• Affordable luxury SUV; extensive list of standard features; interior quality; storage space; practicality; engine+transmission coupling;
  • Firm ride; tough competition

8 / 10

BMW X3 Review
BMW X3 Review
BMW X3 Review

The BMW X3 once had things its own way, but no more.

Consumers’ insatiable thirst for luxury SUVs has a number of rivals drive onto the scene in the mid-sized premium soft-roader segment.

Rivals for the BMW X3 today include the Audi Q5, Volvo XC60 and, more recently, the Range Rover Evoque.

While the X1 is the cheapest way into a BMW SUV, the X3 is still available for an RRP below $60,000 – and the luxury car tax (LCT) threshold of $60,316 (2013/14 financial year).

The BMW X3 xDrive20i costs $59,000, and refreshing (for a German press vehicle) our test car even came with minimal options.

From the outside the current and second-generation BMW X3 avoids the awkward proportions of the original but still struggles to match either the elegance of the Q5 or the concept-that-made-it-to-the-showroom looks of the Evoque.

The BMW X3 has grown substantially, and measures almost as large as the original BMW X5.

Like most BMW base models, the X3 xDrive20i is powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine – here with 135kW of power and 275Nm of torque. That might not seem like much, but these are German kilowatt and torque figures and, for some reason, they seem to mean more than others.

BMW X3 Review
BMW X3 Review
BMW X3 Review
BMW X3 Review

Couple that contemporary engine to an eight-speed automatic gearbox and acceleration times are 8.6 seconds for the 0-100km/h run. Which is by and large faster than you’ll ever need for a family car. BMW claims the X3 xDrive20i uses 7.5 litres of (premium) fuel per 100km, but expect that to be closer to 9L/100km in the real world – which is still more than decent for an SUV that weighs 1650kg.

Jump inside and the X3 follows BMW’s current tradition of providing robust and clean interior designs. There’s no confusion as to how things work and its German efficiency everywhere. The front seats are plush and comfortable – but can get even better if you tick a few options – while the rear is large enough to accommodate three adults with plenty of head and legroom.

The Isofix points in the rear are some of the easiest we’ve used, with simple plastic covers that pop out for a simple click-in-click-out child seat installation.

There are plenty of spots to put water bottles, phones and other items inside the cabin, too, and the boot measures 550-1660 litres depending on how the rear seats are arranged. Which means you’ll have no problems fitting in all the week’s shopping and a large pram.

A navigation system with a 6.5-inch colour display controlled by BMW’s well-known and intuitive iDrive system is standard. This can be optioned with a larger screen and more advanced version of iDrive as part of the professional pack, but for standard equipment on a $59,000 SUV it even puts some of its Japanese and Australian rivals to shame. In fact, if you compare it to a top of the line Ford Territory – which is more expensive at $63,240 – the X3’s value for money proposition starts to look even better.

BMW X3 Review
BMW X3 Review
BMW X3 Review
BMW X3 Review

Speaking of standard features, the base model gets 18-inch alloys with run-flat tyres (can be driven on at 80km/h even after a puncture to save you having to do a swap), and BMW efficient dynamics technology such as brake energy regeneration (charging the battery when you brake) and auto start/stop function.

Then there’s the usual features like cruise control with braking ability, hill descent control, front and rear parking sensors, rear view camera, Sensatec (fake-leather) upholstery, USB port, rain sensing wipers and automatic headlights. The list goes on, and it’s surprisingly substantial, particularly given BMW’s reputation for long option lists.

From a driving perspective, the X3 presents an up-high seating position that emphasises all the benefits of having an SUV. However, because of its unique and relatively smart ‘xDrive’ all-wheel drive system (with variable torque split) it doesn’t drive like one.

In many ways the main reason to buy a BMW is for its sporty driving dynamics, regardless of what car or variant, that’s always been BMW’s mantra.

You can option adaptive dampers to allow for a better suspension rebound and pothole absorption, though the X3 can still be a little too hard riding on poorly surface roads. If that’s going to bother you, the Ford Territory is the best-in-class (regardless of badge) for SUV ride compliancy in Australia (which should come as no surprise, given it was developed here).

Corners are eaten up with ease and the X3 is an engaging and fun machine to drive enthusiastically. The eight-speed automatic transmission works harmoniously with the engine and the power extraction process is seamless and without fuss.

The steering is direct and precise; put it in Sport mode and it can also get pretty meaty. In Comfort mode it will lighten up enough to make the average trip to the shops a pleasant experience. As far as $59,000 SUVs go, it’s a good blend of sporty yet family-friendly commuting – though it does tend to lean more on the sporty side of things.

On the engine side, should you go petrol or diesel if you want a BMW X3? If you’re wondering whether you need to go down the diesel route, consider this: the base model diesel in the X3 range, the BMW X3 xDrive20d – which is powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged diesel engine – is $4100 more expensive than its petrol equivalent. It has the same power output but 105Nm more torque, which is great for climbing hilly terrain and lugging weight (it’s also 0.1 seconds faster to 100km/h from a standstill).

