BMW X3 xDrive20d 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel: $62,200
BMW X3 xDrive28i 3.0-litre six-cylinder petrol: $71,900
With BMW X3 sales expected to account for 20-25 per cent of the German manufacturer’s sales in Australia, the formula has to be spot on for it to work.
Released to the Australian public in March, the X3 hit the ground running with two engine variants (both tested here): a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel (named the X3 xDrive20d) and a 3.0-litre six-cylinder naturally aspirated petrol engine (confusingly named the X3 xDrive28i). Released this week was a 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbo diesel, which now takes the spot at the top of the tree (named the X3 xDrive30d).
Just as Nissan realised with the transition from 350Z to Nissan 370Z, the age old saying, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ applied to the BMW design team when tasked with the new X3.
From the front, a more rounded BMW X5-esque approach has been taken. The fog lights have been lifted higher and a more prominent kidney grille and lower intake now take precedent. Optional bi-xenon headlights also feature BMW’s unique LED ‘angel eye’ daytime running lights with headlight washers.
The side profile features sleek lines that run from the A-pillar to the rear, with defined wheel arches and plastic wheel arch guards. At the rear, BMW’s design language is applied with LED taillight features and a design that sees them stretch around the side of the car.
Inside the cabin, it’s a typical BMW space. Everything is laid out in a functional manner with the driver taking precedent over all other facets of the interior. Although black is used throughout the cabin, drivers can option a number of trim treatments from different coloured seats, through to wood or faux carbon fibre inserts to dilute the deluge of black.
One of the most tasteful combinations I spotted when collecting our BMW X3 test car was a beige leather interior with woodgrain trimmings along the doors and dashboard.
Despite once being a boggle among non tech-savvy people (mainly journalists), BMW’s latest iteration of iDrive is a pleasure to use. A central knob with surrounding buttons allows the driver and passenger to navigate the well laid-out menu to find their intended destination.
iDrive is complemented by voice activation. The system allows the driver to navigate the menu to complete tasks like dialling a telephone number, changing radio station and gives the driver somebody to talk to during lonely drives.
As a self confessed nerd, my favourite option fitted to one of the test vehicles was in-car internet. Once paired with your phone over Bluetooth, the vehicle can browse web pages on the large colour screen (6.5-inch screen standard, 8.8-inch screen optional). One of the system’s quirks was transmitting a German User Agent (UA). In layman’s terms, it told the website I was German and when I visited a site like Twitter for example, it appeared in German instead of English.
Another cool option is the Heads Up Display (HUD), which relays speed and navigation details to the driver via an image that appears to be projected on to the road. The two options cost an additional $200 and $2300 respectively.
If you’re into sound systems, the BMW X3 will certainly impress. While I’ve never been a great fan of BMW sound systems, the X3 seems to resolve all of BMW’s shortcomings by offering 12 speakers and a 205-watt amplifier as standard fitment. Available as an option is BMW’s 16-speaker 600-watt sound system.
Audio connectivity is offered by virtue of USB and Bluetooth audio streaming, along with DVD playback on the screen.
Legroom and headroom are very impressive for what looks like a smaller SUV. Accommodation for front and rear passengers is cavernous enough to fit four adults in comfort or two adults and three kids without any cramping.
Cargo volume has increased by 15 per cent compared with the outgoing X3, with 550 litres of volume available in the boot and up to 1600 litres with the rear seats folded flat. That’s 10 litres more than the Audi Q5 with the seats up, but 110 litres less than the similarly sized Volvo XC60 SUV (although the seat-down capacity of the Volvo is 145 litres less than the X3).
I split my two weeks equally between the $62,200 X3 xDrive20d and $71,900 X3 xDrive28i with surprising results. The new X3 xDrive30d takes top position at $74,900.
I started in the X3 xDrive28i, which is powered by a 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder petrol engine mated to an eight-speed automatic gearbox. The engine produces 190kW and 310Nm of torque and officially consumes 9.0L/100km, which was easily matched on test.
As soon as you start the X3 xDrive28i, its performance nature is exuded with an audible engine idle both inside and outside the car. That engine note continues when driving and offers sonorous response at the higher end of the rev band. Unfortunately, the engine noise doesn’t taper off at highway speeds, resulting in a very audible highway speed. The other downside to the petrol variant is its thirst for a minimum 98RON premium unleaded fuel.
