First test of BMW X3 SUV

bmw-x3-suv-1.jpgTheoretically, you could launch just about any motorised vehicle in Germany – a Korean sports car, a Yank tank, a hulky bulky SUV, you name it – and it would end up feeling fabulous.  The joy of driving the country’s speed-limitless freeways and its smoothly surfaced and spectacularly twisty back roads is such that it rubs off a feeling of wellbeing onto whatever you happen to be piloting.

Even catching a bus can be invigorating, when the bus is doing the sort of speeds you could be hung, drawn and quartered for in some countries.

So, it’s possible that I was more impressed by BMW’s revised and refreshed X3 than I would have been if it had been unveiled in, say, Victoria (which is pretty much the philosophical polar opposite of Germany).

But it’s also fair to say that the baby soft-roader had a hell of a lot of ground to make up, because the original was a stinker.

The former X3 was a product that didn’t match its label, like putting Grange in a cask, or attaching a Tiffany diamond to a beer-can ring pull.

BMW’s badge cache is such that it can get away with quite a bit, but feeling cheap is one thing we won’t forgive. 


 While the big brother X5 is an impressive bit of engineering and has the quality feel you expect from the Bavarians, the X3 looked and felt like a bargain-bin Beemer.

The black-plastic nappy treatment around the rear was a poor styling decision, even for a company that let Chris Bangle bugger the 7 Series, but the biggest failing was the interior.

A plethora of plastics more commonly found in disposable razors or kids’ toys meant that the pseudo SUV felt like a pseudo BMW.

The men from Munich don’t stuff up very often and when they do, they tend to fix the problem quick smart (with the exception of iDrive, which the X3 is truly fortunate to miss out on – oh, and run-flat tyres).

And so we have the tweaked and tricked-up X3, one of the quickest, and biggest, facelifts the company has ever performed.

BMW folk counter that the update to a model only launched here in 2004 was timely because so many competitors in this segment are about to be launched and they wanted to get in first.


Park the new X3 next to the old one and it’s like looking at Paul Vautin the footy player and Fatty Vautin the suit-wearing star.

The flat-black bumpers are replaced by colour-coded panels, the double kidney grille on the nose is bigger and bolder and the rear-light cluster, which used to look like a cross-eyed robot, has been tidied up with some LED liveliness.

Inside, the plastics are polished and there’s a lot more ersatz wood grain splashed about.

Best of all, it’s actually got door bins and map pockets now, something you’d think might have been an obvious inclusion on the original, but you’d be wrong.

And, to the delight of our American colleagues, there’s even an extra cup holder.

The overall effect is a lift in class, so that you now actually feel like you’re sitting in a smaller but no less pleasant X5, which was surely the idea of this car in the first place.

And it really is a car, or a rough and tough looking people mover perhaps, rather than an SUV.

It handles, rides and gingerly goes off-road like a car, with a commendable lack of bodyroll, surprisingly good steering and, in the case of the 3.0-litre versions we drove, a raspy, rorty sports car sound.

Honestly, is there anything BMW’s straight six-cylinder can’t do? If the Germans ever decide to go to the moon, their rockets will no doubt be powered by this masterfully engineered engine.

This new and yet again improved 3.0si version offers 200kW (up 30kW from the old one) and 315Nm.

Acceleration is pretty impressive for a big, tall car that’s pushing a bow-wave of air, with a 0 to 100km/h time of 7.2 seconds (an improvement of 0.6 of a second). The mid-range punch also makes it a great freeway car.

BMW claims an excellent 10.1 litres per 100km economy figure with this engine, but we saw between 15 and 17.7 litres per 100km, although our driving did include some detailed testing, and proving, of the car’s top speed of 232km/h.

As far as off-road credibility goes, the X3 can boast Hill Descent Control, which works pretty well, and DTC (Dynamic Traction Control).

This system, which has previously been employed to allow the tail of the Z4 to flick and flout, is cleverly adapted here to allow you the wheel slip necessary to tackle sand, sludge and mud (sadly our drive program didn’t include any of these things, but it sounds workable in theory).

The permanent all-wheel-drive system, xDrive, is also mightily clever. In general use it has a 40:60 torque split, but if necessary up to 100 per cent of torque can be sent to one end, all within milliseconds.

Frankly, though, all this equipment is bar-boasting stuff. Realistically, who would take a car this botoxed and beautified off-road and risk getting it scratched?

The X3 will also be offered with a 160kW 2.5-litre engine, priced at $65,900 for the manual and $68,500 for the auto, while the auto-only 3.0si will be $73,900 – price rises of $1500 and $1000 respectively over the old models.

More than 50 per cent of X3 buyers in Australia, however, choose the 3.0-litre diesel (which, sadly, we didn’t get to drive because we were sharing our launch drive with Americans, who think “deeesell” is the devil’s work).


The volume model rises in price by just $500 to $75,900, and also gets equipment upgrades, including a Bluetooth kit.

We probably shouldn’t even tell you this, because it’s cruel, but in Europe the X3 is also being offered with a superb new super diesel, the 3.0sd, which uses Variable Twin Turbo technology to produce 210kW and 580Nm of torque.

It’s so impressive, in fact, that it blows the 3.0-litre petrol version into the weeds, with a 0 to 100km/h sprint of 6.6 seconds and a top speed of 240km/h.

We might not be getting it yet, but we’re betting this engine will find its way into some kind of BMW offering here eventually, and that it will be worth the wait. [CARSguide]