The all-new and technologically advanced G01 BMW X3 has been released in the US, becoming the German marque’s freshest SUV. Debuting a new design language for future X models – borrowed largely from the new X1 – this X3 marks a step forward from its hugely successful predecessor in terms of technology, luxury and driving dynamics.
In anticipation of the G01’s local launch in November, I thought I would put a review together of my Grandparent’s F25 LCI 2015 X3 xDrive 28i to outline aspects of the X3 I hope BMW evolved, kept, or eliminated entirely, for the third-generation model.
Grandma and Pa had never owned a European car before the X3, so my Pa made sure the car was tailored exactly to their needs. Subsequently, he decided to do a BMW factory order in March 2015.
He picked the xDrive 28i, finished in Glacier Silver metallic with black premium Dakota leather and brushed aluminium trim. He didn't go all out with options, opting to have his car fitted with the M Sport Package (along with the more attractive 20-inch Double Spoke 310 M alloys), lane change warning, driving assistant and ConnectedDrive Lifestyle. They took delivery in June 2015 and, unfortunately, without me!
Now that the car has just turned two, and has well over 40,000km under its belt thanks to many interstate road-trips, my Grandma (the main driver of the X3) has given me some of her thoughts on the car for me to add into this review. So, let’s begin!
Powered by BMW’s famous 28i engine (replaced now by the 30i moniker with the B48 engine), in X3 application it develops a meaty 180kW of power at 5000rpm, and 350Nm of torque which can be accessed at approximately 1200rpm.
The engine is capable of pushing the X3 to 100km/h in 6.7 seconds according to BMW. Grandma believes the car is plenty quick, yet can be a bit lethargic in its Comfort setting after I popped it into Sport mode for her once. It also has somewhat of a rorty exhaust note which I found interesting, though it sounds nearly identical to the 2.0L diesel in our X5 at idle, which if you have read my review of it, produces a yucky noise.
Because of the many road trips that Grandma and Pa have been on, they have the authority to say the engine provides confidence when overtaking trucks on dual carriage ways. This means that overtaking is an absolute breeze.
Another aspect of their X3 that adds to its surefootedness is the tried and tested ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox, which just like in our X5 and every other BMW I have been in, is an absolute gem. While it may not be as modern as the gearbox in the GLC or the DCT gearbox fitted to an Audi Q5, it has none of the inherent DCT jerkiness the latter is accustomed to.
Speaking of rivals – particularly the Mercedes-Benz GLC 250 – the BMW has the upper hand when it comes to powertrains. They both produce the identical torque figure of 350Nm, but the BMW has 25kW more power than the GLC which makes the BMW a substantial 0.6 seconds quicker on the sprint to 100km/h.
If being fuel savvy is your priority, it is worth taking a look at the 28i’s diesel counterparts, the xDrive 20d and xDrive 30d. Grandma is averaging about 10.0L/100km, which is nearly 30 per cent more than what BMW is claiming (7.2L/100km).
If there is generally one area where BMW falls apart when compared to its German rivals, it is always in the interior. Sure, there are exceptions to this in the lineup. For example, the new X1, X5, X6, new 5 Series and 7 Series all buck the trend, yet the universal consensus about BMWs is that their interiors are dated, and my Grandparent’s X3 falls into this category.
Obviously, this has been dramatically improved in the new G01 X3, but that isn’t on sale yet… we are talking about what is currently on offer, and unfortunately, the interior is just ‘old.’
Coming from our X5 and into the X3, there should be a difference in luxuriousness, but definitely not to this scale. The X3’s interior looks like it is from another age.
For starters, the layout of the dash is overly simple, with shiny black cladding covering it. It is not up to the same standard as the cladding in our X5, and the X3’s interior feels more low-rent as a result. The centre stack is similar to that of our E70 X5, which was released back in 2006, meaning the interior is essentially over a decade old! It is by no means is terrible, but I have driven in a GLC and the interior is much more sophisticated and much more pleasant to sit in.
One aspect of the X3’s interior that does attract merit is the materials used to finish the cabin. They are stereotypical BMW – they may not be fancy, but exude class and top-notch craftsmanship. Everywhere you touch, there is either soft plastics, leather, or rock-solid aluminium. I actually find the leather in this car is more sumptuous than that in our X5, which is probably due to the Nevada leather. Overall the X3’s cabin focusses more – and probably to an excessive degree – on substance rather than style.
While I may prefer the all glitz and glamour of the GLC’s interior (and all Mercedes interiors for that matter) my Grandma actually favours the simplistic, Germanic approach to the X3’s interior and the embedded screen that was “so 2011.”
Being older than me, the calmer approach to the interior and button layout probably helped her get her head around the car better when she first took delivery. The X3’s ergonomics are stellar for a car that is at the end of its life-cycle. Though, if there was an Achilles heel of the X3’s ergonomics it would be to do with the location of the button that turns off the auto start/stop feature.
My Grandma hates this part of the car, and when she gets in the car, she has to look around the indicator stalk to turn it off so she doesn't accidentally turn the car off (the starter button is adjacent to it). Even taller folk like myself will still struggle to do this without taking your eyes off the road. Oddly, this issue isn’t apparent in our X5. Hopefully, this is addressed in the new G01, which from photos at least, has the starter button mounted higher up on the instrument panel.
Grandma argues that the starter button panel should be mounted on the right-hand side of the steering column, while I think it should just be mounted higher. It would be too expensive to just move the button for the RHD markets.
Both Grandma and Pa have now figured out the basics of iDrive, and can input destinations to the navigation with relative ease. It took them a while to get used to it, but in this instance, iDrive is the best system for them, as they aren’t really tech nerds like myself and need an easy system to use.