The test vehicle was fitted with Dynamic Damping Control, which allows the driver to select a desired driving mode that uses the optional variable steering control and performance control to adjust the way the chassis feels and reacts to harder driving. The electric steering uses kinetic energy stored during braking and coasting to variably control the steering.
In its full sport mode (both transmission and chassis), the throttle response sharpens exponentially and the steering becomes taut and extremely responsive. While the X3 doesn’t handle as sharply as its X5 sibling (even with the optional driver aids), it offers an impressive and sporty drive that one would expect from a BMW product.
xDrive defaults to providing 40 per cent of drive to the front wheels and 60 per cent of drive to the rear, with the ability to adjust torque offerings between the front and rear axles on the fly. This, coupled with a ‘limited’ setting on the stability control, means the driver can adjust the drive to match their mood.
The inline six-cylinder engine is free revving, but somewhat hampered by its lack of forced induction (the twin-turbocharged version of this engine isn’t available in the X3 in Australia); keeping in mind the car weighs around 1.7 tonnes. It’s good for a 0-100km/h dash of 6.9 seconds.
My second week was spent in the xDrive20d. This model is powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine, mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. The official fuel consumption figure is a staggering 5.6L/100km and was also matched on test.
With 380Nm of torque available from the 135kW engine, the drivetrain is a perfect match for the X3’s demeanour and intended audience. Torque is always available and only requires a minute flex of the right foot. Overtaking and other menial tasks that require torque are conducted with little thought and effort, giving you an idea of just how tractable this engine is.
One of the main advantages of this engine is how little it resembles a diesel. There’s barely any engine clatter and, when under load, the sound insulation ensures no engine noise pollutes the cabin.
The X3 performs very well against its competitors. There’s plenty of interior room and with class-leading cargo carrying capacity, it ticks all the right boxes for families.
The only issue with the X3 is the Volvo XC60. The XC60 offers tremendous value for money, a heap of room inside and features Volvo’s renowned safety features (and don’t forget that it looks fantastic).
If you’re in the market for a vehicle in this segment, discount the rest and ensure the BMW X3 and Volvo XC60 are at the top of your list. From there, the decision will be purely based on feel behind the wheel and design. Either way you choose, you are bound to be happy with your purchase.
By Alborz Fallah
The BMW X3 is an all-around perfect SUV of choice if you're after a practical luxury cruiser with all the goods. Having spent a week with the already mentioned xDrive28i, it became a bit of a hit.
Being personally in the market for a car this size, the BMW X3 ticks all the right boxes and at a reasonable price. Never before have I recommended a petrol SUV over a diesel, but the sweet 3.0-litre six-cylidner engine in the xDrive28i really hit the sweet spot between performance and efficiency.
Power delivery is exceptional and acceleration is a lot more aggressive than you'd expect. The eight-speed automatic helps catapult the X3 from 0-100km/h in 6.9 seconds but in reality it feels quicker than that.
Be it out of a corner or just on the highway, the instant you push the accelerator pedal the engine comes to life with a great deal of excitement and torque. It's hard not to smile as the X3 does its thing.
During the week-long road test I left the X3 running in Sport mode and with a heavy right foot, it returned 11.4L/100km. About 2.4L/100km more than its official figure (when driven sedately), so despite being treated like a sportscar, it used a very reasonable amount of fuel.
Even though the xDrive20d uses just 5.6L/100km, I can't help but to think the performance advantages and the fun factor of the petrol outweighs the efficiency of the diesel.
The main highlight and the reason I would personally consider an X3 over its rivals is its sporty nature. It may be large and practical, but it's still a driver's car to say the least. If the other half doesn't mind, the X3 can be driven with some enthusiasm and feel completely composed and planted in the process.
I would have to disagree with Paul's assessment that the engine is too noisy on the highway. The aural expierience is a pleasant one as this German engineered engine exudes a very meaty note that you actually want to hear.
From the outside the BMW X3 turns head, particularly in white. The angel-eye shaped LEDs that form the daytime running lamps give the X3 an aggressive stance on the road. The rear is also far more sophisticated than the previous model, without being over the top.
Match the white exterior with a white interior and all of a sudden you've got yourself a very classy looking car. My test car was fitted $14,900 worth of options, so like all BMWs, the options list is where it can hurt.
Nonetheless, you can cut the near $15k in options by about 60 per cent if you don't opt for the glass roof, electric seat adjustment and head-up display.
Overall, the new BMW X3 xDrive28i is further sign of German superiority in this ever-expanding segment of luxury SUVs. It's gone straight to the top of my own personal shopping list and that's not an easy task.