It is no secret the X3 is one of most popular premium soft roaders around, however BMW had to learn a few lessons first. The first models were not that much to crow about, in this writer’s opinion they were underwhelming and just not up to the standard of the “ultimate driving machine” BMW promised. In recent years, the X3 has been getting closer and closer to becoming a genuine contender, which leads us to the current third generation X3, and its pretty darn good.

To complement the X3 family, BMW have now given us their idea of a ‘back-to-basics’ X3 in the form of the $83,990NZ X3 sDrive 2.0i. The new starting point of the X3 range on paper at least, represents the best value X3 out there, with the sDrive coming in at $10,705NZ less than the xDrive 20d and $17,850 less than the xDrive 3.0i. So how good is the base X3? Let’s find out.

Well, usually when one thinks of a base model car, terms like ‘no frills’ or even ‘sod all’ are often used to describe levels of equipment, powertrains etcetera. The X3 sDrive bucks this trend, with BMW still throwing in a fairly decent amount of kit and goodies. Styling wise, the sDrive still looks like an X3 should, and makes no attempt to pass itself off as a M car, plus the xLine style package and 19-inch alloys look good.

Under the bonnet sits the same B48 2.0-litre direct injected turbocharged four-cylinder engine found in the current Mini Cooper S. This means 135kW and 290Nm of torque. BMW’s eight-speed automatic box makes another appearance and is pretty darn slick. Add all this together and you can reach 100km/h in 8.2 seconds and return 7.4L/100km respectively.

These kinds of numbers are pretty hefty in a warm or even hot hatch, but for a mid-sized SUV, its adequate. However, thanks to the lack of the heavier all-wheel-drive system, the power delivery from this peppy four pot is still pretty decent, but more on that in a bit. It becomes obvious the sDrive is angled more towards buyers with a penchant for urban commuting, and are less interested in climbing every mountain and fording every stream.

What these buyers will want is a premium environment with lots of tech, which as I touched on previously, is something the X3 sDrive does rather well indeed. Inside the sDrive doesn’t try to blind you with massive touch screens and oodles of touch buttons, but it still feels cutting edge and modern. There are no signs of BMW trying to cut corners here.

The sports seats hold you nicely and offer plenty of lateral support, as you clasp the multi-function wheel, it does feel good in your mitts, though this writer would love to have had shift paddles to play with.

Standard kit consists of three zone climate control, LED headlights and taillights with high beam assist, park assist, rain sensing wipers, head up display, heated seats and a no cost option 10.25-inch infotainment screen which works in tandem with the latest BMW iDrive 6 set up. This gives you a plethora of toys including a reversing camera with side proximity alert, sat nav, DAB radio, parking sensors front and rear, rear cross traffic alert and BMW Connected+ which features Real Time Traffic Information and BMW Online help.

BMW’s Driver Assistant system is also on hand with lane change and departure warning, forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control, multi-function instrument display, which allows the dials to alter to suit your drive mode, whether it be eco, comfort or sport, and wireless phone charging.

In terms of interior space and room to lug stuff about, its pretty much the same story as other X3’s in the range. Rear seat passengers will find entry and exit a doddle and the sheer level of head and legroom front and rear deserves to be commended. Pop the boot and lo and behold, we find 550 litres of boot space, which is certainly a lot bigger than some contemporary rivals. Once the split folding rear seats are stowed away, this increases to a whopping 1600 litres.

On the move around inner city streets you do notice a very linear power delivery. The twin scroll turbo four pot is smooth and refined from idle right the way up the rev range. It may not sound particularly exciting but it gets you going rather well with little effort required on your part. Ride comfort is lot better than first expected as well.

As an open road mile muncher, the X3 sDrive is pretty impressive. The best aspect of this is to stick it into eco or comfort settings and let the car do the rest. BMW’s knack of providing you with crisp driving dynamism is not lost on the twisty stuff either, while its certainly doesn’t hang with its M badged counterparts, the sDrive still mixes a good blend of sportiness and comfort, though in tight corners, it does feel a tad soft.

Each upshift from the eight-speed auto box is crisp and engaging, with next to no delay between each change. Also, the steering is communicative and nicely weighted, allowing you to shift the weight of the X3 with pin point precision. Sure, its no X3 M, but for an entry point SUV, immensely satisfying.

It would be wrong to assume the BMW X3 sDrive 20i is any less compelling a package than its gruntier and more luxurious siblings, in fact, the truth is quite the opposite. With its start price of $83,900NZ, when compared to other cars of this type for similar money, the sDrive is very good value. Throw in a generous level of standard kit, lots of space and a willing petrol engine and driving dynamics, and if you don’t mind not having all-wheel-drive, the X3 sDrive is definitely worth a look.

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A good value version of vastly improved premium SUV

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