Johannesburg - It's fair to say that BMW’s X3 has come a long way since that piggy-eyed original that hit the scene 15 years ago, but does this third-generation model have what it takes to compete with an ever expanding array of highly desirable premium SUVs?

Launched late last year and soon to be built right here in Mzanzi for local consumption and export (from April 2018 production), the renewed X3 takes on the Audi Q5 and Mercedes GLC with a more sophisticated design inside and out, as well as an avalanche of available gizmos that have filtered down from its larger sedan cousins.

Our first taste of the new X3 came in the form of an M40i that we tested late last year, and for an SUV it proved surprisingly agile and fun to drive, but that’s not the version that the majority are going to buy - and that brings us to the more ‘sensible’ xDrive20d version that’s under the microscope here.

With a base price of R687 500, it’s the least expensive X3 on offer, with your next rungs up the ladder being the 185kW 30i at R745 956 and 195kW 30d at R873 088, while that aforementioned M40i halo model costs a shade over a million. A pair of four-cylinder petrol models will arrive later this year, including a more affordable rear-wheel-drive version.

Despite its entry level status, the 20d is not badly endowed on the engine front, powered by the latest version of BMW’s familiar 2-litre turbodiesel, which produces 140kW at 4000rpm and 400Nm from 1750.

Power is delivered quietly and smoothly and the eight-speed automatic gearbox, which is fitted to all BMW X3s, is perfectly on the ball with its shift timing and general operating refinement. The 2-litre oil burner doesn’t necessarily feel fast off the mark, but it’s got more than enough grunt to satisfy the average driver - the latest X3’s 55kg weight reduction also aiding its cause. Economy is respectable too, our test car sipping an average of 8.3 litres per 100km in a mixture of town and highway driving.

Though the average X3 will spend most of its time in the urban jungle, it can tackle milder off-road trails with relative ease. It’s not a hardcore offroader by any means, but its 204mm ground clearance, 500mm fording depth, 25.7 and 22.6 degree approach and departure angles and an xDrive system that can constantly vary the power split between all four wheels all collectively endow it with the ability to venture further into the rough than your average crossover.

As for the more important on-tar manners, the X3 remains true to its brand heritage with a sportier-than-normal chassis set-up that priorities cornering prowess.

As a result the vehicle feels more fleet-footed than you’d expect from a mid-sized SUV, while the steering offers reasonably good feedback and sensation, by electric power steering standards at least. The flipside to its sporty tuning is that the ride is a bit on the firm side, not to the point of being uncomfortable, but certainly leaving room for improvement.

In some instances, this BMW can also take to the wheel on your behalf As part of a long list of technologies hand-me-downed from its bigger saloon cousins, the X3 is now optionally available with a suite of driver-assistance gizmos including the semi-autonomous steering and lane control assistant that’s part of the R33 200 ‘Driving Assist Plus’ package, along with Active Cruise control with Stop & Go function. With all that activated via buttons on the steering wheel, the X3 can essentially drive itself in certain instances, just don’t count on it as the cameras can’t always see the lane markings.

Other optional highlights include a comprehensive head-up display (R16 900), gesture control for things like volume control and answering calls (R3600, but only if you order the R9200 Navigation System Professional, and which also includes touchscreen functionality) and BMW’s digital Display Key (R3600).

These are just some of the many optional features available, but in its standard form the X3 is not all that badly equipped, with items like three-zone automatic climate control, an automatic tailgate, satellite navigation (Business), synthetic leather seats and 18-inch alloy wheels all part of the deal.

You also get iDrive, paired with a 16.5cm screen, but sans touch functionality.

Now that we’re inside, it’s also worth mentioning the strides BMW has made in improving the ambience in this latest X3. Material quality has improved considerably - the X3 has certainly inherited some classy vibes from its 7-Series cousin - and you can lift the mood further with a multi-colour ambient lighting system for R5 300.

This BMW ticks the practicality boxes too, with ample head and legroom for those in the front and back, while the boot swallows a not inconsiderable 550 litres - though it is a bit on the shallow side.


There is no shortage of options in this neck of the SUV woods, but BMW’s latest X3 ticks plenty of emotional and rational boxes. It has a slightly sportier edge in the way it looks and drives, and yet it’s well priced in relation to its rivals, generously appointed and suitably practical.

Find a used BMW X3 on our Drive360 portal


BMW X3 xDrive20d auto

Engine: 2-litre, 4-cyl, turbodiesel
Gearbox: 8-speed automatic
Power: 140kW @ 4000rpm
Torque: 400Nm @ 1750-2500rpm
0-100km/h (tested, Gauteng)8.0 seconds
Top speed (claimed)213km/h
Ground clearance204mm
Boot capacity550 litres
Price: R687 506
Warranty: 2-year/unlimited km
Service plan: 5-year/100 000km


Audi Q5 2.0 TDI quattro 140kW/400Nm R698 000
BMW X3 xDrive20d 140kW/400Nm R687 506
Jaguar E-Pace D180S 132kW/430Nm R683 978
Land Rover Disco Sport Pure TD4 132kW/430NmR688 166
Mercedes GLC 220d 4Matic 125kW/400NmR700 022