Ger­man En­gi­neer­ing At Its Best

Mo­tor­ing ed­i­tor Robert Stedman puts the new BMW X3 to the test – and is more than happy with the ex­pe­ri­ence

Portfolio - - IN THIS ISSUE - by Robert Stedman

For a com­pany that was founded on build­ing high­end lux­ury sports cars, it’s sur­pris­ing to dis­cover that for ev­ery three cars that leave the BMW fac­tory, one of them is an ‘X’ ver­sion. BMW’s X mod­els are the com­pany’s line of SUVs and crossovers – or what BMW refers to as Sports Ac­tiv­ity Ve­hi­cles. What­ever you like to call them, BMW’s en­gi­neers and de­sign­ers are throw­ing their best ef­forts into get­ting the X se­ries per­fected. The new ver­sion of the X3 is a big step up from the first, which was re­ally not well thought out as a high-end SUV. How­ever, the lat­est X3 is a to­tally dif­fer­ent story. Still, BMW’s new X3 has to go up against some stiff op­po­si­tion – Mercedes GLC for com­fort, Audi Q5 for re­fine­ment, Jaguar F-Pace for han­dling and space, and Porsche Ma­can for all-round chas­sis ex­cel­lence and stun­ning good looks. The lat­est model of the X3 has got­ten a bit big­ger; in fact, it is slightly larger than the first-gen­er­a­tion X5. Its larger size makes it a lit­tle more dif­fi­cult to ma­neu­ver in the city or when nip­ping around coun­try roads, but on the high­way, this SUV moves like greased light­ning. The new X3 uses an adapted ver­sion of BMW’s lat­est straight li­neengine and com­po­nents set. That makes it a more modern plat­form than the BMW 3 Se­ries. New con­struc­tion tech­niques have al­lowed BMW en­gi­neers to shave away about 55kg, de­spite the big­ger ve­hi­cle size. The X3 buyer also has ac­cess to some very ad­vanced elec­tron­ics sys­tems. It’s safe to say that the X3 is one of the most so­phis­ti­cated SUVs out there to­day. There are so many elec­tronic fea­tures like for­ward, rear and side sens­ing, self-park­ing as­sis­tance and lane aware­ness con­trol on the X3. With all th­ese gad­gets you’ll soon re­al­ize where it’s all head­ing – a self-driv­ing ve­hi­cle. BMW has made another de­par­ture too: They have added a petrol en­gine to the lineup. It seems that petrol, not diesel, is the way for­ward, at least in the near fu­ture.

Get­ting Around

The car tested for this re­view had a 2-liter, 4-cylin­der petrol en­gine that puts out more than 250 horse­power. Com­bined with its but­ter smooth, 8-speed elec­tronic trans­mis­sion (avail­able on all vari­ants), it means you don’t need to punch the ac­cel­er­a­tor very of­ten. The X3 doesn’t strain at all and seems to have power to spare. That’s be­cause

this beefy ve­hi­cle has an as­ton­ish­ing 458lb ft of torque ready to be squeezed out. It can eas­ily make the dash from zero to one hun­dred in a mod­est but de­cent six se­conds.

The Ride

The new X3 has a great ride, too. The older ver­sion of this car tended to feel a bit wooden and stiff, but the new X3 has bet­ter re­ac­tions. You can re­ally feel the rear drive sup­port in sports mode, where the ac­tive damper pro­gram and dif­fer­en­tial are au­to­mat­i­cally ad­justed to suit driv­ing needs. While the X3 is 4-wheel drive, its elec­tronic drive con­trol trans­fers or bal­ances power to the front or rear wheels when needed, or as ad­justed by the driver. The chas­sis of the X3 uses a dou­ble joint spring strut axle on the front and a five–link real axle. The X3’s vari­able elec­tronic steer­ing is pre­cise and com­fort­able. With a big SUV like the X3 it does want to over steer at bit but the clever elec­tron­ics com­pen­sate and the steer­ing feels very nat­u­ral. The ride is sur­pris­ingly sup­ple and tight at all speeds. We tried the X3 on some steep hills and the elec­tronic trac­tion and hill-de­scent con­trol sys­tems worked like a charm.

The Space In­side

Like in all SUVs or SAVs, you sit rea­son­ably high in the cabin, with a com­mand­ing view of the road. And thanks to its boxy shape, the in­te­rior of the X3 is noth­ing like BMW’s saloons and es­tates; it’s ac­tu­ally roomy. What’s more, the car doesn’t pre­tend to be an SUV coupe, which is a good thing. Get­ting in and out of the cab is easy. For those who are fans of the SUV con­cept, this ve­hi­cle in­te­rior will im­press. Since it’s a BMW you know this SUV is not util­i­tar­ian. The new, flow­ing de­sign of the X3’s dash­board has more di­ag­o­nals, and the dif­fer­ent in­stru­men­ta­tion is much bet­ter in­te­grated. A main LED panel is placed in the cen­ter of the dash. The dash­board is well laid out and easy to read. The panel just be­hind the wheel that shows speed and rev­o­lu­tions is also an LED dis­play.

It changes char­ac­ter de­pend­ing on the ride se­lected. Com­fort drive mode, for in­stance, comes in a serene blue, while sport makes the gauges a sexy red color. The X3’s front seats are com­fort­able and sup­port­ive – great for long drives or when you’re stuck in snarling traf­fic. The stan­dard sat nav-comms sys­tem is traf­fic aware and easy to op­er­ate. How­ever, on the model we tested it did get us lost. That may not be the fault of the nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem, but more a re­flec­tion on Sin­ga­pore’s con­tin­u­ally chang­ing map and roads. One of the coolest fea­tures of this SUV is the op­tional heads-up dis­play. It takes a bit to get used to it but once you do, you’ll won­der how you ever drove with­out one. Speed and GPS in­for­ma­tion is pro­jected on the wind­screen – just like in a fighter jet; in­for­ma­tion ap­pears when needed and dis­ap­pears when not. In the rear of the cabin, high seats mean your legs and head won’t be con­strained.

All In All

Over­all BMW has made this car plush and lux­u­ri­ous. In the past the X3 never did BMW much credit; it was just an or­di­nary SUV. But this in­car­na­tion makes this ve­hi­cle one of the best in its class. BMW has de­cided to up its game with this lux­ury SAV. In­doors, it’s roomy and civ­i­lized, with a good-sized boot and lay­out, thanks to the car’s larger size. The en­gine, cornering and sus­pen­sion are su­perb on this ve­hi­cle. And while the X3 still has rather a staid look, and in no way as hand­some as some of its com­peti­tors, it’s what’s be­neath that counts. BMW has loaded this car with lots of in­no­va­tive fea­tures that gives it a lot of bang for the buck.

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