In recent times the world of quasi/mid-size SUV’s has become a much more complex one. When BMW’s X3 first arrived on the scene it had the benefit of being one of the first premium brand offerings in the segment, which meant it didn’t have to be all that good in order to sell.
Now though they’ve had to really up the ante. The segment has a full array of entry level through premium offerings, all of which have their own strengths and weaknesses. So what do BMW offer that will make you want one?
If the X3 wasn’t shamelessly road-biased enough before, the new model is undoubtedly no more than a pavement crawler. The potential for any serious mountain climbing is very apparently limited by a glance at the vehicles nose-scraping ride height. According to BMW ground clearance hasn’t changed from the outgoing model, only the X3 is now longer and wider, but shorter, giving it that squat appearance.
The outgoing X3 had incredibly stiff damping settings and in turn you’d crash about on the road as though you were strapped to a jackhammer. With the wider track and longer wheelbase the new model is far more stable on the road, allowing the engineers to ease up on the springs and damping. The result of which is a smooth and comfortable ride.
The addition of BMW’s Dynamic Damper Control goes a long way in making the X3 one of the more competent SUV’s on offer today. Steering input is sharp and accurate with great control over any unwelcome body roll, even in the tighter bends.
Unfortunately the electric power steering lacks a bit of feel, as does the general driving experience. Don’t get me wrong, it is clinically competent; it just lacks that little extra you’d get from a more traditional BMW like the 3 series. Something that reminds you you’re behind the wheel of a vehicle that shares a badge with the M3.
Power comes from BMW’s latest 2.0-litre diesel, also found in the likes of the 520d, with 135kW and 380Nm. 0-100km/h in 8.5 seconds is pretty brisk for a relatively small capacity diesel. Only at very low revs does the engine struggle, with little pull available below 1500rpm, but from then onwards there’s strong surge through the rev band.
The most significant step forward comes in the form of BMW’s Efficient Dynamics. This X3 benefits from being bigger, more powerful and quicker than its competition, while also being more efficient. Brake Energy Regeneration, for example, charges the battery with the power produced by the engine when coasting or braking, freeing power output for acceleration. Other innovative measures include the electromechanical power steering, tyres with reduced roll resistance and reduced drag. The eight speed automatic gearbox boasts start-stop technology and is also claimed to be more efficient than its manual sister. Fuel consumption is claimed at 5.6 l/100km with 147g of CO2.
Overall the vehicle has taken on a more refined and mature appearance, adopting the general façade of its big sister, the X5. If nothing else this is a handsome pair of vehicles – a pity then that they spawned the X1 which can only be described at the little piglet of the family.
Inside is pretty much standard issue BMW. Clean engineered lines and a Germanic quality finish is what you expect to find and indeed that’s what you do find. It won’t blow your mind, unless you’re upgrading from a 1992 Ford Meteor, but none of its premium rivals will either. If you’re looking for something a little funkier, go Asian but be prepared to live with the status downgrade.
Not that you don’t pay for the badge. The X3 comes in at a whopping R 470,000, so it’s by no means cheap. You have to really want that “lord over the peasants” driving position to warrant buying the X3 over just a normal 3 series, which offers better driving dynamics and a wider selection of power plants. However if you’re that way inclined, I have little doubt you’ll be well pleased with your purchase, as the X3 is the best all round mid-size SUV available today.
Engine: 1 995cc common-rail turbo charged diesel
Power: 135 kW
Torque: 380 Nm
Acceleration (0-100 km/h): 8.5
Top speed (km/h): 210
Fuel consumption (l/100km): 5.6 (claimed)
Photo Credit: Quickpic