Despite its extra grunt, the xDrive20d uses just 5.6L of standard diesel fuel per 100km, so there’s also the cost saving there. However, one needs to look deeper into the numbers.

Lets take the average cost of diesel fuel, which is currently at a $1.45/L and 98 RON fuel, which is roughly $1.65/L. Based on those two figures, there’s a saving of 20 cents per litre by going diesel, compounded by the diesel engine’s ability to save 1.9L of fuel per 100km.

Do the maths and it comes out to $12.38 cents to do 100km in the petrol, or $8.12 for the diesel to cover the same distance, a saving of $4.26 cents per 100km for the diesel.

So to simply recoup the initial $4100 outlay, one needs to travel 96,244km. This is not taking into account the slightly higher cost of servicing a diesel compared to petrol (both models have a 25,000km/12-month service intervals). So unless you absolutely want a diesel, or enjoy that extra grunt, it’s not as cost-effective as it may seem.

Regardless of which you pick, and there are far more powerful and expensive versions of the X3, safety is top notch. There’s plenty of electronic gadgetry designed to keep you pointing in the desired direction, and there’s also an airbag in every spot that counts, in case you don’t.

The mid-sized luxury SUV segment only has a few contenders in the $60K-plus bracket, as we mentioned at the start of the review, but they’re also good ones. So it’s also worth checking out the Audi Q5, Range Rover Evoque and Volvo XC60 to compare it with the BMW X3.

BMW X3 Review
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  • O123

    Sorry, but the X3s fake “leather” is the worst stuff I have ever seen in a car. Just use real leather.

    • Droid is junk

      That colour display is tiny any droid junk has a larger screen.

    • Markus

      Completely agree, it’s horrible in person. I’d rather cloth and leather lovers can up spec. I think it’s key to hitting the price point though and cloth doesn’t focus group well nowadays.

  • Smart US

    not the best looker around tho

  • Karl Sass

    I can’t believe it’s comparable in size to an X5, Territory. There’s something a little strange about the styling.

    • Captain Nemo®™

      I think it’s the front bumper Karl, That area around the fog lights especially, makes it look like it has a cold with puffy cheeks at-least in the first & third pics it does.

      • Karl Sass

        Yep that’s a good description, puffy cheeks and caught a cold :)

  • Homer

    Shame on you Alborz “do the math”. We live in Australia and for the last gazillion years it’s been “maths”

    • marc

      Technically speaking, Alborz is correct using ‘math’. Maths is slang.

      • homer

        Technically speaking, you’d be correct if we were talking about the singular “mathematic”, but we’re not, we are using the plural “mathematics”

        • marc

          ..stay classy San Diego

    • Jacob

      what about the date format? I cant believe the media here has suddenly started using the American format!!!

      Even this article says September 6th, 2013. It should be 6th September 2013.

  • :P

    Caradvice and their bias with anything German.

    If this was a Lexus it would of scored 3 stars. That interior, exterior and everything is hidious

    • http://www.caradvice.com.au/ Alborz Fallah

      Looks are hard to score, no? We praise it for its value for money equation and its practicality, and of course, German refinement.

      • chir0nex

        Don’t forget German Kilowatts either – they mean more than Japanese or Australian ones, right?

        This review reads a little like an ad and inconsistent to the general reviews i see on carsales.

        Since when have you priased 8.6s – you would normally slam that but this is 8.6 German Seconds… must be 5.0 Japanese and Australian ones right?

        Of course, despite being a tiny sat-nav screen, you do mention that its better because its German.

        I lived in Germany for 6 months for some work and even they didn’t love their cars as much as you seem to.

        • http://www.caradvice.com.au/ Alborz Fallah

          If you remember BMWs from even five years ago, the list of standard features found in today’s X3 is a big improvement. This is what I am praising. The refinement of the powertrain is, significantly, better than the numbers would suggest.

          • Ted

            Surely “refinement” shouldn’t include a firm ride?

  • ash

    evoke isnt in the same class, its an expensive jacked up hatch, not a mid sized SUV. Its all badge. The old CX7 luxury sport is a better buy than this

    • Markus

      I totally agree. The evoque hides its lacklustre realities well. Though I am against last gen mazda SUV’s for their road noise and abhorrent fuel economy.

  • Hellhathnofury

    Car advice must be on the BMW payroll because they censor adverse comments with no consistency.
    I have just had a comment removed that was the subject of great debate and still resides on the CA website.What gives?

    • http://www.caradvice.com.au/ Alborz Fallah

      If you can find a single BMW ad on this site, please let me know.

  • Sam

    Nice review Alborz. Does seem like good value for money…

  • Me

    The LCT value of a new car includes dealer delivery. So, in order to keep the $59,000 X3 Xd2.0i free from LCT one would need to negotiate for dealer delivery not to exceed $1,316 (i.e. LCT value not exceeding the threshhold of $60,316).

    Conversely, if dealer delivery were $3,650, this would result in an LCT value of $62,650 on top of which LCT of $700 would be payable, bringing the LCT-inclusive price to $63,350.

