BMW is looking to turn up the heat on the SUV category with its all-new X3. Of course practicality hasn’t been forgotten, but as well as the sensible side there’s a new high performance M-Sport version on the way.
Mainstream versions of the X3 will start to fill Australian showrooms from November, with the wicked-up X3 M40i set to make its debut in 2018 to face off against competitors like the Audi SQ5 and the Mercedes-AMG GLC 43.
The fastest X3 variant to date is powered by a turbocharged 3.0-litre six cylinder engine producing 265kW of power, enough to produce acceleration of 0-100km/h in 4.8 seconds.
While the X3 M40i seems unlikely to be the top-seller in the range – to compete with rivals it will probably be priced at around $100,000 – as a halo model in the X3 line-up it is certain to grab headlines.
Vehicle Style: Prestige medium SUV
Price: $83,900 plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 3.0-litre 6cyl turbo diesel | 8sp automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 6.0 l/100km
While more modest four-cylinder petrol and diesel models account for 90 percent of the X3’s sales, at the new model’s international launch none were available. Instead BMW was keen to show the X3’s performance potential with the M40i and six-cylinder diesel X3 30d instead.
Engines aside, the entire X3 range features an all-new body that uses some aluminium and plenty of lightweight steel that has lowered vehicle weights by about 50kg.
Australians will be able to get into a four-cylinder diesel X3 20d from $68,900 plus on road costs, or move up to the petrol four-cylinder X3 30i for $75,900 while the six-cylinder diesel X3 30d asks for $83,900 and packs in 195kW of power and a formidable 620Nm of torque.
This third generation X3 brings a noticeable improvement in quality compared to the outgoing models.
Interior displays have been upgraded with a more digitised driver interface, a huge 10-inch centre infotainment display works either by iDrive dial, touch, or gesture control, and the latests in connectivity, and apps.
It’s also roomier than before, mainly because it’s a bigger car in every dimension including wheelbase. To give you some idea of how the X3 has grown over three generations, at 4708mm long and 1891mm wide, it’s bigger in every respect than the first X5, apart from height.
The back seat in particular is more user friendly. With a bit of sympathy from front seat seating positions there’s enough legroom for taller people in the rear and head room as well.
Despite the bigger size luggage space remains the same at 550 litres but the X3 was never deficient in that department so it remains a handy load-lugger for prams and holiday equipment and, of course, the back seat folds down and increases that capacity to a 1600-litre two-seater.
ON THE ROAD
As the range-topper of the moment the X3 30d gets the latest diesel inline six-cylinder deisel engine from the 5-Series range and it’s a real sweetie, being smooth and extremely quiet for its ilk, with the capability to flex its muscle when required.
With 195kW of power and plenty of willingness to rev to its fairly high 5500rpm limit it will accelerate to 100km/h in a claimed 5.8 seconds and, because it’s a diesel, remain frugal on the fuel with an official combined consumption figure of 6.0 L/100km.
Also because the X3 30d is a diesel it’s got plenty of pulling power where it’s needed with a V8-like 620Nm from as low as 2000rpm. On the road, that means overtaking is merely a whiff more throttle away and if the eight-speed auto does need to shuffle its gears - the shifts are smooth and beautifully damped.
The same goes for the 30d’s on-road manners which are highlighted by a supple ride, steering that is quite direct but well-weighted, and handling highlighted by minimal body roll despite the X3’s height off the road.
Off road? Not that many buyers will attempt tough tracks, but the 30d’s all-wheel-drive system (shared by all other X3 variants) gives extra traction and there’s hill descent control for crawling down slopes. Ground clearance is adequate rather than ample and if you’ve optioned the 20-inch tyre package, be careful of expensive encounters with rocks.
The M40i is much sportier in comparison and if that means a more uncompromising ride on stiffer suspension and an engine that’s more powerful but needs to be revved further then that’s presumably what customers are after.
The performance X3 has a fruity exhaust note that increases its noise levels if ‘sport’ mode is selected via the centre-console switch which also does the usual stuff to the steering, throttle mapping and gearbox shift points.
Go a step further to ‘sport plus’ and the eight-speed auto becomes rather too frenetic in its desire to kick down any number of ratios after the merest application of brakes. On first acquaintance, this mode seems more annoying than useful.
But there’s no doubting the M40i’s sheer speed potential. It is difficult to imagine needing more straight-line acceleration in this type of vehicle, then there’s the traction of all-wheel-drive, steering that is even more direct than the 30d, excellent body control through corners and no end of grip.
The M40i misses out on the 30d’s easy natured, loping comfort but if there’s anyone who needs a good dose of sports sedan in their medium-sized SUV, this is a good place to start.
The X3 is rapidly becoming BMW’s most important model globally as buyers switch to SUVs and if nothing else, the company has done a thorough job of offering a wide model choice to customers – and that’s before we’ve even seen the recently announced all-electric version.
The M40i is possibly too hard-core for many buyers but if the 30d is an indication of how cheaper models will drive, engine power apart, the comfort, technology and space of this new X3 make it very attractive.
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