Around 1 000 people are going to be very happy this year as they take delivery of their BMW X3s.
BMW SA expects the cars to fly out of showrooms, despite pricing which puts the 3 Series sized vehicle up against stalwarts such as the iconic Toyota Prado 3.0DT and the Land Rover Discovery 3.9 V8.
So why will people buy the X3 rather than these other much more capable off-roaders? Simply, because the X3 isn't a mainstream off-roader.
Instead, as with the bigger X5, BMW calls the X3 a "sports activity vehicle", which means it gives sporty handling and roadholding on tar, plus the ability to follow any ROAD that's around, no matter how rough.
But you won't choose it to go bundu-bashing...
The X3 is a brand-new model in the BMW stable, unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show last October, and now making waves all over the world.
Initially BMW SA will introduce two models, both powered by six-cylinder in-line engines - the 141 kW 2.5i and the 170 kW 3.0i.
Towards the end of this year or early next year a 2-litre diesel will be added to the range, but at this stage there are no plans to add a 3-litre diesel as this has not been developed for right-hand-drive markets.
Both current vehicles come fairly well equipped as standard, with items such as the xDrive intelligent four-wheel-drive system, ABS braking, Automatic Stability Control and Traction (ASC-X), Dynamic Stability Control including Dynamic Brake Control, Automatic Differential Brake (ADB-X), and Hill Descent Control.
There's also automatic air conditioning with air circulation control, an alarm system with radio remote and central locking, BMW Business front-loader CD/radio, electrically-operated windows and mirrors, tyre pressure monitor, front side and head airbags in front, and manual headlamp height adjustment.
You also get a leather-rimmed four-spoke multi-function steering wheel, leather-covered gear knob and gaiter, luggage compartment cover, leather upholstery, on-board trip computer, dark maple wood trim, and a first aid kit.
On the outside front and rear fog lights, roof rails and alloy wheels are standard.
However, you can load the car with options ranging from different wheels through to three levels of navigation systems, TV monitor, different interior trim finishes - including buffed aluminium - park distance control and adaptive headlights.
Not to mention such luxury items as a six CD hi-fi system, a panorama sunroof, and various levels of telephone kit, including a Bluetooth version.
The 2.5i comes with either 6-speed manual or 5-speed Steptronic automatic gearboxes, while the 3.0i is only available with the 5-speed Steptronic.
Three different packages are available - Standard, Activity and Sport, giving a variety of trim options.
The Activity Package, which costs R18 800 extra on both models, includes aluminium running boards, the electrically operated Panorama glass sliding/tilt sunroof, and a stowage compartment kit which includes nets and a reversible floor tray.
The Sport package costs R17 900 more on the 2.5i and R17 000 on the 3.0i, and this gives a sports leather steering wheel with multi-function buttons, star-spoke 8J x 18 inch alloy wheels with 235/50 R18 tyres, sports seats for the driver and front passenger, high gloss satin chrome trim and white indicator lenses.
X3 2.5i Standard manual R385 000; automatic R398 000.
X3 2.5i Activity manual R403 800; auto R416 800.
X3 2.5i Sport manual R402 900; auto R415 900.
X3 3.0i Standard auto R428 00.
X3 3.0i Activity auto R446 800.
X3 3.0i Sport auto R445 000.
On the outside the X3 has the same stubby nose and pinch-sided styling successfully introduced on the Z4 - currently, to my mind, the best-looking of the new Chris Bangle master-minded designs - and it offers a fine combination of chic and macho necessary to woo the Sandton and Constantia housewives the car is so clearly aimed at.
Inside the styling is less severe than other new BMW interiors, with a major plus point that the SatNav system, where fitted, has a foldaway console that doesn't impinge when you don't need it.
Although leather trim comes standard, I couldn't help feeling that the interior didn't measure up to the price tag. Build standards were high (the car is made by Steyr in Austria) but some of the plastics, such as that used on the centre console, seemed more Korean than German...
Ironically, although real wood trim is used on the console and on the door pulls, it looks more like plastic, and features some rough edges.
The one area where the car scores big time, however, is in space. This one has more room in the back than either a 3 Series or a 5 Series, with legroom and headroom plentiful, and huge luggage capacity that can be enlarged further by the split and fold rear seats.
Unlike the X5 the X3 has a single piece tailgate, and a low loading height for easy accessibility.
