Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2015 BMW X3 Diesel

AutoTrader SCORE
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car

There’s heaps about the BMW X3 that’s just right. Not too much, not too little. Finely set between various extremes. Perfect, even, in the sense of the proverbial bowl of porridge Goldilocks shoveled into her face before being munched by a family of murderous grizzlies.

The size, for instance. It’s just right. The X3 is set nicely between big-ute and small-ute. It’s not as empty as an X5 with just one person on board, but it’s bigger and more accommodating than something the size of an X1. It’s comfortably big enough for two adult couples and their things without feeling snug.

The X3 is set nicely between big-ute and small-ute.

Entry and exit are also just right. Door openings are sized adequately, but moreover, getting in and out of the X3 is handled, by most, without a climb up or drop down, and more of a lateral sideways shift of one’s posterior regions into the seat. So, that feels just right, too.

You’ll probably also find the interior to be just right. It’s not glitzy and glamorous and lined with gawdy chrome. It’s not overly high-tech and complicated-looking and full of in-your-face display arrays and interfaces and control clutter. But it’s not boring and simple and sleepy-looking either: it’s a just-right blend of formal luxury and high-tech, working towards an atmosphere  conducive to relaxation and socializing on the open road, with all your connected-driving stuff close at hand, but not in your face.

Of course, none of these are traits exclusively offered by the X3. BMW is but one player, and the X3 is but one drop in a sea of premium crossovers competing for the hard-earned bucks of Canadian shoppers. The models that play here are all, in many ways, the same: they’re all all-wheel drive. They all have the latest outward-looking safety and hazard detection systems. They’re all nameless, and identified by a short code of letters and / or numbers.

So, in a big field of machinery from around the globe with highly similar intentions, it’s the differences that tend to make competitors stand apart – and the BMW X3 stands out in a number of key ways.
One of these is by offering a diesel engine. In an increasingly popular but overall rare move, the tested X3 xDrive28d put a a 2.0L four-cylinder turbodiesel mill on offer, good for 181 horsepower and the better part of 300 lb-ft of torque. For the most part, it’s as smooth and quiet as any of the market’s best diesel engines, with only a hint of rattle-clatter making itself apparent at lower revs and light-throttle application. Low to mid-range power, when requested, see the diesel-powered X3 surge along adequately. It’s not a hot-rod like the Audi Q5 TDI with its bigger diesel V6, but the power output shouldn’t disappoint the average driver.

Throttle and transmission programming make it easy to drive in the little diesel’s optimally efficient range: low revs with the engine nearly lugging as low-end torque whisks things along. Engage the ECO-PRO drive mode, and the throttle and gearbox are re-mapped to further this, while unique instrument cluster readouts help drivers visualize the most efficient way to apply the throttle.

Fuel mileage landing at 7.4 L/100 km on my watch was about the same as a Mazda 3 – pleasing given the space, size and All Wheel Drive on board. Relaxed drivers willing to be patient and use the diesel powerplant’s big down-low torque to maximize fuel efficiency will find this engine option a fantastic fit. Those after screaming revs and peel-your-face-off acceleration can check out the available turbo straight-six instead.

In typical BMW fashion, the eight-speed automatic shifts with imperceptible smoothness and perfect rev-matching in both directions, at all times. Further, it auto-engages neutral at speed when the driver coasts, reducing engine braking and saving fuel. Auto-Stop which instantly shuts the engine down when the vehicle is at rest, further trims away at fuel consumption. In this case, the system restarts the engine in milliseconds, and with surprising smoothness, the instant the brakes are released. So, in all, there’s a generous tool-kit full of fuel-saving technologies at the driver’s disposal.

The other big way the X3 stands out is with its ride. Although twenty-one inch wheels and lowered suspension look great, they’ll likely leave you with a flat the first time you hit a trail and ride quality on par with pushing a shopping cart across a gravel parking lot. The tester, instead, rolled smaller wheels with thicker tires and lacked a sport-tuned suspension calibration, resulting in a fantastic highway cruising feel. On just about every surface, it felt tuned, honed and dialed-in to deliver an even blend of soft-riding comfort with a hint of sporty tautness.

The suspension works admirably to keep unpleasant sensations out of the cabin on rough roads, with bigger bumps causing a refined and quiet jiggle of the X3’s body on the wheels, and little else. Without the giant baller-status rims and paper-thin tires, this tester was one of the nicest-riding vehicles I’ve visited in recent memory.

Add in the well-hushed wind noise, and low road noise levels, even on the tester’s noisier winter tires, and a steering system that feels heavy and locked-in at highway speeds, and you’ve got a comfortable, confident and relaxing place to be.

On board, test-drivers will likely note the deep and pillowy rear seats, which are mounted close to the floor to enable decent headroom, and should prove comfortable for a pair of grown adults. The rear cargo hold, accessed by a power tailgate, is wide and fairly square, and up front, proper cupholders and generous at-hand storage for smaller items was noted. Expect excellent performance from the xenon headlamps and LED fog-lamps after dark, too.

The new-generation iDrive system is improved here, featuring a less rigid and more intuitive voice-command interface, and the ability to scribble numbers and letters into the system by tracing them over the control knob with your fingertip. Plus, the system can tap into your phone’s data signal and call up things like in-dash weather forecasts and news feeds, if you like.

Another improvement? Driver-assist controls formerly relegated to a hard-to-access panel of buttons ahead of the driver’s left knee are now accessed via a single button, mounted on the centre of the dash, that calls an on-screen menu into action for further manipulation. The door lock switch, which used to be on the centre of the dash, is now where it belongs – on the door. So, a better-than-ever iDrive system and more logical control placement help round out the X3’s cabin.

Complaints were minor: as far as a luxury crossover at this price range goes, they’ve largely nailed this one. The Bluetooth connection can be a little fussy to get set up, and though the mileage is great, I was expecting, I think, just a touch more performance.

In all, a diesel-powered X3 like this one will work well for a shopper after comfort, confidence and fuel-efficiency above all else – with a great ride, comfy cabin and just-right sizing cementing it solidly as a laid back and comfy all-weather cruiser. Pricing from about $45,000 with diesel power.

4 years/80,000 km; 4 years/80,000 km powertrain; 12 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 4 years/unlimited distance 24-hour roadside assistance

Acura RDX
Audi Q3
Lexus NX
Mercedes GLK

Model Tested 2015 BMW X3 xDrive28d
Base Price $45,000
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $2,095
Price as Tested $55,945
Optional Equipment
Premium Package ($6,000), Technology Package ($1,600), Connected Drive Services ($500), Manual Sunshades ($350), Storage Bin ($300)