The BMW X3 was first born in 2004, a compact luxury SUV which went on to become a strong sales success in Europe. It was built on the same platform as the 3 Series sedan, albeit the four-wheel drive variant. The new BMW X3 (code: F25) is however an altogether different animal. Of course, there are some similarities in components, notably the drivetrain, but the new X3 charts its own furrow as a mid-size luxury SUV.
It has grown in size since, with the new X3 almost as big as the current X5. In fact, the new BMW X1, which was launched last year, is about the same size as the previous X3. If that is any clue, then the next X5, due in a year or so, will be bigger still.
For India, the X3 is available with a choice of two different engine variants, which include a 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel and a 3.0-litre 6-cylinder diesel. Both variants have all-time four wheel drive and both come with an 8-speed gearbox as standard.
The variant we’ve driven here is the BMW X3 xDrive30d, which has the 3.0-litre engine.
Design & Engineering
As you walk around the BMW X3, you’re immediately aware of not just its size, but its stance too. The way this SUV looks, even when standing still, gives it real road presence. All the BMW design signatures are evident in abundance, including the bold twin kidney grille, front bumper styling, sharp crease along its flanks and the two-part tail-lights. Cover the blue-and-white propeller and even then it’s immediately recognisable as a BMW.
Our test car rode on delicious 18-inch alloy wheels, with 245/50 R18 tyres.
The BMW X3’s suspension comprises of double-jointed struts with torsion beams at front, and a five-link rear layout. The X3’s suspension has been designed to eliminate dive, squat and pitch, and this is why this large SUV’s handling really shines. The monocoque construction helps matters too, and the X3’s body rigidity and body control are impeccable.
The 2,993 cc engine is mounted longitudinally in the engine bay, pushed as far back against the bulkhead as possible to keep the weight distribution as even as possible. The battery is tucked in the rear luggage compartment, in true BMW style, to further optimise the weight distribution. Despite its generous proportions (4,648 mm long, 1,881 mm wide and 1,661 mm tall) the X3 weighs just 1800 kgs.
The BMW X3 is available with stop-start, part of BMW’s EfficientDynamics philosophy, as standard. Brake-energy recuperation and electrically-assisted steering are part of the EfficientDynamics package. These systems together not only make the X3 more fuel efficient, but emit less amounts of noxious gases as well.
Interiors & Comfort
On the inside, in keeping with its luxury status, the BMW X3 gets leather upholstery, leather-wrapped steering wheel, iDrive controller, sun roof, high-end music system with auxiliary, USP and iPod/iPhone connectivity and multi-zone climate control. Of course, you wouldn’t expect any less from a vehicle in this class and at this price point. The dashboard and layout are similar to most other BMWs, and so there are no surprises here.
The BMW X3 offers connectivity for phone, iPod, USB and auxiliary cables. The in-dash 6 DVD changer is standard.
It is very easy to find a comfortable driving position in the X3, and drivers from anywhere between 5-feet and 6-and-a-half-feet tall will be comfortable. The seats however are rather substantial and more suitable for drivers of a larger frame and build. That said, they are extremely comfortable, and even 3 hours stints at a stretch behind the wheel are easily accomplished.
The rear seats too are very comfortable, with just the right amount of padding, and the back-rest angle is near-perfect. However, even though the cabin is wide, accommodating a third passenger in the rear is a little difficult because of the high transmission tunnel.
However, if we had a grouse, it would be that the cabin does not feel special enough. BMW has been generous with the leather appointments and wooden veneers, but overall the dashboard and interiors lack that certain ‘wow factor’ that the Range Rover Evoque and Audi Q5 manage so nonchalantly.
Performance & Handling
Where the BMW X3 really pulls one back, and indeed leaves much of the competition trailing in its wake, is in the performance and handling department. Forget the oft-repeated clichés about how BMWs are the Ultimate Driving Machines. But do pause for a moment and consider that stereotypes really do have some basis. With the X3, I’m happy to report, the BMW character is intact. What makes the X3 truly special is that it goes about its business in a fuss free yet involving manner. This is a car in which everything immediately feels comfortable and natural. The first time you get in one and drive it a hundred feet, it’s almost as if you’d driven an X3 your whole life.
There are three driving modes, which can be selected by a button on the centre console. These include ‘Normal’, ‘Sport’ and ‘Sport +’. In Normal mode, the suspension is soft, gearshifts are lazy, and the gearbox also likes to shift up every time you lift even moderately off the throttle. In Sport mode, the engine management automatically selects a gear lower than what it would in Normal mode, the dampers stiffen up, and the stability control is set to kick in later than it normally would. Sport + is pretty much the same, except that the safety net of ESP has been withdrawn. And when BMW says no ESP, they mean it, so unless you have huge confidence in your ability, you’re best advised to steer clear of Sport + mode.
