BMW’s SUV gets theM­injec­tion

Kapiti Observer - - OUT & ABOUT - ROB MAETZIG

Here’s some­thing that hasn’t been able to be done be­fore: bar­rel down a sec­tion of road in aBMW X3 with ev­ery­thing in Sport mode, rev­el­ling in the sound of its ex­haust thump­ing and crack­ling dur­ing gear-change and on a trail­ing throt­tle.

This hasn’t been able to be done be­fore, be­cause in its 14 years in ex­is­tence the pop­u­lar medium-sized SUV has never been made avail­able as anM Per­for­mance model.

But now it will be. An M40i, pow­ered by a 265kW twin-scroll tur­bocharged 3-litre en­gine with its crack­lingM­Sport ex­haust sys­tem, will be among a new three-model X3 se­lec­tion on sale in New Zealand next month.

And we’ve just been to Por­tu­gal to drive it.

The world launch of the new broader-shoul­dered X3 has been held in the re­gion known as the Por­tuguese Riviera – the area down on the bot­tom left of the ob­long-shaped coun­try where for cen­turies the elite and the wealthy have lived and hol­i­dayed.

These days the re­gion also has great roads that wind along the coast­line and into ad­ja­cent heav­ily-forested Sin­tra Moun­tains. For a few days in midOc­to­ber these roads hosted groups of jour­nal­ists be­hind the wheel of the X3 M40i.

This model isn’t the only new X3 – at the launch there were five dif­fer­ent ver­sions, three of which are com­ing to New Zealand – but only the M40i was made avail­able to try out on the road, ob­vi­ously be­cause of its in­tent as the hero mem­ber of the X3 se­lec­tion.

But just in case any­one might have for­got­ten that the X3 re­mains a ca­pa­ble ve­hi­cle off the road, BMWalso made avail­able a diesel model for jaunts into the Sin­tra Na­tional Park to show off its low-down torquey abil­i­ties and its xDrive all-wheel drive sys­tem.

But not in the M40i. No doubt it could have done the off-road work, but its 21-inch wheels and per­for­mance-ori­ented aero­dy­nam­ics are ob­vi­ously de­signed for tar­mac use – so it was road-only work in that model for the at­tend­ing jour­nal­ists.

In­ter­na­tion­ally the X3 is a bigseller for BMW, and since 2004 it has been an im­por­tant mem­ber of the brand’s SUV se­lec­tion in New Zealand. It plays sec­ond-fid­dle to the larger X5, but it con­trib­utes strongly to a sit­u­a­tion in which SUVs are now re­spon­si­ble for 48 per cent of BMW’s to­tal sales vol­ume here – way up on the 30 per cent share of just two years ago.

Now, thanks to ar­rival of the new model with its per­for­mance­ori­ented vari­ant, the SUV share is likely to rise even fur­ther.

Cre­ated by a de­sign team headed by the tal­ented young Aus­tralian Calvin Luk, who has penned a num­ber of other BMWs in­clud­ing the re­freshed 1-Se­ries hatch and X1 small SUV, the new X3 is a much more mus­cu­lar­look­ing SUV than be­fore, par­tic­u­larly around the rear wheel arches.

From the looks per­spec­tive it has real prom­ise of be­ing a con­sid­er­ably stronger com­peti­tor to the likes of the Mercedes-Benz GLC and the Audi Q5.

And it will also now be avail­able with the nec­es­sary grunt to match that more mus­cled ex­te­rior. The first-ev­erM Per­for­mance model in the X3 lineup is pow­ered by a 3-litre Twin­Power six cylin­der petrol en­gine that de­vel­ops the 265kW of power and 500Nm of torque, which en­ables it to get to 100kmh in just 4.8 sec­onds.

It’s a prop­erMPer­for­mance SUV, com­plete with the likes of a flap-con­trolledM­Sport ex­haust sys­tem, MS­port brakes, MS­port sus­pen­sion with per­for­mance­spe­cific tun­ing, vari­able sports steer­ing, and 21-inch al­loys.

It’s also equipped with an eight-speed Step­tronic Sport trans­mis­sion com­plete with launch con­trol. And of course there’s BMW’s Driv­ing Ex­pe­ri­ence Con­trol that can be used to se­lect Sport or Sport+ pro­grammes which among other things de­liver a more in­tense en­gine sound and ex­haust note. In the past, so un-X3 like. But now a re­al­ity with this new model, which will en­ter the Kiwi mar­ket with a re­tail price of $119,850.

Things are more reg­u­lar with the two other new X3 mod­els sched­uled to ar­rive in New Zealand next month – a $92,850 tur­bod­iesel-en­gined xDrive20d, and a $99,850 petrol-en­gined xDrive30i.

Pow­er­ing the 20d will be a 2-litre Twin­Power four cylin­der diesel that will of­fer a hefty 140kW of power and 400Nm of torque, while the 30i will be pow­ered by a 2-litre Twin­Power four cylin­der petrol that will pro­duce 185kW and 350Nm. The en­try model has an eight-speed auto, while the two oth­ers have an eight-speed sports au­to­matic with shift pad­dles.

It will be in­ter­est­ing to see what im­pact the ar­rival of this new X3, par­tic­u­larly the high­per­for­mance model, will have on over­all sales of BMW’s range of SUVs.

In 2014 you could only buy an X3 as a diesel, and most sales were the more pow­er­ful 30d rather than the 20d. But by this year that had all changed, with more than twothirds of sales taken up by a petrol-en­gined 28i – some­thing which un­der­lined the fact that diesel power is wan­ing in pop­u­lar­ity in New Zealand.

All that would in­di­cate that the most pop­u­lar new X3 will be the 30i, with the 20d meet­ing the needs of those who wish to buy diesel – and that sparkling M40i of­fer­ing some­thing that has never been on of­fer be­fore: a high­per­for­mance medium-sized SUV.

The first high-per­for­mance BMW X3 – the M40i, com­ing to New Zealand next month.

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