Having previously enjoyed the majesty of BMW’s X5 and the nippy ease of the X1, I got into the German marque’s new X3 with some trepidation. Where exactly would this car sit on the spectrum between sheer size and agility? Right in the middle, as it turns out, because rather than focus on one major redeeming trait, BMW has used the strength of its engineering to make an entire system work better. Although this does not quite make the X3 the most exciting of BMWs, it is a car with an easy, calm temperament — never a bad thing.
The global sports utility vehicle (SUV) market has grown a great deal in recent times, so it makes sense that BMW would plough some of its R&D resources into perfecting what was already a fairly popular car. With over two generations of the BMW X3, the carmaker has delivered more than 1.5 million vehicles all over the world. After a few days, I can understand why it is so well-loved. This car is — to steal a theme from Goldilocks — not too large, not too small, but just right.
The changes in the new X3 are likely more obvious only to true-blue petrolheads but deserve mention nonetheless. The vehicle is a little bigger, has acquired a more cohesive design that it wears much better and is 55kg lighter. Although its overall dimensions do not render the new X3 unrecognisable, its 5cm-longer wheelbase, long bonnet and short front overhang with even more finely balanced proportions — which emphasise the perfect 50:50 distribution of weight between the front and rear axle — does give it an edge over its predecessor.
In terms of looks, the car is handsome enough. The third generation of BMW’s pioneering premium mid-sized SUV treads a familiar path in combining rugged off-road looks with a sporting presence. Although I am partial to blue exterior paint, the metallic brown on the car I was driving soon grew on me. It is a very masculine design with firm angles and strong lines, which works well for the car and its proportions.
The interior follows classic BMW tradition with its driver-focused and ergonomically optimised cockpit layout and carries over many aspects of the marque’s exterior design. For instance, hexagonal forms and precise, bevelled edges play a central role in the interior while exceptional material quality, fit and finishing impress functionality-wise. One example here is the well-thought-out storage concept, that offers more storage space than ever before and ensures it is easier to access — ideal for families. Also, galvanised plating on the air conditioning, audio and steering controls is luxury to the sight and touch.
Once inside, I am ready to go. The X3’s uncomplicated console is familiar and easy enough to use, and within minutes, I get the music going via Bluetooth connection to my phone and Connected Drive — the convenience of this service cannot be emphasised enough — sends my desired location direct to the car’s navigation system. There is enough space with easy reach for my water bottle, mints, Smart Tag and charging cable. Extra storage in the rear doors is good for toting quite a bit — in my case, snacks bags, art supplies and books for a long drive. This makes the car quite family friendly, I thought. Isofix attachments in the rear and the spacious, 550-litre boot (expandable to 1,600 litres with the rear seats collapsed) further add to its appeal in this regard.
The car has three modes — eco pro, comfort and sport — and it is the last that we chose on a weekend jaunt to Genting Highlands. The car was just a tad quicker on sport than it is on comfort mode and I loved the slight urge I got from the engine every time I hit the gas pedal. It might be an SUV, but was powerful enough that I did not have to dip my toes in the accelerator’s deep waters for it to achieve pretty decent speeds. Comfort mode was perfect for smooth highways while eco pro was ideal for city drives, which I reserved for school and supermarket runs.
This is all thanks to BMW’s cutting-edge TwinPower Turbo 2.0 in-line four-cylinder petrol engine, which comprises TwinScroll turbocharging, high precision injection, Double-VANOS variable camshaft control and Valvetronic fully variable valve timing. With an 8-speed Steptronic Sport transmission, the BMW X3 is capable of sprinting from 0-100km in 6.3 seconds at a top speed of 240kph. Unfortunately, I cannot personally attest to either, even though I did speed up to a bit more than the speed limit on occasion. The car is capable of generating a maximum output of 252hp and 350Nm of torque, offering supreme driving pleasure with exceptional efficiency.
This is hardly what I would call the best showcase of BMW’s dynamic drive experience, but I cannot imagine wanting to hit the century speed in four seconds with my daughter in the car anyway. Rather, this is perfect for families looking for a safe and powerful way to get around. That it looks so good is a huge benefit.
The BMW X3 xDrive30i, without insurance, is RM313,800 and comes with a five-year unlimited mileage warranty, two-year warranty of its run-flat tyres and the BMW White Card.
This article first appeared on May 20, 2019 in The Edge Malaysia.