Instead, the third generation of BMW’s mid-size SUV uses the same building blocks that provide the foundations for the new 5 and 7 Series. It’s a change that brings increases in both size and sophistication.
Its growth makes the new X3 larger in every key dimension, with the exception of height, than the first X5. Naturally enough, the new X3’s interior is roomier than the model it replaces. In answer to persistent carping by critics, BMW chose to invest the extra centimetres in the rear seat. It’s now spacious back there, but the size of the X3’s cargo compartment remains unchanged.
From the excellent front seats the view is dominated by an instrument panel like that in the 5 Series, including the bright, crisp and customisable centre touchscreen. The quality of the X3’s interior makes a great first impression, but this fades the deeper you dig. There’s nothing premium about the plastics found in the lower sections of the cabin.
As it utilises the same electrical architecture as BMW’s big sedans, the X3 comes equipped not only with an impressively flexible infotainment system, but also the latest generation of the company’s advanced safety and driver-assistance technology.
BMW’s AEB passed the tests conducted during COTY, which involved driving at sedan and ute rear ends at a variety of speeds. The X3 also stopped well, although its ESC was sluggish in reacting to some dirt road slides.
Wheels assembled all three of the variants on offer in Australia from the X3’s November launch: the 20d, 30i and 30d. All engines are teamed with an eight-speed automatic driving all four wheels through the latest version of BMW’s xDrive system.
Only two of the seven COTY judges had driven the four-cylinder turbo-diesel 20d when its check-engine warning light came on. BMW advised it shouldn’t be driven, so it was withdrawn from further participation.
Each of the COTY-participating X3s came heavily optioned, with around $15,000 of extras on top of already hefty basic price tags. Adaptive dampers were included on all three. This optional technology helps deliver capable, if not especially involving, handling. For an SUV. But some judges felt that the ride quality in Comfort wasn’t comfy enough, and that the steering felt a bit too remote.
The turbo four-cylinder petrol-burner in the 30i is feisty, but it’s overshadowed by the turbo-diesel six of the 30d. This is an engine that brings real charisma to compression ignition; smooth, responsive, hugely muscular and surprisingly melodious. The superb quality of the calibration work on the eight-speed auto to match it with each engine was obvious. These are high-class drivetrains. They’re relatively efficient, too, though some of the credit here must go to the flab-cutting efforts of BMW’s body and chassis engineers.
In a world where premium SUV is another way to spell high profit margins, the new X3 is a hugely important model for its maker. The newcomer is a definite improvement over the version it replaces and, at long last, genuinely competitive in its market segment. But other brands are also doing their best to win the premium medium SUV race and one, at least, is doing better than BMW.
The X3 family will grow quickly, starting early this year with the high-performance M40i. It features a 265kW turbocharged version of BMW’s lovely 3.0-litre in-line six petrol and uprated suspension and braking systems.
It will be followed by the 20i, an entry-level rear-drive variant powered by a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four. Then in 2020, BMW will launch a battery-electric version and this is sure to come to Australia.