► Facelifted BMW X3 facelift reviewed
► More kit, (a bit) more power, less thirst
► An uninspiring but very competent SUV
BMW may be beavering away on the X3’s replacement (you can read the scoop on the all-new 2017 model here) but it’s still found time to treat its existing mid-size SUV offering to a few updates to see it through until its successor arrives.
The latter part of 2014 saw the BMW X3 served up with various light refreshments, including renewed engines, a new trim level and more kit as standard. It’s also had a minor nose job.
Has it? It doesn’t look very different.
It’s not the most radical of restyles, granted. New headlight clusters now shake hands with the edges of the main grille (and in doing so make the nose look a bit broader and lower) and the indicators have jumped ship to the door mirrors.
The lower portion of the front bumper has changed ever so slightly, too – good luck spotting the difference between before and after, though.
Not a great deal has changed on the inside, barring a splash of glossy black plastic on the centre console and some new cup holders between the front seats. The interior as a whole has been understandably, and sensibly, left alone. While it’s not the last word in cutting-edge design it’s still a high-quality, comfortable and moderately luxurious place to be.
What else is new?
You get more kit as standard than you did before. Even base SE models get heated leather seats, DAB radio, sat-nav and electric motors to save you the bother of opening the tailgate.
BMW’s added a new mid-ground xLine trim to the range too, but we’re testing the top M Sport version here. It’s an X3 in Puffa jacket and Doc Martens, with a chunky body kit, bigger rims (pick from 18s, 19s or 20s) and black exterior trim instead of chrome. There’s a little bit of substance to back up the bling in the form of firmer ‘M Sport suspension’ dampers.
What about engines?
The all-turbodiesel range has been widely updated, with the 2.0-litre 20d powerplant powering this test car benefitting from increased injection pressure boosting its power output by 6bhp to 187bhp and torque by 15lb ft to 295lb ft. Conversely, fuel consumption and emissions have shrunk.
The same engine’s available in lower-powered, fuel-sipping 18d form, and above it there are brawny straight-six 30d and 35d options. The middling 20d tested here will still make up the bulk of sales, however.
All X3s are four-wheel drive, apart from the fuel-conscious 18d, which makes do with rear-wheel drive.
So, what’s the updated BMW X3 like to drive?
Quite relaxing, really. Even on the macho M Sport dampers low speed ride is really very good – speed bumps simply disappear – and at speed it’s less wallowy than most SUVs. Still, even with laureate levels of poetic licence this is one BMW you’d never describe as an Ultimate Driving Machine.
The refreshed 20d engine is moderately noisy but smooth and flexible, and with 295lb ft there’s enough muscle to haul the X3’s 1730kg around without difficulty.
It’s difficult to criticise the eight-speed automatic gearbox, which is as smooth and unobtrusive as you could reasonably expect. According to BMW it’ll use less fuel than the manual, making the £1660 premium easier to justify.
While the 3-series platform origins mean the X3 isn’t as efficiently packaged as it might be, it’s still a practical, usable machine with plenty of boot space. The high roof allows slightly more volume than the 3-series Touring, but a tad less than the equivalent 5-series wagon.
It’s not hard to see why the X3 has been successful in the UK. It’s neither particularly clever nor interesting, but it’s easy to live with, moderately practical, nice enough to drive and carries the requisite badge envy factor that’s so important to so many SUV buyers.
For everyone else, the moderately pricier 5-series Touring is better to look at, nicer to drive and no less practical. Meanwhile in SUV world there’s no shortage of competition from the new – and very good – Land Rover Discovery Sport and the less new, but still good, Audi Q5. Nonetheless, the X3’s still good enough to deserve a place on most premium 4x4 seekers’ shortlists.
Read CAR's review of the pre-facelift BMW X3 xDrive 20d here.