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Buying an SUV is hard work. You want something roomy but not too big, and in almost all cases you want something that's an extension of your personality and character traits.
BMW aimed to hit the mark as closely as possible with the all-new 2018 BMW X3. It's bigger than the last model and resembles an X5 from the outside, while the inside is kitted out with the latest BMW in-car technology to appeal to tech-savvy buyers.
Settling on the X3 may be the easy choice – the harder one will be figuring out which engine to pick.
We recently drove the petrol BMW X3 xDrive30i and found it to be a pleasing offering that ticks the boxes for most buyers. But, a $76,900 (before on-road costs) outlay may be a bit of a stretch for some buyers.
That's where the entry-level all-wheel-drive model steps into play. The X3 xDrive20d is priced from $69,900 (before on-road costs) and comes with a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine and a full-time four-wheel-drive system.
Producing 140kW of power and 400Nm of torque, the engine is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. It'll move from standstill to 100km/h in a respectable 8.0 seconds and consumes a miserly 5.7 litres of fuel per 100km.
From the outside it doesn't look all that different to the rest of the X3 range. It comes fitted with 19-inch alloy wheels that can be optioned all the way up to 21 inches – not really a smart move if you're after any semblance of a smooth ride.
The interior is nicely presented with BMW's new iDrive 6 infotainment system sitting proudly atop the dashboard. While the car comes with the smaller 6.5-inch Navigation System Business, we'd recommend opting for the larger Navigation System Professional, which measures 10.25 inches in size. The latest iteration of iDrive includes a touchscreen and a gesture control option – we wouldn't bother ticking this $346 option box given how intermittently it works.
It's now smoother and faster than before with a smarter voice-recognition system that allows you to enter full street addresses and even hard to understand phone entries. Any recognition commands the car struggles with are sent to BMW's server for further recognition – some seriously cool technology.
Buyers can also option Apple CarPlay for $479. While this technology is excellent in cheaper cars, it lags behind BMW's iDrive system, meaning it's a waste of money given the low quality of Apple's mapping system and iDrive's ability to already interact with Siri.
The head-up display is now 75 per cent larger than the old X3, and bundles in everything from satellite navigation commands through to radio inputs and speed sign recognition.
While the options list isn't expansive, we'd recommend opting for the $2500 Innovations Package that includes active LED headlights, front and side vision camera, proximity key entry, the larger 10.25-inch Navigation System Professional and a full digital instrument cluster.
Storage throughout the cabin is excellent with generously sized door pockets and glovebox. The centre console is quite small but features the slot for USB connectivity and charging. A wireless phone charger also works a charm for anybody that's sick of carrying a cable around with them all the time.
The standard sound system is great, offering six-speakers and plenty of punch. If you're into your music, you can option a more powerful 16-speaker Harman Kardon sound system that takes music to an all new level. It's a bargain at just $1000.
Second-row passengers have stacks of room to stretch out. I'm around 186cm tall, and even with the driver's seat in my regular driving position, which is quite far back, I still have generous head, leg and toe room. Getting in and out of the second row is also easy with a wide door aperture that helps with getting baby seats in.
ISOFIX anchorage points are fitted to the two outboard seats, with a folding centre armrest and two cup holders in the middle. The seats fold in a 40/20/40 configuration and can be retracted using a switch in the boot or from the seats themselves.
The second row also has air vents, along with its own zone of cooling, which means your passengers can set their own temperature independent of the first row.
Cargo capacity is huge with 550 litres on offer with the second row in place. That expands to 1600 litres when the second row is folded. The use of run-flat tyres also means there is an extra storage cavity beneath the boot floor – handy for valuables you want to keep out of sight.
Rails on either side of the boot allow the installation of a metal divider that comes in handy when carrying shopping or other items that are likely to move around.
The X3 ticks all the right boxes when it comes to features, room and safety. But what's the entry-level diesel like out on the open road?
We covered a mix of city, highway and country driving to evaluate the opener to the X3 range. When you hit the start button, there is an unobtrusive diesel clatter from the outside that virtually disappears when you close the doors.
The full-time four-wheel-drive system copes well with the demands of inner-city driving. The engine is incredibly responsive and doesn't feature turbocharger lag like diesels of yesteryear. The eight-speed automatic is also impressive thanks to smooth gear shifts and a propensity to always be in the right gear at the right time.
In and around the city it's the ride that really lets the X3 down. It's too firm for what is meant to be a luxury SUV. Even with the optional ($1462) Dynamic Damper Control, the ride crashes over potholes and jars passengers in the cabin. Flick the mode to Sport and it feels firmer than most sports cars.
It isn't helped by the fact it rides on run-flat tyres. Either way, a buyer shouldn't need to option adaptive dampers and consider changing tyres just to get a comfortable ride from their SUV.
Things get better out on the highway and on smooth country roads. The ride is smooth enough and not directly affected by small bumps and road imperfections. It also copes well with potholed and corrugated country roads when speeds are over 80km/h, but again is let down by its firm ride at lower speeds.
Putting the ride to one side, this engine is a real star with loads of torque available low in the rev range. Overtaking is done with relative ease, as is pulling out of traffic in a hurry. It's also quite fuel efficient. BMW's official claim of 5.7L/100km was matched on test with a mix of city, highway and country driving.
Steering feel is good with enough feedback at highway speeds and lower city speeds. The wheel is nice and chunky, sitting nicely in the hands.
Visibility out the front, sides and rear is excellent with big wing mirrors making checks of neighbouring traffic easy.
What's most impressive about the X3 is how sporty the drive can be if you want to have some fun. With the shift lever moved over to its sport setting, it can be quite a fun car to throw through some bends. There's little body roll and the full-time four-wheel-drive system shuffles torque to the right wheels to ensure a predictable drive.
BMW offers the X3 with a three-year unlimited-kilometre warranty. Buyers can purchase a pre-paid five-year service package upfront, which costs $1495 for the X3 and includes five years or 80,000km of servicing.
If the incredibly smooth X3 xDrive30d is out of reach at a little under $85,000 (before on-road costs), the entry-level diesel provides the ultimate compromise with a fuel efficient and fun diesel engine.
You'll need to spend another five or 10 per cent on options to kit the xDrive20d out to the perfect specification, but it still represents great value for money in this segment.
It's ultimately let down by a ride that's too firm for our liking. If after a comprehensive test drive that's not an issue for you, the rest of the package well and truly makes up for it.