The basic facts and figures show that this is an all-new model series: at 4 565 mm the X3 is 87 mm longer than the 3 Series Touring, but almost 30 cm shorter than the new 5 Series Saloon. And it's 102 mm shorter than the X5 (as well as being narrower and lower).
The X3 has a long wheelbase, resulting in short front and rear overhangs, and its 2 795 mm is 45 mm less than that of the X5. Ground clearance of the X3 is 201 mm.
Developing 170 kW (at 5 900 r/min), and with 300 Nm of torque at 3 500 r/min, the X3 3.0i reaches a top speed in standard trim of 210 km/h, the optional high-speed set-up available with the Sports Package allowing an even higher top speed of 224 km/h.
The 0 -100 km/h sprint is covered in just 8.1 seconds, and claimed overall fuel consumption is 11.4 litres/100 km.
The power unit featured in the X3 2.5i develops 141 kW at 6 000 r/min with torque of 245 Nm at 3 500 r/min. Top speed is 208 km/h, with 0 -100 km/h in 11.2 seconds for the manual, 11.9 seconds for the auto. And overall fuel consumption figures are 11.2 litres/100 km and 11.9 litres/100 km respectively.
Unladen weight is between 1 740 kg (X3 2.5i) and 1 765 kg (X3 3.0i). The optional towing hook on the X3 2.5 is homologated for trailers weighing up to 1 800 kg; the three-litre model is capable of towing up to 2 000 kg on a trailer equipped with brakes.
However, the clever part of the X3 is the xDrive system - also now fitted on the X5.
This system uses a centrally mounted electronically controlled clutch to transfer power to the wheel that needs it most. Using the DSC stability control sensors, xDrive ensures optimum traction both on and off-road.
On the road
Die Hel is situated in the middle of nowhere. To get there we flew to George, then drove to Oudtshoorn before hiving off to Gamkaskloof, approximately 100 km from South Africa's ostrich capital.
Die Hel is in fact a nickname, derived from early days of travel when people would talk about going to "Die Hel and back" to get to Gamkasklook, which is surrounded by the Swartberg Nature Reserve.
The reason for this is that there's only one road in and out, a twisting tortuous route that these days is smooth enough for an ordinary car, but still best suited to an agile four-wheel drive.
An ideal place, in fact, to test the X3.
I could give you a blow by blow account of our pace, and the tightness of the bends, and the way the car handled surface changes.
But I won't bore you except to say it's superb in those conditions, which is probably as extreme as most X3 owners will ever want to get.
However, the inclusion of Hill Descent Control in the spec. can make it possible to go some way off the beaten track if you so wish, and it will ford water up to half a metre deep.
That said, the car really comes into its own when you hit high-speed windery on smooth tar.
It grips like a sports car, and when you get used to the fact that you're sitting quite high off the road you can commit to corners fearlessly, safe in the knowledge that the combination of xDrive and electronic stability control will safely get you through.
There's certainly none of the excessive body roll or unpleasant weight transfer normally associated with a 4x4.
There was one negative about travelling to Die Hel. One of our party got a puncture. A spacesaver "Marie biscuit" is stored under the car at the back, and when fitted it limits range to 80 km and speed to 80 km/h.
But what do you do with the punctured tyre and wheel if you've got luggage and passengers aboard?
I know Mrs. O would definitely not want it on HER lap, but there's not much else you can do with it...
When word first got out about the X3 it was expected that this would be a Freelander or RAV4 competitor.
However, neither of those come remotely close in terms of size or space, and certainly not on price.
In terms of overall feel, the most likely competitor for me would be Subaru's superb Forester 2.5 Turbo. It's on and off-road feel is much like the BMW's, although the Subaru's acceleration and top speed is much better.
But for most customers the one thing the Subaru lacks, despite super capability and a huge price difference, is that BMW badge.
And that's why BMW SA will sell every one of the 1 000 X3s it's getting this year!
Other price opponents: VW Touareg 2.5 R5 TDI R454 000; Volvo XC90 2.5 T R440 000; Toyota Prado 3OTD R419 800; Jeep Grand Cherokee 4.7 R382 900; Jeep Cherokee LTD 3.7 R318 100; Land Rover Discovery 3.9 V8 R340 000; Toyota RAV4 2.0 R294 000.