Owner Review

2017 BMW X3 xDrive 20d M-sport review

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1969 was a fantastic year.

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped foot on the moon, the Concord flew to Australia, Richard Nixon, aka Tricky Dicky, was preparing to be scandalous and – more importantly to the six-year-old me – Skippy the Bush Kangaroo appeared in Canberra. People lined the streets to catch a glimpse of the marsupial superstar.

My mother had been able to get me into the Monaro Mall to be one of the 'select few' to see and meet Skippy. Sadly, we were pushed to the back of a crowded room and, despite my mother hoisting me as high as she could, all I managed to see were two furry ears. However, I was far from disappointed. Those furry ears belonged to Skippy! I was ecstatic.

Fast-forward some 48 years to 2017 when I was seeing, in horror, one of Skippy’s distant relatives bounce along the bonnet of my BMW X5 and slide onto the road. Both car and kangaroo were now deceased, and the only bright part was the X5 had bore the full brunt of a 90kg big red (yes, I know Skippy is a wallaby), which left me and my family safe. As I waited for the tow truck, I realised there was another silver lining in this cloud. I’d be needing a new car.

Normally one should spend days, nay weeks, selecting and comparing cars, but we needed a car in short time and we had criteria... Of sorts. It had to be white, our preferred colour, an SUV and a BMW. The last criterion may seem a bit strange, but we’d grown fond of the X5. A BMW probably wasn’t the best value proposition, since there are remarkably good cars with as many bells and whistles from other manufacturers for less, but we’d had a number of BMWs in the past and felt comfortable with the brand.

I headed to the local dealer to check out the latest X5, but like the modern trend of super-sizing cars, BMW had made it larger and as I drove it I felt like it touched both edges of the lanes at the same time. Unhappy, I drove it back and spied, hiding in the corner, a white demonstrator F25 X3 that had only done 1000km on the clock. I got in and felt comfortable since it was similarly proportioned to the E53 X5 and appeared to drive in a like manner. Now, while there are disadvantages in buying a demonstrator, such as no choice in the options and not knowing how well it’d been treated beforehand, there is one powerfully good thing – it exists and is there ready to purchase.

So a few days later off I drove with a white F25 X3 2.0d optioned with the M-sports package. The engine is a turbocharged four-cylinder jobbie, which manages about 140kW of power and 400Nm of torque. This meant it’d be good to tow a small caravan, which is one of the things my wife and I were considering at the time, and a handy 8sec 0–100km/h, which I get told off if I actually use. Provided you drive conservatively, you can achieve about 7L/100km around town, and the eight-speed ZF auto ’box is a delight with smooth gear changes. Handling is good and, as my bottom tells me, firm. Note to self: in the future option dynamic damper control.

The M-sports package means BMW has plastered M badges everywhere. This has one on each wheel, one on each front side panel, one on each brush plate as you enter and, believe it or not, one on the steering wheel. With all this badging, you’d be forgiven for not realising the 2.0d X3 is about as close to a proper 'M' car as, say, a Toyota Corolla. Coming from an E92 M3, this trend is disheartening. Nevertheless, I understand BMW’s desire to 'pimp' the M branding as much as possible, and many of the German marques are doing this such as Benz’s 'AMG-line', Audi’s 'S-sports' or VW’s 'R-line'. Disheartening, but a fact of life. Sigh.

Moving to the inside, the technology is light years ahead of the E53 X5 and shows how far things have come in a decade. It has comfort access with keyless entry (you touch the door and it opens) and a power-opening boot, but not one where you do an Irish jig under the bumper and it automagically opens. There’s a start button plus, next to it, another button to cancel the stop-start malarkey that all manufacturers seem to enjoy.

The iDrive system is excellent and has Bluetooth streaming with 20GB to store your music. The non-adaptive cruise control uses braking rather than the engine, as our old X5 did, plus blind-spot monitoring, several driving modes ranging from eco-pro to sport, and a surround-view camera system with not only reversing cameras, but also forward cameras.

The cabin feels premium with brushed aluminium trim in the centre console and softer plastics. The gauge cluster is a mix of old-school moving parts with some LCD components providing additional information. Personally, I prefer this since I like actual needles that actually move rather than pictures of moving needles, although paradoxically I prefer electric front seats over fussy manual ones. Who needs to be consistent, eh? One pleasing addition are adjustable side bolsters, despite the fact that in a 2.0-litre four-cylinder SUV it’s difficult to envisage needing them.

We got the Navigation System Professional option that includes an 8.8-inch display with the ability to type your letters on the iDrive knob. Now, this sounds good, but remember the iDrive controller is on your left and so, while it works well for my wife who’s left-handed, I find it awkward being right-handed. Besides, typing on an iDrive controller and looking where you’re driving are, in my opinion, mutually exclusive activities.

And finishing the 'fancy bits we got' spiel: bi-xenon lights so people coming in the opposite direction can flash me ’cause they think I’m on high beam (I’m not); a dual climate zone, which is somewhat daft since you don’t get a 'one person hot, one person cold' effect but more of 'everyone’s at an uncomfortable temperature' state; and voice control that understands English like Manuel in the old Fawlty Towers series.

One downside is that it has already been back to BMW for a recall over the exhaust gas valve. After booking it in, the dealer replaced it with little fuss coupled with a loaner. However, the warning messages popping up as we were driving in Sydney made us think automotive Armageddon was approaching. A phone call to the dealer sorted out our anxiety, but why can't car messages say something like: "Okay, mate, relax. This is just a small message to let you know that you should ring BMW when you can. Chill and have a great day." Sheesh.

We’ve driven the car on long journeys between capital cities and it’s very comfortable, which is to say that you can find your bottom’s still connected to your body after a half day’s drive and not back in the cabin while you wander with numb legs. Probably the only things I miss and would have like, in retrospect, are a head-up display and adaptive cruise control. Oh yeah, it’s also missing a kangaroo detector, not that it was an option, but every time my wife and I drive at dusk, our eyes scour the sides of the road for kamikaze kangaroos. Speaking of...

Sonny: What’s that Skip?
Skippy: [wallaby noises]
Sonny: Old codger in an F25 X3 2.0d BMW with a flat battery on Mugga Way? Lead the way!