M Sport trim looks butch but those wheels spoil the ride
A second-generation, post-facelift X3 ticks a lot of boxes, even if you need to satisfy a sporting itch
Take one BMW 3 Series, give it the SUV treatment and – hey presto – you’ve a hit on your hands. Well, that’s the theory. In fact, by the end of its life, the first-generation X3 of 2004 to 2010 was losing ground in the face of fresher rivals. Whatever replaced it needed to be a lot better. Fortunately, it was.
The second-generation X3, under the spotlight here, landed in 2010. Bigger, quicker, greener and, when its specification was taken into account, cheaper, it set about the opposition with gusto.
By 2014 a facelift was necessary, not least because of the forthcoming Euro 6 emissions regs. It’s this facelifted version we’re discussing here, since it is, at least for the moment, future-proofed against Ultra Low Emission Zones. Considering that neither pre- nor post-facelift there isn’t a petrol engine in the X3 line-up, that’s pretty important.
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But we know what you’re thinking: you don’t have the £10,000 or so required for admittance to the class of 2014. Fortunately, around £6000 will get you into a 2011-reg 20d xDrive auto with 140,000 miles, while £9250 secures a 2012-reg with 83,000 miles. Ignore the unloved 18d – it’s two-wheel drive where the rest are xDrive four-wheel drive. The six-cylinder 30d and 35d versions are performance bargains, with a 2010- reg 30d SE xDrive auto with 40,000 miles yours for £8995.
Back to those facelifted Euro 6 X3s of 2014. The 2.0-litre engines are represented by the short-lived 148bhp 18d and 187bhp 2.0-litre 20d (it made 181bhp before), and the 3.0-litre units by the 255bhp 30d and 309bhp 35d. Variable damper control was available across the range and is worth having on larger-wheeled and more stiffly suspended X3s.
The facelifted X3 got a tweaked grille, new bumpers and mirrors and, importantly if you like your coffee, new cupholders. Even entry-level SE trim has leather, 17in alloys, parking sensors, dual-zone climate control, hill descent control, and the excellent iDrive infotainment system with sat-nav and a digital radio. Choosing it over the others is the grown-up thing to do, but M Sport trim, with its bodykit, sports suspension, sports seats and 19in alloys, will look better on your driveway. In between it and SE sits X Line, a kind of poor man’s M Sport with larger wheels, a sports steering wheel and fancy sills.
Regarding gearboxes, the X3’s six-speed manual is smooth and helps keep the 20d on song, but the eight-speed auto is more relaxing and more efficient.
The 18d sDrive is slow and not much more economical than the four-wheel-drive 20d, which is the star of the range. If you tow or do a lot of motorway miles, check out the 30d (the 35d is too extreme). A 2015-reg 20d SE auto with 60,000 miles is around £15,600 and a 30d M Sport auto with 55,000 is £17,500. Considering they were around £34,000 and £43,000 respectively when new, those are some savings.
The 2.0-litre diesel engine in pre-2014 facelift X3s is codenamed N47. According to reports, it has a reputation for excessive timing chain wear leading to premature failure. Check its health by listening for strange noises from the rear of the engine, especially when it’s cold. BMW took action to fix the problem, culminating in the fitment of the new and uprated B47 engine from 2014. The N47 engine also suffers problems with the return spring on the turbo wastegate that causes it to remain fully open, increasing fuel consumption. Hoses on earlier versions can degrade causing problems with the EGR cooler, ultimately causing a boost leak and a possible engine fire. The coolant’s glycol content may also be to blame for fires.
Where fitted, the variable power steering system can be troublesome and, at worst, require a new steering rack.
Owners have reported sundry rattles and creaks and problems with updating the sat nav.
If it’s a four-wheel-drive X3, check it hasn’t been off-roaded since the vehicle doesn’t have the ground clearance of, for example, a Land Rover Discovery. As a result, you may find scrapes and damage to the sills and underside.
Beware of a vehicle fitted with an aftermarket towbar since unlike one with the factory-fitted item, the vehicle’s mechanicals won’t have been upgraded to accommodate the engine’s and transmission’s additional cooling requirements or have the strengthened driveshafts.
Need to know
The X3 has been subject to a number of safety recalls, among them an insecure rear spoiler, a dodgy screw on the steering system and rear brake calipers not coated to specification. Check that the car you’re interested in has had them all attended to.
The 2.0-litre diesel engine in pre-2014 facelift X3s is codenamed N47. According to reports, it has a reputation for excessive timing chain wear leading to premature failure. BMW took action to fix the problem, culminating in the fitment of the new and uprated B47 engine from 2014.
Options include an adaptive damper control system offering Normal, Sport and Sport+ modes, and variable Servotronic steering. However, they’re dynamic overkill on lesser-powered versions, which ride and steer perfectly well.
BMW X3 20d xDrive SE: SE spec comes with standard suspension that suits the model better than the firmer set-up on more expensive trims. The 20d engine pulls well from 1500rpm and returns a real-world 40mpg
BMW X3 35d xDrive M Sport Auto: A 0-62mph sprint time of 5.3sec puts this quickest X3 firmly in ‘wild card’ territory. That you have to wonder if such performance is necessary in an SUV confirms it.
Ones we found
2015 X3 20d xDrive SE, 135,000 miles, £10,500
2016 X3 20d xDrive M Sport, 68,000 miles, £17,200
2017 X3 30d xDrive M Sport auto, 32,000 miles, £25,200
2017 X3 35d xDrive M Sport auto, 20,000 miles, £26,300
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