Thus far the world’s motoring press has not exactly been singing BMW X3 praises, pointing to its relatively high price and lack of off-road ability as the main areas of concern. But guess what, the people that matter most – the buying public – love it to bits. Real off-road ability has not been a high priority item in the SUV market for many years, and the very desirable BMW badge on the bonnet addresses the price issue for most very convincingly. Now BMW has added a new entry level model that brings the X3 within reach of far more potential customers. It can only sell.
Desirability has played a major role in the immediate success of the BMW X3, and if anything the new 2,0d model actually could be the best looking of the bunch! With its dark plastic bumpers and cladding, the 2,0d looks more like a real SUV than elevated station wagon, which is a description that has thus far often been used for the BMW X3. Attractive 17-inch alloy wheels and standard roof rails boost the kerb-side appeal even further. It treads a fine line between looking rugged enough for a dirt road, and sophisticated enough to be parked at the marina. The upwardly mobile (and active) will continue to love it.
There’s also preciously little that has been sacrificed in the cabin. Like all X3’s it gets a snug, almost minimalistic instrument cluster, neat build quality and excellent ergonomics. Smart wood inlays and the occasional bit of brightwork do a lot to banish any thoughts there may be of this being an “entry level” derivative. And if there’s still any doubt about that, just look at the standard features list. Included in the price are; climate control, radio/CD player, multi-function steering wheel, cruise control and leather upholstery. If this is not enough BMW offers a vast list of optional extras, including tv/navigation systems, panoramic sunroofs and even sport packages. As it stands, however, the standard specification is certainly comprehensive, and also includes no fewer than eight airbags.
BMW hardly ever gets a vehicle’s driving position wrong, and it certainly hasn’t done it in the BMW X3. The steering wheel offers generous rake/reach adjustment, and there’s a good range of adjustment from the seat as well. Consequently the driver can have a low-down, arms-outstretched driving position if required, or the high-up position so loved by many SUV buyers. The rear passengers will also appreciate the stretch-out space offered by the long wheelbase, and the boot is not only large (480 L), but also shaped to accommodate bulky objects. The rear seats can, of course, fold down if more space is required.
BMW’s well-known and proven 2,0-litre turbodiesel engine powers this X3 model. It delivers 110 kW and a meaty 330 Nm of torque, from a nice and low 2 000 rpm. Unfortunately that torque figure seems to be somewhat misleading, as there is considerable lag below 2 000 rpm, which may cause the occasional stumble or stall. The situation is not helped by a heavy and springy clutch. So, from pull-aways and in a traffic situation the BMW X3 2,0d is not the easiest of cars to drive. In fact, it would be considerable better as an automatic, but the situation does improve markedly on the move when the BMW X3, like all BMWs, is exceptionally refined and a pleasure to pilot.
Considering the vehicle’s not-inconsiderable weight of 1 740 kg, the performance is impressive. Juggle the clutch and torque successfully and you may even be able to accelerate to 100 km/h in just over nine seconds, which is very good indeed. Even more impressive is the fuel economy and the fact that a figure of 6,5 L/100 km is actually achievable. On long-distance cruises, keep in mind that sixth is actually an overdrive “economy” gear, and that you may need to shift to fifth or lower to execute overtaking manoeuvres. On that note, the six-speed manual ‘box fitted to this test vehicle wasn’t particularly smooth, especially during downshifts.
Great ride/handling balance
The BMW X3 handles unlike any other SUV of its size. Of course, this is partly because it doesn’t possess much in the way of off-road ability, BMW instead focusing on the on-road dynamics and the X3’s ability on slippery surfaces. It makes use of a full-time xDrive all-wheel drive system that sends power to whichever wheels can best accommodate the power. This boosts stability and grip in muddy, wet or icy conditions in particular. As per usual, BMW’s dynamic stability control system is also fitted.
In normal conditions it handles and rides much like any other BMW, which is to say excellent. The ride is quite firm and the steering on the heavy side at low speeds, but at higher speeds it all smoothes out very impressively, the ride quality being particularly good for a vehicle with such low-profile rubber.
BMW X3 - Verdict
The BMW X3 is a quiet, economical, luxurious and classy SUV that is also a delight to drive, whether in the city, or out on the open road. It’s not a vehicle that will take you very far off the beaten track, but that was never BMW’s intention. If you’re looking for something high-riding, spacious and safe, but don’t want to sacrifice performance and handling, then this BMW X3 will take some beating.
- Upmarket looks
- Fuel economy
- Handling balance
We don’t like:
- Long options list
- Easy to stall
Engine: 2,0-litre, four-cylinder, turbodiesel
Power: 110 kW @ 4 000 rpm
Torque: 330 Nm @ 2 000 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Wheels: 17-inch alloy
Top speed: 215 km/h
0-100 km/h: 9,1 seconds
Fuel economy: 6,5 litres/100 km
- Land Rover Freelander 2,0 Td4 SE: Significantly cheaper than the BMW X3, but also older, less powerful and not nearly as refined. An all-new model can’t be too far away and it’s needed.
- Jeep Cherokee 2,8L CRD Limited: A very popular vehicle in South Africa, and it certainly has its charms. Iconic design and real off-road ability are the major attractions. Unfortunately the interior is neither as comfortable nor as well-built as the BMW X3.
- Kia Sorento 2,5 CRDi 4x4: Don’t snigger… The Sorento is a well-equipped, spacious and surprisingly refined competitor from Korea. What is lacks in badge appeal it makes up for in terms of cabin comfort, features, and overall value. But yes, not quite as polished.