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BMW X3 2.0d review (2003-2006)
Model: BMW X3 2.0d
Body style: 4x4
Engine: 2.0d four-cylinder turbodiesel
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Date of test: February 2005
What is it?
As the X5’s little brother it was hoped that the X3 would capitalise on the huge success of BMW’s first SUV. Being smaller than the popular X5 the X3 promised to be a sales winner, but it’s not proved as successful as everyone expected. The higher than anticipated pricing which pitched it rather close to its bigger relative and the delay of the introduction of the diesels partially explain this, but the styling and ride is often criticised, too. This 2.0-litre diesel should prove to be the biggest seller in the range, diesels typically being strong sellers in 4x4 model ranges.
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Where does it fit?
Only slightly smaller than the X5 and fairly optimistically priced the X3 slots into a niche of its own. Prices are more Jeep Grand Cherokee than Land Rover Freelander, with models like the Toyota RAV4 seriously undercutting it in price, even if they do lack the badge appeal of the BMW. The 2.0-litre diesel is the entry-level model in the range undercutting its petrol relatives, which should boost its sales, while a 3.0-litre turbodiesel joins it in Autumn 2005.
Is it for you?
Of all the off-roaders on the roads the X3 is undoubtedly one of the sharpest on-road dynamically. Driving more like a taller 3 Series Touring rather than a bouncy off-roader the X3 is agile in a way that other 4x4s simply cannot match. Space inside is good, the boot is large enough for all those Waitrose shopping bags, yet it’s not so big as to feel unwieldy when manoeuvring. The 2.0-litre diesel might not have the aural appeal of the petrol six-cylinder units, but it’s a small price to pay for the far greater economy. BMW’s official combined consumption figure of 39.2mpg proves far more palatable than the 25.2mpg of the 2.5-litre petrol unit.
What does it do well?
It handles, which in the X3’s market is unusual. BMW has concentrated tuning the X3’s ability for the road, its steering precise and full of feel. Body roll is well contained in the corners allowing you to drive it with surprising verve, and economy isn’t bad too, so long as you don’t thrash it too hard. The driving position is comfortable, the visibility good and the six-speed manual transmission a delight to use. Off-road it’ll manage a mucky field or snowy roads, but if you’re after a proper mud-plugger then look elsewhere.
What doesn’t it do well?
Many have criticised it for its harsh ride, and we’ll admit that a lot of drivers might find it overly firm for their liking. However, it’s one of the reasons why it drives so well, so it’s forgivable, just, in our opinion. The interior doesn’t feel too special, particularly when you consider the price, and the 2.0-litre turbodiesel isn’t hugely quick and needs working fairly hard to maintain speed – to the detriment of its economy. Standard specification is decent enough, but start dipping into the extensive options list and the price will go up markedly.
What’s it like to live with?
If you can live with the rather firm suspension then the X3 should impress. It really is an accomplished drive, though the 2.0-litre diesel does need working if you’re going to exploit its fine handling and agility on a favourite road. With BMW now offering three or five year servicing packages much like the TLC package that’s proved so popular on the MINI range, even servicing is simple. It might have much better consumption compared to its petrol relatives but it lacks their aural appeal and sharp throttle response, however, you’ll forgive it this as you pass yet another fuel station before needing to fill up. The interior isn’t quite as premium feeling as you might expect, and the styling still splits opinion, but it’s a BMW, and for many that’s all that matters.
Would we buy it?
If driving thrills alone were our priority then the X3 would be at the top of our list, no question. But it’s an SUV, or SAV (Sports Activity Vehicle) if you listen to BMW, and they’re not really bought to tear around on backroads. It’s far too expensive, even this entry-level 2.0-litre diesel costs thousands more than rivals, and bigger-engined versions sit rather too close to the X5 for comfort on the price lists, too. Its pricing will make more sense when the next X5 arrives and moves upmarket, but currently a Toyota RAV4, Nissan X-Trail or similar will do just as good a job for all but the most committed drivers and cost significantly less.
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