BMW has introduced an X-perience with its latest X3 model. A car assertive enough not to be intimidated by its big brother, writes Jim McCauley
Downsizing to a new model range invariably leads to comparisons with the established larger version, and BMW’s X3 has had to live in the shadow of the X5, with many expecting a closer relationship between the two ranges.
And now the gap has been well and truly closed as the all-new version delivers improvements in every area.
The main engine choice in the diesel line-up is the 2.0 litre unit which will account for 80% of sales. This engine sees an increase in power and torque to 184hp and 380Nm with resulting improvements in acceleration, fuel consumption and emissions.
The new X3 is marginally larger than the previous model with access improved by significant lowering of the doors, while luggage space has been increased by 70 litres to a very versatile 550 litres.
The vehicle also has a more assertive presence with strong key character lines, while the company’s efficient dynamics package is standard fitment, aiding both fuel economy and emissions.
BMW has 25 years of all-road vehicles behind it and the latest X3 offers a satisfying blend of performance and refinement. To determine how good its off-road capabilities are we took on a climb of 3,000 metres from our Austrian base to face the freezing challenges of a glacier. In addition to confirming the vehicle’s all-terrain grip, the challenge also provided an opportunity to disengage the various handling support systems and understand their contribution to the car’s overall competence in exceptionally difficult conditions.
On-road, the X3’s handling refinement is more obvious with an overall noticeable improvement to ride and steering response.
The standard transmission is a 6-speed manual box but an 8-speed automatic is available at a premium of £1,525.
This offers shorter reaction times, smoother changes and perfect gear matching for any driving situation. In both cases BMW’s efficient dynamics package includes automatic stop/start as standard.
Optional on the test vehicle was variable damper control, which allows the driver to modify the performance response.
The electronically controlled dampers adapt to road surface conditions and driving style by choosing normal, sport or sport-plus on the switch located on the central console. As well as damping behaviour, it also sharpens accelerator response, engine management characteristics, power steering weight and DSC thresholds. It can also modify the shift patterns in the case of the automatic transmission.
Performance wise, the new X3 covers the standing start to 62 mph in 8.5 seconds with the potential to top 130 mph. But despite its sharpness and size it returns an official combined fuel consumption of 50.4 mpg and CO2 emissions of just 149 gms/km, putting it in band F for annual car tax. Inside, there is a luxury finish with leather upholstery and a multi-function leather steering wheel as standard. Automatic air conditioning, ambient lighting, auxiliary audio input sockets and the BMW iDrive call-up menu control system with colour display screen are all standard.
Active safety provision includes the dynamic stability control package (DSC) which comprises seven electronic handling support packages, while passive provision includes twin front, side and head airbags as standard.
The high standard of quality continues with equipment that includes cruise control with brake function, front fog lights, front and rear parking sensors, automatic headlights and wipers, tyre deflation warning and auto-dimming rear view mirror in the standard SE specification.
Overall, BMW has not upgraded the X3 range but reinvented it with a new model which delivers a refreshing experience through enhanced performance, increased equipment levels and improved environmental credentials.
It raises the bar for its competitors in the 4X4 sports activity vehicle sector and will no doubt expand its appeal as buyers appreciate its tantalising package.
The 2.0d model in SE trim is listed at £31,140 and in addition to the three-year unlimited mileage warranty cover, buyers can also benefit from BMW’s service inclusive package. For a one-off cost of £350, servicing is covered for five years/60,000 miles.
BMW X3 2.0D
Engine: 2.0 litre, turbocharged diesel. 184bhp @ 4000rpm, 380Nm torque @ 1750-2750rpm.
Drive: ‘xDrive’ — all-wheel drive with fully variable torque split through a six-speed manual gearbox
Performance: 0-62mph (100km/h) in 8.5 seconds; max, 130mph (208km/h)
Fuel on combined cycle: 50.4mpg (5.6 l/100km)
CO2: 149gms/km; VED Band F for annual car tax of £125
Insurance: ABI Group 28 (50 Group classification)
Warranty: Three-year/unlimited mileage.
Benefit-in-kind: 21% tax in year one
Euro NCAP: Five-star
Available extras: Service inclusive package covering servicing costs for five years/60,000 miles, £350; automatic eight-speed transmission £1,495; metallic paint, £595; variable damper control, £910; variable sport steering, £370; DAB digital radio, £320; front sports seats, £430