It’s difficult for even the most committed wagonista to resist the SUV trend when the facelifted 2015 BMW X3 exists in flagship xDrive30d guise.
In addition to the ‘squinty’ new front styling of the BMW X3, which sees its double-kidney grille protrude outward and more rounded headlights slope towards it, there’s fresh interior styling, and new connectivity and technology.
A trio of 2.0-litre turbos remain, in a choice of petrol ($60,765 20i and $72,930 28i) or diesel ($64,400 20d), while this 3.0-litre turbo-diesel six-cylinder tops the all-wheel-drive-only range priced from $77,400. (Read full pricing and specifications).
The X3 xDrive30d produces 190kW of power and 560Nm of torque, yet with its 1800kg kerb weight only 80kg beyond the entry-level model, it shifts from standstill to 100 kilometres per hour in just 5.9 seconds. When you’re not doing maximum-throttle standing start acceleration tests, it’s claimed to sip just 5.9 litres per 100 kilometres on the combined cycle.
With such stunning claims, you’d certainly try to make the stretch from the X3 xDrive28i with its 180kW, 350Nm, 6.5-second 0-100km/h and 7.3L/100km claims.
The new BMW X3 has been upgraded inside, functionally with a larger centre console and new cupholders, and stylistically with new gloss-black trim and the latest iDrive entertainment system with a high-resolution 8.8-inch display on top models. The 20i and 20d, meanwhile, get a smaller 6.5-inch display.
The new X3 is the first BMW in Australia to come with ConnectedDrive standard across the range, which utilises a dedicated SIM card inside the car to allow for several emergency functions.
First, TeleServices provides less urgent functions such as relaying servicing data to your local dealer and breakdown calls to roadside assistance. If an accident occurs, Intelligent Emergency Call can call the BMW call centre and emergency services and offer location information.
In what’s called Navigation System Professional – standard on 28i and 30d – the X3 gets a touchpad on top of its console-mounted iDrive rotary dial to allow input of numbers and letters from the swirl of a fingertip. Satellite imagery and 3D birds-eye view display is also standard with the nav that also incorporates a 20Gb hard drive for maps and music.
It works brilliantly, and a nine-speaker, 205-watt premium sound system (again standard on 28i and 30d) completes the premium-technology picture with terrific volume and clarity.
Finally, BMW allows you to use any USB connection cable to work your iPod or iPhone, for example, though they’ve taken away the ability to pair your phone to Bluetooth on the move – it now demands that you’re stopped to sync.
Other technology also remains optional, even on the X3 xDrive30d. A system called Remote Services can unlock and lock your car while not being near it, activate the headlights and air conditioning, and even use Google maps to locate where you car is. It’s bundled with ConnectedDrive Services, which offers news, weather, Google search and other online music streaming apps, for a combined $690 extra.
Or for $1200, you could have those two with Real Time Traffic Information and Concierge Services, the latter of which gives the X3 owner access to a call centre 24 hours a day, seven days a week, that can offer you points-of-interest destinations and even remotely send them to your sat-nav so you don’t have to push a button!
Other features standard on the X3 xDrive30d include 19-inch alloy wheels, bi-xenon headlights, surround-view camera system, proper leather upholstery, and dual-zone climate control.
There’s still a long list of options, however, such as active cruise control ($3300), panoramic glass sunroof ($3000), adaptive headlights ($940), automatic parking technology ($675) and should-be-standard heated front seats ($760), among others.
The 4.65-metre-long X3 is a nice place to sit inside these days. Extra storage boosts its practicality score compared with the pre-updated, second-generation model that launched locally four years ago. The plastics are soft-touch and there’s nice mood lighting and trim textures throughout.
You sit up high with the commanding driving position expected of (and loved in) an SUV, which affords rear passengers plenty of foot room under the front seats even when their electric adjustment is at the lowest setting.
There’s plenty of rear headroom and a small centre tunnel means the middle-rear rider has room, unlike in BMW’s rear-wheel-drive sedans and wagons.
The rear cushion is deep and supportive, though the backrest doesn’t recline. There are massive storage bins in each back door, and rear air vents are included, as is a 12-volt outlet in addition to one up front and in the boot.
The electric tailgate opens to a decently sized but not class-leading 550-litre boot. There are two rails that run parallel on the outer edge of the cargo floor, with four adjustable or entirely removeable cargo hooks to tie-down items or just splay out the cargo net.
A 40:20:40 split-fold rear backrest is standard, however, making load-through of items such as skis possible with the outboard pews utilised. There’s nothing special about the folding mechanism itself, though, with the backrest merely flopping over to offer 1600L total volume.
Still, the BMW X3 continues to feel firmly mid-sized in every sense of its packaging – but with a powertrain befitting of a full-sized semi-sports car.
The engine looks good on-paper, but numbers can’t prepare you for how addictively quick and superbly responsive the turbo-diesel six-cylinder is. Despite featuring a stop-start system, it can restart seamlessly with the slightest lift off the brake pedal, then by the time the driver gets on the throttle, it’s away with no delay.
So strong is the performance of the X3 xDrive 30d that it almost feels like it lifts onto its hind legs (its all-wheel-drive system is real-biased) when the throttle is pinned. Yet we averaged 8.2L/100km in mixed conditions, 10.2L/100km while driving harder, and 12.0L/100km in very heavy traffic – brilliant considering an urban skew.
The X3 is helped by an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission that has more gears than you could ever need given the relatively narrow power band of a diesel, and it works sublimely, either in Normal, Sport or via a slap of the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
Variable-ratio steering is standard on X3 xDrive30d (and 28i) but a $600 option on the rest of the range. It is worth it, not only for the fact it can alter the ratio to mean fewer turns of the wheel when trying to park. It also means on a winding road it can be thrown from side to side with less lock, helping this SUV shrink around its driver and making it feel nimble.
It complements handling that is clearly best-in-class. The BMW X3 remains planted and stable, keen and taut, across all road surfaces.
One option we would definitely tick is adaptive suspension, priced at $1900. It offers Comfort, Normal and Sport modes to (experience indicates) address the ride comfort shortfalls inherent on the standard sports suspension we tested. Around town it is very firm, and jiggly even on the freeway. Yet it is never harsh, and in the context of a performance SUV, is far more acceptable than an Audi SQ5, to name one example. Still, go adaptive for your X3 and watch the overall score rise.
To think the SQ5 costs $13K more, all to save 0.8 seconds to 100km/h, or the Range Rover Evoque gives you a slow four-cylinder diesel for around the same money, puts the BMW X3 xDrive30d into perspective. It’s the pick of the X3 range, and a great premium medium SUV all-rounder.