system functions to be operated intuitively using finger and hand gestures. The optional Voice Assistant lets the driver use everyday language to have their requests turned into the appropriate actions instead of having to use set spoken commands. And we liked the optional Head-Up Display, which was very clear, readable and informative.

Our test car also sported an excellent DAB+ radio, sound system and even a CD player. Needless to say again that we enjoyed to the utmost the formidable sound and excellent sensitivity of this system, enhanced further by the excellent sound deadening and insulation of the latest generation X3.


The third generation of the X3 is again a formidable mid-size premium SUV, honed to perfection in every respect.

The styling, the workmanship in build quality and finish, the comfort, the precise and agile handling, last but not least the wonderful engine and gearbox, continuing the BMW tradition of translating its sportiness in the unique responsiveness and mechanical perfection of its drivetrain, it is all there, to make this car again a true BMW which you will cherish for years to come.

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Photographers’ note: We used for the photos of this test here our faithful cropped sensor Nikon D40, which has only 6 mio pixels. We just wanted to find out what is today still possible with equipment which is now close to a decade old.

The Nikon was equipped for this shoot with the 35 mm Nikon AF-S 1:1.8 G lens, which gives superbly crisp images even in low light conditions. The focal length also delivers natural proportions, as the 1,5 cropped sensor makes this a 52 mm lens. Putting the focus mode on spot area made focusing on details much easier and faster with this older camera. The quality, contrast  and colour balance of the sensor is… well Nikon, and this always tells, even after years. Is this (pristine condition) Nikon D40 still useable? You bet!