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

Business Day - Motor News - - MOTOR NEWS -

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

Over­all

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.

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