BMW X3

Much-needed new-product pipeline opens; out pops an SUV

ASH WESTERMAN

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

SAVIOURS can come in many forms, but could one really emerge packaged as a premium mid-sized SUV?

BMW Australia sure hopes so, as the company could use a heavy lifter right now. The 2017 year has not been kind, with sales down around 16 percent on this time last year. But BMW is playing it cool, assuring anyone listening that the “new product onslaught!” will slam the downward trend into reverse, starting right here with the all-new X3.

The need-to-know is this: X3 launches with three models, all featuring all-wheel drive – a base 20d diesel ($68,900), 30i petrol ($75,900) and 30d oiler ($83,900).

Those are rises of between $2000 and $4000, but each variant is claimed to be better value due to plumper equipment levels. The rest of the script follows the newmodel playbook: bigger, betterlooking body, more sophisticated SUV? construction and architecture, more driver assistance systems, a better presented interior, and, if you look in the right direction, gains in outputs, efficiency and emissions cleanliness.

Underneath (and inside) it’s very much a raiding of the 5 Series component sets. Wheelbase increases by 54mm over the old model, and while this growth spurt only brings a 6mm increase in rear legroom, it’s enough that a pair of six-footers can comfortably inhabit the rear seats.

Even better, everyone will be at least momentarily distracted by the improved design, materials and overall cabin ambiance.

Model-specific equipment levels and options packs are too involved to dissect here, but the bottom line is: if you want it and can afford it, chances are you can have it. Only the lower plastics – kickpanels, doorbins, etc – look a bit utilitarian; elsewhere the sense of premium is mostly persuasive.

The iDrive 6 system now features a touchscreen, while the centre stack, with its aluminium-finished buttons and glossy touches, is both elegant and functional.

It’s the 30i that’s likely to gain the most showroom attention, as buyers continue to drift from diesel. It’s powered by the highoutput version (185kW/350Nm) of BMW’s ubiquitous 2.0-litre turbo four, bringing appreciably better refinement than the same-size diesel with 140kW/400Nm.

The petrol engine, in this installation, almost does a disappearing act. Even in enthusiastic driving, it’s barely audible, especially given the road noise of the 20-inch Pirelli rubber on coarse-chip and the wind noise from around the mirrors. Even on the rev limiter it remains little more than a distant, insistent fizz.

As for a critique of steering and general dynamics, that involves a complex algorithm that crunches suspension choice (adaptive dampers are optional, either as part of the M Sport package, or as a standalone extra for $1900) as well as wheels and run-flat tyres (which span 19s, 20s, and optional 21s) and whether you’re in the Sport or Comfort mode. In other words, it’s impossible to hand down a catch-all verdict, only to say that the steering never delivers a totally seamless, fluid connection, and on big rubber the chassis is easily agitated by surfaces with which it can pick an argument.

So the X3 doesn’t feel as if it leaps to class leadership in terms of dynamics. But buyers in all SUV segments are willing to overlook a multitude of on-road compromises in the quest for an elevated driving position, packaging, and here, the perception of a premium interior promised by the badge. On this level, the X3 delivers.

PLUS & MINUS

Powertrain refinement and efficiency, interior comfort and packaging Never feels truly fluid in terms of ride or steering; some cheap plastics Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale BMW X3 xDrive 30i 1998cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo 185kW @ 5200-6500rpm 350Nm @ 1450-4800rpm 8-speed automatic 1790kg 6.3sec (claimed) 7.6L/100km $75,900 Now

A BETTER BOOT 01

The boot is not bigger than the outgoing model, but it does improve functionality, with remote releases for the seat backs and a plastic-lined underfloor compartment for wet gear or storing the cargo blind.

VIRTUALLY THERE 02

The standard instrument panel on the two upper-spec models is now of the ‘virtual’ variety, but features raised aluminium semi-circles that frame the main dials to give a sense of threedimensional depth.

GROWTH STRATEGY 03

Proof you’re not just imagining it: this third-generation (G01) X3 is now larger than the firstgen X5. Exterior design is the work of Aussie Calvin Luk, who designed the current 1 Series and recent Z4 concept.

Range finder

For a proper slug-fest of torque, look no further than the X3 30d. Power from the 3.0-litre straight six oiler is only up by 5kW (now 195kW) over the old X3 30d, but torque jumps to 620Nm (up 60Nm) and both sprinting ability and shove on the move feel seriously swift. Just as impressive is the refinement and revability. It’s a brilliant engine, no question.

But if diesel performance is not your thing, wait until June 2018 for the 3.0-litre petrol six in the X3 M40i delivering 265kW/500Nm.

Or for the price-sensitive buyer, BMW will introduce a base rear-drive petrol, the X3 sDrive 20i, also in Q2 of 2018.

Expect outputs of around 135kW/270Nm, and a pricetag in the $63,000 zone.

OR TRY THESE...

Volvo XC60 $60,000 – $93,000

Delivers an understated yet premiumfeeling interior, and backs it up with refined powertrains, including the super-strong plug-in hybrid T8. Spec it right and XC60 has a dynamic edge over the X3.

Mercedes-Benz GLC $67,000 – 102,000

Another premium contender that keeps air suspension on the options list, but demands you tick it to get the best blend of ride and handling.

The petrol four is a little underdone, making the diesel four or V6 (diesel or petrol) the preferred choice.