New BMW X3 on the money
ROAD TEST/ Decent performance and economy at a big price-saving over the X3 range-topper, writes Denis Droppa
Getting a handle on modern car nomenclature is rather like trying to keep up with SA cabinet reshuffles it can keep one busy.
Recalling simpler bygone days when car badges usually denoted engine size, an unsuspecting buyer eyeing up a new BMW X3 xDrive30i might erroneously expect a 3l sixcylinder engine under the bonnet. It’s in fact a 2l fourcylinder petrol turbo serving duty, as the powerful 3l six-pot engine is reserved only for the range-topping X3 M40i model.
Knowing in advance what engine is in the snout has significant bearing on how you’ll perceive this middle model in the locally built X3 range. Go into it expecting a sixcylinder and you’ll be underwhelmed by the pace and the sound; but get behind the wheel knowing it’s a 2l, and it overdelivers on promise.
With 185kW of power and 350Nm of torque, for a 2l vehicle the xDrive30i shifts along at a satisfyingly swift pace, and its claimed 0100km/h sprint in 6.3 seconds and 240km/h top speed earn it the right to be called a middleweight sports SUV.
The sports part is a little watered-down by the lack of any charismatic acoustics; the four-cylinder engine’s very refined but sounds like the proverbial sewing machine. At Joburg altitude it also suffers from a touch of turbo lag in standing-start acceleration, but then I’m comparing it to the X3 M40i, which just feels so darned responsive every time you tickle the throttle.
Once this 2l version sheds the initial lag and gets into its stride, it makes rapid progress, with effortless cruising legs and the ability to briskly overtake long trucks.
This new X3 lives up to the sports tag in terms of its driving dynamics too, and the suspension’s on the firm side to ensure hunkered-down handling. Though the ride quality’s not bad, it’s not particularly great either; this mid-sized SUV is clearly set up more for corner-carving ability and, for its size, this weighty Beemer makes quick direction changes with impressive agility
if that’s what you want from an SUV.
The driver can switch between comfort, eco and sport modes, which adjust the engine, transmission and steering responses (and the adaptive suspension too, if this is optionally fitted).
The tarmac is clearly this vehicle’s preferred playground, but the elevated 204mm ground clearance and xDrive all-wheel drive system enable jaunts on rougher-thanexpected gravel for more adventurous pursuits. While it’s not a “real” 4x4, the X3 is relatively capable off-road, thanks to its intelligent xDrive system being able to direct drive to the wheels with most grip so on axle twisters you won’t end up with a wheel in the air spinning uselessly.
BMW has beefed up the styling of the third-generation X3, and while the length is basically unchanged, it’s a little wider and has a bigger kidney grille to give it more road presence. Full-LED tail lights with a 3D look give the rear a more distinctive edge too.
BMW’s interiors were becoming a little staid but the designers are finding their mojo with the latest cars, and the cabin of the new X3 has a more upmarket vibe with some classy touches. It can be further dolled-up with the optional interior ambient lighting, which has subtle light strips that can be set to one of several colours.
The xDrive30i comes with a half-decent array of standard-fit luxuries (see Tech Specs), but you’ll have to pay extra for some of the high-end stuff such as a head-up display, wireless cellphone charger, electrically powered front seats, locking/ unlocking the car by touching the door handles, or using hand gestures to control things like the audio volume to mention just a few of the optional extras.
Semi-autonomous driver aids such as automatic cruise control and lane-keeping assist are also available at extra cost. Voice-control technology is becoming ever better and I was usually (though not always) able to change radio stations or input destinations by spoken instruction. The factory-fitted navigation also showed realtime traffic information on major routes, just like with Waze and Google Maps.
Cabin space inside the X3 comfortably accepts four tall adults and is roomy enough to make you question whether you really need to buy a larger X5. The big 550l boot expands to a cavernous 1,600l which swallows a 29” mountain bike whole.
In summary, I reckon the gutsy but economical 2.0l diesel at R711,369 is still the most sensible buy in the X3 range, but the appeal of the petrol xDrive30i is that at R776,631 it offers very decent performance at a quarter-million rand saving over the range-topping M40i.
It may lack the character and outright pace of its six-cylinder brother, but that’s probably something you can live with at the price. Value for money
Audi Q5 45 TFSI Quattro, 185kW/370Nm R754,000 Jaguar F-Pace 25t AWD Pure, 184kW/365Nm R897,025 Lexus NX 300 EX, 175kW/ 350Nm R690,900 Mercedes GLC300 4Matic, 180kW/370Nm R775,391 Volvo XC60 T5 AWD Momentum, 187kW/350Nm R693,346 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD Momentum, 235kW/ 400Nm R745,384
This middle model in the X3 range can cover the 0-100 sprint in a brisk 6.3 seconds. Design Economy
The plush cabin is packed with the latest tech.