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
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.
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 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.