Previously untouchable in the premium compact SUV segment, the BMW X3 now finds itself with some impressive competition. Audi has the Q5 and coming over the hill, looking like a monster, is Mercedes’ GLK. Both are based on newer platforms than the X3 and offer serious, credible alternatives. Can BMW’s baby premium 4x4 still match up?
Isn’t the BMW X3 starting to feel a bit old now?
Would you believe the X3 only dates to 2004? Evolution has, however, left this BMW behind. Unlock or start the car and you immediately notice you’re using a metal key. Climb aboard and there’s no iDrive – though some may see that as a blessing – while all the main dials and switchgear are shared with the Z4 and look dated.
Room in the back is a little tight but the seats are firm and comfortable and the boot big. Granted it’s not up to BMW’s latest standards, but it’s still a premium cabin.
What about on the road?
The X3 is very much the Mini-Me X5. Firm, driver-focused ride; car-like handling; commanding driving position. And in 2.0-litre turbodiesel form, it’s the real-world compromise with 174bhp, 258lb ft and 42.2mpg.
We’ve been hugely impressed with this engine in the 320d saloon, where it's punchy, hugely refined, frugal. But here it doesn’t translate quite so well. At 1825kg, the X3 weighs 230kg more than its 3-series Touring counterpart, so the engine labours and thrashes much more noticeably under load and feels blunted too.
Drive it after experiencing most diesels and you’ll still come away hugely impressed and it is good – but the X3 doesn’t showcase this powerplant at its best.
The steering is direct if a little artificial, and the seats comfortable. But is it really necessary to have such driver-focused handling for a 4x4? The Nissan Qashqai strikes a better balance here, being far more compliant over bumps – as does the Volkswagen Touareg. Even the bigger Touareg 2.5-litre diesel costs just £305 more.
Click 'Next' below to read our verdict on how the BMW X3 matches up against the Audi Q5 and MercGLK
Is the new Audi Q5 or Mercedes GLK better than the X3?
Match the three up and while the X3 instantly appears as the OAP, it’s still decent to drive, plus that badge carries a lot of cachet. Add in BMW’s Efficient Dynamics tech (decoupling alternator and active aero, but no stop/start in this auto guise) and the X3 will best both rivals.
Be it a manual (43.5mpg and 172g/km CO2) or auto (42.2 and 178), the older BMW beats the only four-cylinder diesel GLK 220 CDI (a paltry 40.9mpg). The 2.0-litre Audi Q5 manages 42.1mpg and puffs out 175g/km in manual form – the seven-speed DSG will be available later.
But do buyers of these German 4x4s care about a few paltry grams or gallons? Both the Audi and Merc are bigger, brasher and flashier. That’s what counts in this market.
The X3 is still a good package, but drive it back-to-back with the 3-series saloon and Touring and you soon question what exactly the X3 offers that the 320d doesn’t. And if you really need a 4x4, some rivals do the genre more justice.