Normal mode is great while you’re driving within city limits, and the softer edge to the suspension is especially welcome over manhole covers and pot holes. The 8-speed gearbox is a big improvement over anything we’ve seen previously from BMW, with smooth, barely-perceptible up-shifts.
On the highway however, I found the X3 happiest in Sport mode. The stiffer suspension (the steering weights up too) and faster acting gearbox mean you enjoy yourself more. The slight floaty feeling you otherwise get in Normal mode disappears too. Note however that you’ll always be a gear lower than you would in Normal mode, and this is bound to hurt the fuel efficiency figures.
Our test drive of the BMW X3 took us from Mumbai to Nasik and back, and it is a road with a good mix of four-lane highway, one-way ghats and some bumpy sections all thrown in. To add to the mix, it was one of those rare days this monsoon when the heavens truly opened.
The high driving position, confidence-inspiring four-wheel drive, spot-on brakes and that very capable in-line six together made this a most memorable drive. This engine, which we’ve experienced and enjoyed in other BMWs as well, deserves a special mention. With 260 PS of power and 560 Nm of torque, BMW claims the X3 xDrive30d will sprint to 100km/h in just 6.2 seconds. And there’s no doubt in my mind that that figure is entirely achievable, making the X3 one of the quickest SUVs on Indian roads.
You also have the peace of mind that 212mm of ground clearance offers you, meaning the X3 is capable of dealing with some of the worst roads you can encounter on the Indian subcontinent. The X3 isn't a 'proper' off-roader, but it is more than up to the task of negotiating terrain such as that found in Himachal Pradesh or North Bengal regions of India.
Stonking performance from diesel in-line 6. Real world economy of between 11-12 kpl, city and highway combined.
Like we mentioned earlier, the X3 gets BMW EfficientDynamics tech, which on paper should mean a real world improvement in economy. However, BMW’s engineers haven’t faced the challenge of Mumbai traffic, which will overwhelm almost any stop-start system. I couldn’t figure out how to over-ride the system and turn it off due to the snarling traffic around me, but I can’t say just how much diesel the X3 managed to save because of it. Our test drive, which was about 400 kilometres long, and included stops for photography, some brisk driving, cycling between different driving modes, city traffic etc saw the xDrive30d return a respectable figure of just over 11 kpl. This isn’t a figure to be frowned at by any standard, especially given that the BMW X3 has four-wheel drive, and weighs close to 2 tonnes.
BMW X3 is built like a tank.
Safety is the last thing on most Indian car buyers’ minds, but BMW takes safety very seriously. There are reminder chimes if you or any of your passengers aren’t wearing seatbelts. The X3 also has 6 airbags and active headrests, which reduce whiplash injury in a crash. The BMW X3 also has ESP or DSC (Directional Stability Control) as BMW calls it, and the DSC includes sub-programmes like ABS (anti-lock brakes), CBC (Cornering Brake Control) and DTC (Directional Traction Control). These various systems work in conjunction to ensure the X3 remains as planted and stable at all times as possible.
The BMW X3 xDrive30d retails at Rs 49.8 lakh, ex-showroom, while the smaller-engined xDrive20d costs about Rs 7 lakh less. That’s a pretty packet by any standard. Of course, you get a lot of equipment as standard, which justifies the price somewhat.
But don’t think of the X3 as a second car, as many wealthy people sometimes do. Instead, if you were shopping for a 50-lakh rupee car, and you could only pick one, then the new BMW X3 emerges as one of the strongest contenders around. In real-world terms, it is very close to being one of the quickest vehicles for inter-city travel you could find in this country. The X3 is not only a pleasure to drive, it is tireless as well from behind the wheel. The ride comfort is excellent for front and rear passengers, and there’s definitely more interior room than what you get in an Audi Q5 for example. Plus there’s enough and more luggage room, whether you need to fetch people from the airport, or cart home your latest home appliances.
But…and there’s always a ‘but’, there are one or two considerations. Like we mentioned earlier, the BMW X3’s cabin doesn’t feel special, something that somebody with Rs 50 lakh to spend expects. Also, BMW have stuck to their guns by offering the X3 with run-flat tyres, which can be a point of concern given that they aren’t easily repairable and are expensive to boot.
The BMW X3 ticks most of the boxes however, and at the risk of repeating myself I will re-iterate that it is quick, comfortable, practical and fun to drive. Opt for the 2.0-litre variant if fuel economy is very important to you, but for the sheer joy of driving the xDrive30d is the one to go for. In the Indian context it is immensely more usable than BMW’s very own excellent 5 Series, and that perhaps is the greatest pointer to the breadth of its capabilities. We needn’t say more.