It should come as no surprise that the third-generation of BMW’s X3 SUV comes with more of everything: More space, more safety, and more luxury as it finds itself facing an increasing number of competitors.
This time around BMW has also instilled more of the dynamic driving character the German brand is famed for - something the first two generations were ever-so-slightly short of.
Getting the new X3 right comes at a crucial time for BMW, which predicts that this generation will become its best-selling model, pushing the 3 Series from its long-held perch as more motorists continue to move from traditional sedans into SUVs
Vehicle Style: Prestige medium SUV
Price: $68,900-$83,900 plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 140kW/400Nm 2.0-litre 4cyl turbo diesel, 185kW/350Nm 2.0-litre 4cyl turbo petrol, 3.0-litre 6cyl turbo diesel | 8spd automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 5.7-7.6 l/100km
Australia will start with three X3 variants in the range which opens with the xDrive20d powered a 2.0-litre four cylinder turbo diesel from $68,900 plus on-road costs.
The mid-spec (for now) 2.0-litre turbo petrol model xDrive30i is next in the range from $75,900 (plus ORC) while the range topping xDrive30d upsizes to a 3.0-litre turbo diesel from $83,900 (plus ORC).
Over the next 18 months the X3 range will increase significantly to include entry-level two-wheel drive variants, sportier M-tweaked models, a plug-in hybrid and eventually a fully-electric version and the first fully-fledged high performance X3M.
Although pricing for the first three models has risen slightly BMW claims up to $12,000 in additional value with increased levels of standard equipment across the board ensuring comparable value against newer competitors like the Mercedes-Benz GLC and Volvo XC60.
- xDrive20d: Cloth and leather upholstery, powered driver’s seat, three-zone climate control, powered tailgate, head-up display, cruise control with speed limiter, auto lights and wipers, LED head and tail lights, 19-inch alloy wheels
- xDrive30i and xDrive30d: adds full leather upholstery, keyless entry and tailgate opening, 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, adaptive LED headlights, 20-inch alloy wheels
- Infotainment: 6.5-inch display (20i) or 10.25-inch touchscreen (30i and 30d), iDrive controller, voice control, satellite navigation, AM/FM/DAB+ radio, CD player, USB input, Bluetooth connectivity, six-speaker audio
Even in its most basic trim, the X3 comes well equipped with partial leather interior trim, three-zone climate control, an automatic tailgate, a 6.5-inch colour infotainment screen with sat nav, BMW’s ConnectedDrive concierge services, digital radio, Bluetooth and wireless phone charging and Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring.
It rides on 19-inch alloy wheels, has a permanent all wheel drive transmission with an eight-speed automatic gearbox and a comprehensive suite of active safety systems, including cruise control with emergency braking, lane departure and forward collision warnings, a reverse camera and semi-automated parking assistance.
The 30i and 30d models bring more gear, including full leather trim, larger 20-inch alloys, keyless entry, a fully-digital instrument cluster, a high-res 10.25-inch colour display with gesture control commands and top-shelf navigation and a 20GB hard drive as well as more semi-autonomous driving functions such as adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go and lane keeping assistance.
All of them ride on new, lighter and stronger underpinnings that increases its footprint while reducing overall weight. The wheelbase has been stretched by 54mm to more cabin space and there's a wider tailgate opening with better boot space including a clever underfloor area that can store both wet items in a contained area as well as the cargo blind when not needed.
The exterior design - which was created by Australian-born Calvin Luk - is more contemporary and refined, neatly masking the fact the car is physically larger than the first-generation X5.
The cabin is also smarter at accommodating its occupants - there's figure-hugging front sports seats, bigger bottle holders in all four doors, it has two ISOFIX child seat restraints and the rear seat has a 40:20:40 split fold function that can be remotely operated from the boot.
The fresh interior looks and feels like a genuine premium offering with some of BMW's latest innovations trickling down from the 7 Series limousine and 5 Series executive sedans.
While all the switchgear and controls are familiar BMW fare, there’s some neat unique touches too, like the asymmetrical layout around the air vents, the X embossed in the aluminium highlights within the door and the X3 badge at the top of the sliding cover for the centre console binnacle.
But more than anything, the X3 feels a class above its predecessors, is more spacious than before with enough room in the rear seat to cater for adults and a great driving position with plenty of adjustment and clear vision from its expansive glasshouse.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 140kW/400Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel (20d), 185kW/350Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol (30i), 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbo diesel (30d)
- Transmission: eight speed automatic, all wheel drive
- Suspension: Wishbone front, multi-link independent rear
- Brakes: Four wheel vented disc brakes
- Steering: Electric power steering
On the road, all three models we tested during the local preview drive in Far North Queensland this week were fitted with the optional adaptive suspension set-up, which provides excellent compliance in the default comfort setting while offering sharper dynamics in the sports modes.
Considering it costs just $1900, it’s probably worth the price of admission in the way it balances comfort and control as we can’t offer a definitive assessment on what the X3 is like on the standard conventional suspension.
However, the fundamentals feel pretty spot on with light but precise steering, decent braking performance, sure footed handling and well calibrated safety systems that only interfere when necessary.
As for which model to pick, the xDrive 20d’s 140kW/400Nm outputs are more than most will ever need for everyday duties, plus it’s the most efficient of the three with a claimed average fuel consumption of 5.7L/100km.
In the real world, there’s a bit of turbo lag when you call for more acceleration at low revs, but it quickly spools up to reveal a strong surge of mid-range pulling power allowing the silky smooth eight-speed auto to seamlessly find the right gear at the right time.
If you need any more than that, the petrol-powered xDrive30i, which delivers 185kW and 350Nm from its 2.0-litre turbo petrol four cylinder, is smoother and has a bit more fizz in the way it revs, but it’s the thirstiest of the trio with a claimed average of 7.6L/100km.
The xDrive30d offers the best of both worlds, with its 3.0-litre turbo six generating 195kW and 620Nm, making it the quickest X3 currently available, while consuming a claimed average of 6.0L/100km.
It’s a cracker of an engine that is effortless and quiet around town and out on the open road, yet can slingshot between corners with V8-like levels of performance, and a rorty tune from its exhausts when you get stuck into it.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Previous generations of the X3 helped establish the prestige medium SUV segment, and even though both preceding generations were successful, they always felt as though they could be honed further to live up to BMW’s goal of building drivers’ cars.
Finally the third generation X3 feels as though it lives up to the brand’s enthusiast bloodline.
It’s not just a sharper drive though. BMA has also added genuine family practicality and dialed-in more luxury in line with its premium positioning. Its cabin is bigger, smarter and presents better while its on-road manners are a match for the best in the class.