BMW’s mid-range X3, the xDrive30i, shows off tech muscle borrowed from 5 Series
CAIRNS, AUSTRALIA — The mid-sized luxury SUV segment is an increasingly competitive arena these days. BMW says the X3 effectively pioneered the segment, but now it has strong competition from the Mercedes-Benz GLC, Jaguar F Pace, Porsche Macan and Audi Q5 to contend with.
This is why it’s timely that a new X3 has rolled along, as the outgoing car was introduced a good three years earlier (2011) than the next-oldest competitor and was starting to feel its age.
A new X3? Doesn’t look all that different…
Yup, at first glance, we were fooled too, largely due to the new car having a very similar front, rear and side profile. Look closely though and you’ll spot larger kidney grilles, narrower LED headlights with hexagonal light graphics, wider 3D-effect LED taillights, a more tapered side profile and most tellingly, and BMW’s ‘air curtain’ vent on the fender just aft of the front wheels.
What isn’t new new though, are the engines, as they’re all familiar units found all over the current BMW range.
So, what will we be getting?
The new X3 will launch in Singapore as follows: The range-topping the M40i, packing a 3.0-litre six-cylinder with 360hp. The car here is the xDrive30i, a 2.0-litre four-cylinder with 252hp, and will be sold in xLine and M Sport trims – the former less racy and also less expensive than the latter (see image below).
In time to come, a 20i model will appear with a lower-powered version of the 2.0-litre engine to form the base of the X3 range, and is expected to be the volume seller. Unlike the M40i and 30i, which are all-wheel drive, the sDrive20i will be a rear-wheel drive-only, as the ‘sDrive’ name denotes. Costs will be kept down by selling it only in xLine format.
The white and silver cars on the left are xLine trim models, while the white car on the right is in M Sport trim
In the future though, there’s likely also going to be a full-fledged X3 M version with the twin-turbo straight six out of the M3 and M4, to take the fight to the Porsche Macan Turbo.
What is new under the skin then?
Pretty much everything that can’t be seen. The new X3 sits on the CLAR (CLuster ARchitecture) platform, BMW’s scalable architecture that will form the basis of its rear- and all-wheel drive models, from the next 3 Series up to the mammoth X7.
With increased use of lightweight materials such as aluminium, the new car is up to 55kg lighter than before, with a fair amount of that coming from unsprung mass (wheels, brakes and suspension; basically hardware bits that aren’t suspended by the springs and dampers). Thanks to underbody channels and panels,BMW claims the X3 is also the most aerodynamic car in its class.
How does that translate out on the road?
Like in the X3 M40i we tested last month, ride comfort is skewed to the firm side. On this trip, we got to sample the xDrive30i and xDrive20d in M Sport trim with 21-inch and 19-inch wheels respectively, as well as the xDrive30d in xLine trim with 20-inch wheels.
With the 21-inchers on, the ride was uncomfortably noisy and bumpy on the corrugated roads in Queensland’s countryside – big compressions and large bumps were well damped, but surface imperfections sent all manner of fidgets and jitters through the car.
That doesn’t bode well, but consider many SUVs do the same back home on Singapore’s equally horrendous tarmac – read our Audi Q5, Nissan X-Trail and Volvo XC60 reviews for examples – so it’s not really a big a disadvantage as it might sound.
The 19-inch wheels, on the other hand, were perfectly comfortable, the only thing spoiling the serene ride being some buffeting around the large wing mirrors at high speed.
But..but..big wheels are life…
Honestly, the big wheels don’t really add much to the comfort/handling equation either. While the 21s might look fab and provide some slightly better body control, the 19s handled a hard charge up a serpentine mountain road without breaking a sweat. It’s a difference you’d need to be driving at near race track speeds in order to feel anyway, and yet another example that opting for smaller wheels is worse for fashion, but better for overall mental health.
As expected, the 20-inchers were somewhere in between, and should suffice for our road conditions – not plush, but not jarring either. Just as well, as this will be the standard wheel size for the xDrive30i M Sport model in Singapore.
What’s it like on the inside then?
The X3’s is definitely a lot snazzier than its predecessor’s. Various different trim finishes can be chosen for the cabin inserts, from brushed aluminium to glossy and open pore woods. Same goes for the colour of the leather, the tan, milk tea-coloured option a particularly appealing option.
Front and centre is the free-standing, 10.2-inch infotainment touchscreen that’s also found in other BMWs, and features Gesture Control, a function that lets you control audio options by waving your hand in front of the screen. Your mileage may vary with this technology (standard on all but the base 20i model), but we quickly forgot its presence as there are perfectly functional buttons on the dashboard and steering wheel.
In the back, things are pretty similar to the outgoing X3. Luggage capacity remains the same at 550 litres, although there’s now a place under the floor to keep the boot tonneau cover when not in use – a useful feature all cars should have However, although the car’s wheelbase is now 54mm longer than before, only six mm has translated into extra legroom for rear passengers. As such, the rear seat experience is sufficient rather than stellar.
At least there are a lot of tech toys to play with, as a luxury car should provide. Standard across all models for Singapore are three-zone climate control (rear passengers can choose their own aircon temperature), Navigation, Adaptive LED headlights and wireless charging for handphones.
To that, the xDrive30i xLine adds the gesture control and Parking Assistant Plus (basically a camera that can show a 360-degree view), while the xDrive 30i M Sport brings with it a Harman Kardon sound system, Heads Up Display, and Driving Assistant, which is the collective name for the suite of active safety systems like lane departure warning, cross traffic warning, etc.
So what’s the verdict?
Just as the X1 has a been a big hit, the new X3 is a hugely important car for BMW, simply by virtue of the burgeoning SUV market. Like Audi, BMW hasn’t gone radical and changed the golden goose to a gilded chicken.
In terms of the driving experience it certainly feels more evolutionary than revolutionary, but in terms of interior ambience and gadgets it’s bang up to date. Our short seat time in the cars left more to be explored about the X3, but we’ll know more for sure when it comes to Singapore in the first quarter of 2018.
NEED TO KNOW BMW X3 xDrive30i
Engine 1,998cc, 16V, inline 4, turbocharged
Power 252bhp at 5200-6500rpm
Torque 350Nm at 1450-4800rpm
Gearbox 8-speed automatic
Top Speed TBA
0-100km/h 6.3 seconds
Fuel efficiency 6.7 L/100km
Availability Q1 2018
Also Consider: Audi Q5 2.0 quattro, Mercedes-Benz GLC 250, Porsche Macan