    • http://www.caradvice.com.au/ Alborz Fallah

      Thanks for pointing that out.

    • BMW Dave

      According to BMW’s website, the actual on road cost (in inner SE Melb) is just over $66,400. You forgot to include the registration cost and stamp duty in your calculations. Also, LCT is $505.20. Of course, the ORC will vary a little between states & territories.

      • Me

        I am not talking about driveaway prices. I am talking about only those price components that are relevant to the question of whether LCT applies, which is the vehicle price plus delivery. Rego and duty are not relevant to LCT calculation. None of the prices in my comment are intended to be driveaway.

  • Markus

    I’ve gone shopping with my sister in this class and I have to say the evoque despite some subjectively good looks is really bad in the flesh specifically the interior quality. The X3 was good interior quality and easily on par with the XC60 but the Audi Q5 as usual was by far the best.

    I feel this segment for many (my sister included) is generally as much about likeability and the interior comfort experience as it is the drive and engine grunt, so based on this I still think the Q5 is the class leader.

    Also think the pricing is now spot on for this class where as 5 years ago it was all a bit steep.

  • Paul

    Nice review. I am thinking of replacing my 2003 BMW 530 with this one. Not really interested in X5 because I had Prado as our other car for a while and big trucks no longer appeal and I want a SUV because I had too many bottom scrapping in my 530 in the crappy roads and driveways of Sydney. If only X3 did not look like constipated duck from the rear sometimes I would have committed.

    • GC Dude

      Was in a similar position to you only recently. Coming out of a 3 Series coupe I opted for an SUV due to having a small boat and sick of the crappy roads in Qld. As a long term BMW customer jumped ship and bought the Q5 3.0TDI. Can’t describe how happy I am with the purchase. Everything is excellent on this vehicle, especially the interior (S-Line). Looks heaps better than the X3 which in my opinion looks like a dogs breakfast and the interior, although still very good just doesn’t cut it against the Audi. Have a good look at the upgraded Q5 and if money stretches, the SQ5 which is an absolute blast…..a sports care with a backpack.

  • tonyW

    Never have understood the attraction of what I would call these “poverty pack” European cars. You are forking out a large amount of money for a vehicle without proper leather trim, a ridiculously small screen and average performance. And to top it all off you have that firm ride with the runflats. How this can be seen as good value for money against similar Asian-built mid-sized SUVs leaves me scratching my head for an answer. I can only conclude that people are simply paying for the badge on the front and back of the car.

  • JD

    nasty cheap looking seats

  • Autoholic

    Surprisingly good value, considering it’s almost as large as the first X5. No wonder then that people are buying fewer luxury estates.

  • Z

    How is that math working between petrol and diesel Toyota Land Cruiser?

  • al

    Don’t know about this car, but people who drive SUV’s are the worst nuisance on the road. They accelerate like snails ALL THE TIME. Don’t know why, I guess they are scared using too much petrol after they bought a heavy tank… Or they just can’t handle the monsters. Either way, they are the dumbest people on the continent.

  • Ben Carter

    The stop start system is atrocious. In the Diesel it rumbles away so badly I thought there was something wrong! No idea why anyone would buy this over an Evoque, or even an SS Wagon. Cause lets face it, you’re not going to be taking it off road. Buy a wagon you soccer mum.

BMW X3 Specs

Car Details
xDRIVE 20i
Body Type
New Price
Private Sale
$43,670 - $49,630
Dealer Retail
$42,740 - $50,820
Dealer Trade
$33,500 - $39,700
Engine Specifications
Engine Type
Engine Size
Max. Torque
270Nm @  1250rpm
Max. Power
135kW @  5000rpm
Pwr:Wgt Ratio
Bore & Stroke
Compression Ratio
Valve Gear
Drivetrain Specifications
Drive Type
Final Drive Ratio
Fuel Specifications
Fuel Type
Fuel Tank Capacity
Fuel Consumption (Combined)
7.5L / 100km
Weight & Measurement
Kerb Weight
Gross Vehicle Weight
Not Provided
Ground Clearance
Towing Capacity
Brake:2000  Unbrake:750
Steering & Suspension
Steering Type
Turning Circle
Front Rim Size
Rear Rim Size
Front Tyres
225/60 R17
Rear Tyres
225/60 R17
Wheel Base
Front Track
Rear Track
Front Brakes
Rear Brakes
Front Suspension
MacPherson strut, Gas damper, Coil Spring, Anti roll bar
Rear Suspension
Multi-link system, Gas damper, Coil Spring, Anti roll bar
Standard Features
Control & Handling
Traction Control System
Reversing Camera, Trip Computer
Seatbelts - Pre-tensioners Front Seats, Side Front Air Bags
Optional Features
Sport Seats
Control & Handling
Sports Suspension
Satellite Navigation
Premium Sound System, Television
Power Tailgate, Xenon Headlights
Service Interval
12 months /  25,000 kms
36 months /  999,000 kms
VIN Plate Location
Driver Side Inner Guard
Country of Origin