BMW was one of the first manufacturers to mass produce a premium 4×4 in the late nineties with the X5. Four years later, the X3 came along and it was designed as a stepping-stone into BMW SUV life. Times have changed though, and the BMW SUV line up has grown up to include all manner of all wheel drive. The X3 has still remained a popular choice with over 1.5 million sold globally, and now in its third generation, it’s lighter, more efficient and filled to the brim with toys.

Now though, the competition is stronger than ever with new competition from Jaguar, Audi, Land Rover and even Porsche, so does the X3 still have what it takes to mix it with the best in class.

On the road
When the X3 was first launched it was being offered as a 4×4 shape car, which was best suited to life on the road. Yes it has some off roading technology, but it really wasn’t set up for life in the rough stuff.

The latest version is very much the same. There isn’t much in the way of engines, there’s a two litre four cylinder petrol which pumps out just over 180bhp and reasonable pace – 0-60 in 8.3 seconds, top speed 134mph. That’s available with an eight speed auto box with no manual option. But if you’re hungry for more power, the 3.0 six cylinder might be more to your taste, offering a sub 5 second 0-60 time and a limited top speed of 155mph.

Diesel wise, theres a two litre four cylinder with 187bhp and a 3.0litre six cylinder which pumps out 261bhp and a 0-60 time of just under six seconds.

As we’ve mentioned, the X3 is tailored to life on the road, and it handles just like one of BMWs low slung estate cars. The ride is a little on the firm side, largely because of the large wheels and low profile run flat tyres, even in comfort mode. The flip side though is that it offers excellent levels of body control, in fact its probably better than some saloon offerings.

All models get BMWs xDrive four-wheel drive system, so, as you’d expect, there’s bags of grip.

In the cabin
The outside of the X3 is pretty understated, and that style ethos has been carried through to the interior. It’s pretty low key, but it’s extremely well laid out with all the buttons and controls exactly where you’d want them. The cabin materials are first rate too with lots of soft touch materials and leather, as you’d expect.

Equipment levels are strong, with even base level models armed with alloy wheels, climate control, Bluetooth, cruise control and DAB radio. There’s also technology like hill descent control, all round parking sensors and an automatic tailgate.

All models get a satellite navigation system, but we recommend its worth getting the media professional pack which is a low cost upgrade but adds full colour maps on the idrive display screen. As we’ve always said, iDrive is one of the best infotainment control systems in the business, it’s simple to use and a lot less fiddly than some touch screen systems.

Practicality is assured with the X3, with a raised driving position you’d expect from a 4×4, and full adjustment for the seat and steering wheel. In the back, there’s more than ample head and leg room for even the tallest driver/passengers. The boot is also a good size with around 500 litres of space, which expands to 1600 litres when you fold the seat down.

The X3 is one of the best 4x4s in its class to drive, it offers excellent on the road dynamics, its infotainment system is state of the art and its has a good mix of powerful and efficient engines. On the downside, the ride is slightly firm in M Sport trim and the 20d diesel isn’t as refined as we’d expect.