BMW’s SUV gets theMinjection
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.