Tuesday, 24 April 2012
With BMW X3 sales expected to account for 20-25 percent 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 of this year, 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 xDrive 30d).

Just as Nissan realised with the 350Z to 370Z transition, 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 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 the tail lights with LED 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 X3 test car was beige interior leather with woodgrain trimmings along the doors and dashboard.

Despite once being a boggle amongst 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 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 in to sound systems, the 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.
Leg and head room is very impressive for what looks like a smaller SUV. Accommodation for front and rear passengers is cavernous enough to fit four adults in comfort and five kids without any cramping.

Cargo volume has increased by 15% in comparison to 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 X3 xDrive20d and X3 xDrive28i with surprising results. Priced from $62,200 for the X3 xDrive20d, the X3 xDrive28i retails for $71,900 with the new X3 xDrive30d taking 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 idle 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 that 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 exponentially sharpens and the steering becomes taught 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.– Paul Maric

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