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THE X FACTOR (some text hidden)

BMW's X3 offers many of the attributes of their all-conquering X5 SUV in a more manageably sized package. June Neary tries the third generation version for size.

Will It Suit Me?word count: 171

I must admit that I like the idea of a big BMW SUV and having tried the BMW X5, I found myself rather warming to it. It was only when I tried to pilot the thing through the rush hour that my enthusiasm paled somewhat. Yes, the elevated seating position gave a great view of what was going on, but it just felt like a lumbering beast amidst a sea of teeming citycars. If they could retain the look and feel but package it into a more manageably sized model, that would surely have to be a winner. It seems that somebody at BMW obviously concurs, because the third generation X3 we're going to look at here delivers just that - albeit a little larger than previous generation versions and therefore about the same size as the MK1 model X5. There's a strong family resemblance too, but look for that upwardly rising rear side window and you'll have tagged the X3. I was looking forward to a spell behind the wheel.

Practicalitiesword count: 225

So this 'evolved' X3 is larger, plusher, faster and more efficient than ever, stacking up impressively against prestigiously-badged alternatives from Audi, Land Rover and Volvo in this sector. And because it's targeted almost exclusively towards on-road use, it's another example of just how car-like a model of this kind can be. The exterior dimensions of MK3 design are largely unchanged, but its five-centimetre-longer wheelbase, long bonnet and short front overhang emphasise its 50:50 weight distribution between front and rear axle. At the front, the chunky three-dimensional kidney grille and LED fog lamps feature a hexagonal design for the first time on a BMW X model. If the notion of a 'baby X5' makes you think you'll be sacrificing interior space, don't worry. You don't. Compared to the first generation X5, there's a similar amount of space inside and despite featuring split fold rear seats that can't fold flat, the overall luggage capacity is actually very generous. The rear bench itself hasn't any fancy sliding, reclining or removable tricks, but you can specify its push-button folding mechanism in 40:20:40 form to offer a bit more flexibility should you need to increase the 550-litre boot to 1,600-litres by folding the back chairs forward. So, yes, whether you need to transport dogs, flat-pack furniture - or even a mountain bike with both wheels attached, it will probably fit.

Behind the Wheelword count: 272

At the wheel, the dash and seating position are just tall enough for your perch to feel SUV-like and the leather-lined, beautifully finished cabin feels an up-market place to be, dominated by its standard iDrive display screen. The iDrive control is down by the gearstick, supplemented by extra buttons to make it easier for you to find everything from navigation to ventilation. But then, wasn't the original point of iDrive to reduce button clutter? Whatever. As for engines, well as before, most buyers will choose a diesel, probably the 190bhp 2.0-litre xDrive 20d variant. There's also a 265bhp straight-six xDrive30d diesel derivative. And a potent 326hp M40d variant. BMW thinks that petrol power will get more of a take-up this time round, so is offering an entry-level xDrive 20i version, plus there's a range-topping 360bhp X3 M40i variant to take on rivals like Audi's SQ5. BMW is keen to tell us about this model's xDrive permanent four-wheel technology. Doubtless, the way that this electronically controlled system can distribute torque as needed to all four wheels depending on the grip at either front or rear will be useful in a snowy snap. Apparently, though, it's really there to make ordinary, everyday tarmac motoring that bit more enjoyable, helping to control the car through bends by, in true BMW style, sending more power rearwards and, if necessary, even lightly braking the inside rear wheel in tight cornering to increase mid-bend agility and traction. As for the rocky ride that owners of earlier generation X3 models might remember, well things are much improved here, with a redesigned independent set-up offering a far more comfortable set-up.

Value For Moneyword count: 70

The X3 doesn't come cheap, with prices starting at around £38,000. Don't, in other words, bother comparing it against similarly-dimensioned volume brand medium-sized SUVs - Toyota RAV4s, Honda CR-Vs and the like: the X3 competes in an altogether more exalted, premium section of this market. This car really competes against more tarmac-orientated competitors at the plushest end of this segment, cars like Audi's Q5, Range Rover's Evoque or Volvo's XC60.

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Category: Crossover or SUV 4x4s

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