I can guarantee you that if they had Mercedes’ COMAND or Audi’s MMI (which is, in isolation, a fairly easy-to-use media system), they would still be figuring out how to use it, even after two years' of ownership!
On the odd occasion that there are rear seat passengers, both leg- and headroom is ample. It definitely is not as expansive as the X5 (and nor should it be), but it still is nothing to complain about. My one gripe would have to be with the driveshaft hump in the floor, which does impede on foot space and the comfort for the unlucky one who has to sit in the middle pew.
Ride and Handling
As with its larger X5 sibling, the X3 inherits the typical BMW-ness in terms of its handling poise. Before all you wagon fanboys and SUV haters go on about “Oh Will, it doesn't handle as well as a 3 Series or 5 Series wagon, you need to actually drive before you can make comments like that,” I have heard you all rant before and there is no need to go on about it in the comments… again!
An SUV is never going to handle as well as a wagon, but in the case of the X3 (and all BMW X vehicles for that matter), the gap has been drastically closed, as proved by numerous reviews.
In my opinion, the X3 is probably the best handling SUV that you can get in its class before going into the territory of the beautiful Jaguar F-Pace and stunning Porsche Macan. The ride is notably firm, probably too firm – but it is never jittery or crashy over bumps.
Adding to the comfort are probably the seats… the lumbar support, premium leather, cushy padding and excellent bolstering make for an arm-chair like experience. Grandma says the car has handled well in all situations that she has been in, but let’s face it – she has never pushed it that hard! As such, I will just include this quote from Mike Costello from his GLC vs X3 comparison, which I believe is on the money.
“It [the X3] stays so flat in corners and turns in with such veracity and balance. If you like the odd blat on a weekend, this is your SUV of choice.”
As for steering, when my Dad drove his parents' X3 back in January he said it felt heavier than that of his X5. For that reason, it feels more involving and feelsome while having none of the weird on-centre vagueness that our X5 has.
Overall, the X3 lives up to the brand’s motto of being an 'Ultimate Driving Machine' as well as it can.
The X3 has always been considered the nerd in the handsome BMW X lineup. The more muscular X5 and the newer and stylish X1 have outdone their sibling in terms of looks. Some angles can lend a flattering stance, while others do the complete opposite. It is, suffice to say, that there are many other better-looking cars in BMW’s lineup, but that doesn't mean the X3 is an ugly duckling by any means.
My Grandparent’s car, fitted with the M Sport Package, has a much sportier and premium looking exterior compared to entry-level models, which to put it bluntly – look a little underdone. The black cladding and small wheels of the entry level of these cars don't really help the X3 in the design department. I believe that your money is well spent if you upgrade to the X-Line or M Sport vehicles, the latter of which is my personal favourite – particularly with the 20-inch wheels. Those wheels coupled with Sapphire Black paint and the M Sport pack make for an attractive looking car.
It is still easily identifiable as a BMW, too. The L-shaped headlights, corona rings (or squares nowadays), Hoffmeister kink and bold kidney grilles are all trademark design cues of a Beemer. It is just that some of these look a little disproportionate on the X3, but are nicer on the X1 and X5.
I commonly refer to my Grandparent’s X3 as the “Friday build,” because of the many little niggly issues that have arisen throughout ownership due to a lack of attention to detail on the behalf of the workers at Plant Spartanburg. So, here is the list of what they have had go wrong with the car so far…
- Arial fix – the satellite navigation was not working and this was only three months into ownership
- Fog light adjustment – the fog light came loose within the bumper
- Leather on the seat not sealed correctly, exposing the insides of the seat when you pulled the leg rest out
- Rattle from the boot
- Seatbelt rattle
These issues are very surprising to me. Having had three X5’s now, the first coming from Plant Rosslyn in South Africa, and the more recent two from Plant Spartanburg (where the X3 is built), we have had faultless ownership experiences. The only issue we had was with the 2007 X5 that we had (built in South Africa) where there was a rattle/squeaking noise coming from the undercarriage.
If you own an X3, let me know of your ownership in the comments below. It will be interesting to see if these are just isolated issues or common problems (I suspect it will be the former).
Overall, the X3 has been an excellent car for my Grandparents. Besides the niggly reliability issues, they have thoroughly enjoyed being part of the BMW family.
Now as I mentioned, I will tell you what I hope BMW has evolved, kept, or eliminated entirely for the new model.
- Powertrain: Keep! This is one of the best powertrains in the industry. With the new 30i (B48) engine and constant improvements to the ZF gearbox, BMW has the upper hand on the Q5 and GLC.
- Interior: Major evolution… The current car’s interior is just plain old and needs a major overhaul. And it isn’t the car’s fault – time never does anything good in terms of looks to anyone. The new car looks to have rectified this.
- Ride/Handling: Evolution. The X3’s point of difference between its rivals is its car-like handling. BMW needs to continue this, as it will be one of the selling points of it; it is the perfect blend. However, the suspension setup on the new car should err more on the side of comfort rather than handling. Not many X3 owners will be getting to the limit of their car, so the added comfort would not go astray in the excellent X3 package.
As you can see, there is nothing that I think BMW need to eliminate from the next generation X3. They already have a great base to work from.
The new platform will take all the good parts of this car to the next level, and make a currently “'okay' car excellent. While BMW does believe that evolution is better than revolution, it isn’t a bad thing. They focus on perfecting rather than being game changing. But to be game changing, they need to be perfect… something that the X3 should be able to do in its third generation.