The first generation BMW X3 was a breakthrough model, but not exactly a runaway hit. Anniruddha Jain experiences the new X3 for a week, and gives you the lowdown on its chances in its latest avatar.
When it was first launched in 2004, the X3 pioneered the concept of the small, premium, sport activity vehicle. With all-road capability, and good driving dynamics, BMW sold over 600,000 units of the X3 worldwide and inspired a host of automakers – including its German rivals – to jump into the fray with the Audi Q5 and Mercedes GLK.
With the first generation X3 getting long-in-the-tooth, and feeling the heat from increased competition, BMW has now launched the all new second generation X3 that is a marked improvement over the older vehicle. The new X3 is being built at BMW’s Spartanburg, South Carolina, plant in the United States from where it is supplied to markets worldwide. The second generation X3 has grown in size, and is now as big as the original X5. We tested the xDrive35i that features a turbocharged 3.0 liter inline-6 that puts out 300bhp and 406Nm of torque. India will likely get the xDrive20d, with the familiar 2.0 liter turbocharged diesel mill, and the xDrive28i, with the 3.0 liter 6 cylinder petrol engine. In future, there’s also the possibility of the 30d being brought into the Indian market, which will house a brawny 3.0 liter diesel heart.
With its signature, forward slanting kidney grill, large headlight assembly, and flared wheel arches, the X3 has an aggressive, yet clean, look. The upper edge of the headlight assembly sports an accentuating chrome trim that gives the front end a little bling. The rear of the vehicle is characterized by horizontal lines. The taillights, which are accentuated at the rear haunches, form a distinctive T-shape that enhances the X3’s appeal. It’s a good looking package that can’t be mistaken for anything other than a BMW.
The cabin of the X3 uses high quality materials, and the fit-and-finish is impressive. The dashboard, steering wheel, and switchgear are all borrowed from the BMW sedan parts bin, which is not a bad thing at all. The ergonomics are brilliant, and all the controls have a good tactile feel. The central display of the optional navigation system, with fourth generation BMW iDrive, is well integrated into the instrument panel. The system features an 8.8-inch high-resolution trans-reflective screen that, according to BMW, is the largest on-board monitor in its vehicle segment. The iDrive unit is a lot more intuitive than previous generations – it’s easy to use, and the navigation software is quick to respond in order to calculate the desired route. Our test vehicle featured a panoramic sunroof, which is a great option for sunny California – perhaps less so for summer months in the Indian capital though. The cabin of the X3 has distinctly more space than a 3 series sedan. The three rear seats offer outstanding comfort for traveling long distances, and significantly more leg and elbow room than its predecessor, or the 3 series sedan. The 1,600 liter luggage compartment adds to the versatility of the X3.
We tested the top-spec X3 xDrive35i that features BMW’s turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 ‘N55’ engine, combining direct fuel injection, twin-scroll turbo technology and Valvetronic. The N55 engine develops a maximum output of 300bhp at 5,800 rpm, with peak torque of 406Nm available all the way from 1,200-5,000rpm – with the redline at 7,000rpm. The same engine does duty in the 335 and 535 models as well. It’s a gem of an engine that provides exhilarating performance, with virtually no turbo lag. The X3 can sprint from 0-100km/h in 5.5 seconds, and the top speed is electronically limited to 240km/h.
The X3 features a new 8-speed automatic transmission that provides smooth, yet lightening quick, shifts. Compared to the old 6-speed automatic in the previous generation X3, the 8-speed has ‘taller’ cruising gears that help reduce fuel consumption, emissions, and noise levels. The wider spread of ratios enhances performance, and it allows for direct shifts from 8th gear to 2nd gear for maximum acceleration. The X3 features all-wheel drive with a normal torque split of 40% front to 60% rear. The system does a great job in harnessing the power on tap, and provides good traction in all driving conditions. The X3 doesn’t have a low range function, but then again this isn’t a vehicle that’s been built with serious off-roading in mind.
Our test vehicle came with BMW’s optional electronic damping control system that adjusts the shock absorbers level of firmness – quickly adapting to road conditions and the driver’s demands. The shocks default to the softest appropriate setting for the vehicle’s speed, and when the vehicle encounters an irregular road surface, they adjust instantaneously to control ride, preserve comfort, and maintain adhesion to the road. This is one option that I would definitely recommend on the X3. In addition, the X3 includes a new performance control feature that helps maintain a neutral handling character by adjusting the xDrive torque split to 20% front to 80% rear in steady state cornering.
Performance Control can also apply the inside rear brake, while also applying a little more power to the outside wheel in order to help rotate the vehicle. The driver can always choose the way he wants the car set up by toggling the Driving Dynamics Control (DDC) selector that is located on the central console. The three setting to choose from are Normal, Sport, and Sport Plus. In Normal mode, the X3 can be a docile family hauler all day long. But switch to Sport Plus mode, and the shock absorbers get firmer, engine throttle response increases, transmission shifts get quicker, power steering assist is reduced, and stability control system allows for more wheelspin. The vehicles personality changes, and the X3 corners and handles like a 3 series sedan. On the road, I was able to keep up with a Subaru STI, and that’s a testament to the kind of performance that the xDrive35i is able to offer.
So, does the X3 have any downsides? Well, apart from the price, none really. The X3 xDrive35 starts at $41,000 (`18.5 lakhs) in the US, but our test vehicle easily topped $55,000 (`25 lakhs) with all the available options. Double that, and you get some sense of the likely range of prices in India. The X3 does have to fit between the X1 and X5, so expect a fantastic vehicle somewhere between 35 to 50 lakhs, which provides the best of BMW’s performance and driving dynamics in a versatile package.