By Andy Enright
If there's one quality that'll get you a long way through life, it's resilience. That ability to take a knock and bounce back is one BMW knows all about. When it launched the original X3 in 2003, it was following up the X5, the car that revolutionised the way SUVs drove. That's quite an act to reprise. BMW seemed confident - but the X3 was a rare duffer. Over-priced, under-equipped and just not special enough to drive, it was one of Munich's few damp squibs. Rather than admit defeat, BMW's development crew knocked the car into something very competitive. The second generation X3, launched in 2010, is an altogether more accomplished package that found favour with reviewers right from the outset. Despite that, it remains one of those cars that is better than the public's perception. Here's how to grab a used bargain.
The X3 launched in late 2010 and made landfall in UK dealers in early 2011 with just one engine; a 2.0-litre diesel unit. Since then, the range has been fleshed out, with possibly the most notable addition being the rear-wheel drive X3 sDrive18d, which arrived in late 2012. Most 'faux-by-fours' are front wheel drive, being based on vehicles which usually drive their front wheels and call the back wheels into play when the fronts lose grip. That's not BMW's way and the sDrive18d is a bit of a curious item as a result, albeit one that's not without its own appeal. At the opposite end of the range, BMW added the punchy xDrive30d 3.0-litre diesel model and its senior sibling, the 313bhp xDrive35d, in Autumn 2011.
The X3 ought to have dominated this section of the market but struggled to impose itself. Audi's Q5 scalped a big share of the segment, but BMW ought to have made more capital from the absence of a Mercedes-Benz product. Instead, it was left to Land Rover to usurp both the Germans with its all-conquering Range Rover Evoque. The X3 was replaced in early 2014 by a facelifted model, recognisable by its full width kidney front grille.
What You Get
The X3 is offered in two trim levels. First up is the 'mainstream' version, the SE. This gets features like leather upholstery, two-zone air conditioning, iDrive controller and colour display, metallic paint, satin aluminium roof rails, 17-inch alloy wheels and Dynamic Stability Control with extended features. The enhanced DSC includes brake drying, brake fade compensation, brake pre-tensioning and hill-start assistant. Go for the M Sport variant and it also features sport suspension, variable sports steering, 18-inch alloy wheels, M sports steering wheel and front seats and a more aggressive body styling kit.
High-grade materials and intelligent packaging are the key aspects of what differentiates this model from its predecessor. The asymmetrical instrument panel and centre console are orientated towards the driver and there's the iDrive infotainment system with a 6.5-inch screen as standard. The 8.8-inch high-resolution screen of the navigation system in the Professional Multimedia package featured in the BMW X3 was the largest on-board monitor in its segment.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
This X3's reliability scores are far better than the first generation model, with the US Spartanburg factory having introduced new quality procedures. Some owners have had minor issues with items like intermittently faulty speedometers and problems with telephone integration but these will have been ironed out under warranty. The data shows that the X3 is one of the most reliable of all modern BMWs. Check the wheels for kerb damage and if in doubt, go for a metallic paint finish to help with resale.
(approx prices based on a 2011 X3 xDrive20d) An exchange starter motor retails at around £225 while a windscreen will set you back around £320. Expect to pay £400 for an exchange alternator while front brake pads cost £125. An entire headlamp pod will relieve you of £400.
On The Road
On the Road
Although the X3 XDrive20d is the biggest seller, now that used prices are levelling the ballpark a bit, it might be worth looking to grade up to an xDrive30d, which offers excellent value for money right now. With 258bhp at its disposal, it's unlikely that the X3 xDrive30d driver will feel short changed when it comes to power. The turbocharged 3.0-litre diesel is one of the best engines on BMW's books, offering some 413lb/ft of torque at a mere 2000rpm. In other words, it's an engine with some seriously big guns. Flog it hard off the line and you'll see 60mph come and go in just 6.0 seconds and it's capable of a top speed of 130mph. The engine is a little more vocal than you might expect when you fire it up but the tone is never overly intrusive or unpleasant.
At the other end of the range is the sDrive18d. Under the bonnet is a 143PS four-cylinder 2.0-litre turbodiesel that's got some respectable torque at its disposal, fully 360Nm in fact between 1750 and 2500rpm. Couple that with less weight than in any other X3 and it results in a car that can accelerate to 62mph in under 10 seconds and which will only wave the white flag at 121mph. A six-speed manual gearbox is fitted as standard, although there is a butter-smooth eight-speed automatic available as an option. Power goes to the rear wheels only and whisper it, but this car might just have the nicest steering of any X3 as well.
This second generation BMW X3 erased all the bad memories of those early first cars. In fairness to BMW, even the first-gen X3 had smartened itself up towards the end of its life but should you really want the X3 that all of us knew BMW was capable of making, you need this second generation model. The xDrive30d is probably our favourite model in the range, combining a really concussive accelerative punch with strong efficiency metrics. Yes, it's a bit more costly than the ubiquitous xDrive20d but it's well worth the premium to step up from a four-cylinder engine to a proper BMW six. Given that you can buy a tidy 2011 example for less than the price Honda charges for a new diesel Civic, it's hard to see why you wouldn't.