SUVs are a huge part of BMW's brand. In fact, they're so important that BMW expects its Australian sales mix to be 65 per cent SUV-rich by the end of 2018.
That's why the all-new 2018 BMW X3 is so important for BMW. The X3 is expected to be BMW's best selling car in 2018 and as a result it has sharpened the local offering with an array of standard equipment and safety technology.
Kicking off from $68,900 (plus on-road costs) for the entry-level X3 xDrive20d, prices are up by almost $5000 more than the outgoing model, but added features help balance out the extra outlay.
The range then steps up to the model tested here — the X3 xDrive30i. It starts from $75,900 (plus on-road costs) and is currently the only petrol variant in the X3 range. The X3 line up is then capped off with the cracking six-cylinder diesel X3 xDrive30d at $83,900 (plus on-road costs).
Standard kit at the X3 entry level includes an ‘xLine’ exterior package with matte-aluminium design elements, 19-inch alloy wheels, electric folding exterior mirrors, roof rails, a leather steering wheel, cloth/leather seat trim with electrically-adjustable front pews, LED headlights, and full-colour head-up display (HUD).
Other elements include a parking assistant with front and rear sensors, rear-view camera, Driving Assistant with lane departure warning, wireless phone charging, along with the 6.5-inch Navigation System Business with real-time traffic updates and speed limit recognition.
Both the X3 xDrive30i and xDrive30d include (in addition to X3 xDrive20d) 20-inch alloy wheels, ‘Vernasca’ leather upholstery, adaptive LED headlights with highbeam assist, comfort access, paddle-shifters, Driving Assistant Plus, Parking Assistance Plus with a 360-degree camera system, a 12.0-inch digital instrument display, along with Navigation Professional – incorporating a 10.2-inch touchscreen.
It's not hard to stare at the X3 on occasion. Visually it's an impressive looking car with bold highlights such as full LED headlights, a large kidney grille and those large 20-inch alloy wheels. In fact, it looks a bit like a mini X5. The proportions are great and it appears more resolved than the outgoing model.
Crack the driver's door open and that level of style seen on the outside continues inside the cabin. Technology and styling cues have filtered down from the 7 Series and 5 Series, both of which share the latest version of iDrive called iDrive 6. There are even embossed Xs on each door for added style.
Everything inside this cabin feels premium and luxurious. Audi and BMW have both stepped up their SUV game, with the Q5 and X3 now leading the pack in terms of cabin quality and luxury. That theme continues with the sharp, high resolution 12.0-inch digital instrument display that shows the speedometer and tachometer.
In addition to taking on iDrive 6, the head-up display is now 75 per cent larger, offering a huge amount of information and detail available at a quick glance. There's also a new and improved voice recognition system, wireless phone charging, USB connectivity and the option of wireless Apple CarPlay and gesture control.
iDrive 6 upgrades the 10.2-inch LCD display with the addition of a touchscreen and faster processing power that makes navigating between menus a fast and progressive experience. Other connectivity options include auxiliary input, plus Bluetooth.
While the six-speaker sound system is good, the optional 16-speaker harman/kardon stereo fitted to our test car was absolutely exceptional. Plenty of bass and a heap of clarity regardless of the playback source.
Connected Drive connectivity has now been expanded to include the awesome 360-degree camera fitted to the car. It offers the ability to transmit a 3D view of the car to a phone at a remote location. Semi-automatic parking is also built into the system that allows the vehicle to park autonomously and allows the switching from drive, into reverse and then park. Overall it's an excellent system that is class-leading in terms of connectivity, usability and system performance.
We were surprised with the amount of space available in the cabin. In the front row there's plenty of storage in the centre console and glovebox, while it's spacious enough enough for taller passengers to scoot forward and still have sufficient legroom.
The second row is equally as spacious with loads of leg- and headroom. Even with the optional panoramic glass sunroof there's room for a 6ft tall passenger to fit with ample headroom. A centre armrest folds out with two cupholders, with the second row folding remotely in a 60/40 split-folding fashion.
Cargo capacity in the boot comes in at 550 litres and expands to 1600 litres when the second row is folded. There's extra storage beneath the cargo floor thanks to the use of run flat tyres, which eliminates the need for a spare tyre.
The boot door is powered and can be operated from either the key, a button on the door or by using a kicking motion beneath the rear bumper bar.
Under the bonnet is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine that produces 185kW of power and 350Nm of torque, mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission and a permanent all-wheel drive system.
BMW claims a combined fuel consumption figure of 7.6 litres of fuel per 100km and a 0-100km/h figure of 6.3 seconds, which is pretty impressive for a car that weighs in at 1715kg.
In and around the city, the ride is on the firmer side of comfort. Even with dynamic damper control, the X3 still feels fairly firm over potholes, speed humps and road joins. It's not helped by the standard 20-inch alloy wheels with run flat tyres (measuring 275mm wide at the rear and 245mm at the front).
Ride firmness is even more noticeable as you head towards the country. It picks up every little imperfection and becomes most noticeable on rutted and poor quality roads. That trait is further amplified when you slide over to Sport mode – a fruitless effort on these types of road surfaces.
I don't want to make it sound like it rides as firm as a sports car, but it's certainly on the firmer side of comfortable. That's a trait synonymous with BMW, so you may find the ride appropriate if you're buying this car with that expectation in mind. It's worth noting the ride becomes much better when you step back to 19-inch alloy wheels in unison with dynamic damper control.
With that said, the X3 hits the competition for six in terms of acceleration and handling. The 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine in the xDrive30i offers sharp throttle response, quick acceleration from standstill, plus a dead flat body during cornering.
While the steering can be a tiny bit vague at times, it offers enough feedback when driving enthusiastically. It's teamed with excellent brakes that communicate effectively through a responsive brake pedal. Steering wheel mounted paddle shifters also allow the driver to row through gears manually, but our pick is the Sport mode, which offers a good balance between quick shifts and gear management.
BMW's all-wheel drive system offers rear-drive bias for a more engaging drive behind the wheel. It'll never be the go to vehicle for a drifting championship, but it certainly keeps you on your toes if you decide to have fun on a gravel road or low friction surface.
When you're done having fun, you'll be surprised to learn that the X3 is affordable to run. Five years (or 80,000km) of servicing can be purchased as part of BSI Basic for $1440. The X3 also comes with a three-year unlimited kilometre warranty. If you're planning on towing, you'll also like the 2000kg braked towing capacity.
The 2018 BMW X3 really steps up the game in this segment. It delivers an incredibly premium and versatile product that delivers on all fronts. It's let down by overly firm suspension, but there are easy steps to take that mitigate that character trait.
If that's not a deal breaker, the X3 really lifts the benchmark in this segment, making cars like the Mercedes-Benz GLC feel like old news.
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