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We drive BMW's entry-level X3

2005-02-10 06:46

Wilmer Muller

One of the main criticisms of the BMW X3 range when it was launched locally in 2004 was that the pricing of the petrol models, the 2.5i and 3.0i, was "too high".

However, at R345 000 for the diesel model one tends to look at the X3 in a different light, and without doubt the X3 will now become an even more familiar sight in urban driveways.

Although R345k is still a premium price tag for any vehicle, it certainly sounds much better that R398 000 for the standard 2.5i and R446 800 for the top of the range 3.0i models.

Styling-wise the 2.0d is also similar to the petrol models and you can also choose from a wide variety of trim levels and specs.

As with the X5, BMW refers to the X3 as a "Sports Activity Vehicle" (SAV) and the 2.0d is also BMW's first four-cylinder model suitable for offroad driving.

Its 2-litre direct-injection common rail diesel unit develops a maximum output of 110 kW at 4 000 r/min with maximum torque of 330 Nm available from just 2 000 r/min. A six-speed manual gearbox is standard.

BMW claims that the average combined fuel consumption for the vehicle is 7.2 litres of diesel fuel on 100 km which could result in the X3 doing about 875 km on one tank.

Acceleration to 100 km/h is in 10.2 seconds, and in fourth gear the X3 2.0d accelerates from 80-120 km/h in 8.3 seconds. Top speed is 198 km/h.

But the big question of course is whether the 2.0d is as sporty and dynamic on the road as its petrol siblings.

Driving it

Driving the 2.0d was quite surprising, as the vehicle never felt sluggish on tarmac. Yes, there is the occasional down-gearing, for example when overtaking, but otherwise it is swift.

It doesn't feel too underpowered or rough, and one has to keep in mind this is the entry-level model and you don't buy this X3 because you are in need of speed or quick pull-offs. But once you get going on the open road this diesel X3 is an eager and happy cruiser.

Handling is as agile as the petrol X3's and of course the vehicle's dynamics are superb. Furthermore the overall experience on normal road conditions is on par with that of a sports sedan such as the BMW 3 Series.

Like all X3s it comes with BMW's xDrive all-wheel-drive system with an electronically controlled multiple-plate clutch. xDrive ensures better grip and traction on slippery and rough terrain.

The X3 is no bundu basher, and it is not supposed to be one, but it is quite capable of making mince meat of uneven surfaces and gravel roads. Even potholes and very rocky roads don't upset the X3 much.

However in two-litre diesel guise the X3 struggles a bit when tackling steep uphill conditions where a rough road surface force you to keep the car's speed low. In such conditions the car struggles a bit when the revs fall below about 1 800 r/min. But it is just something to keep in mind rather than to be concerned about.

Safety and comfort on off-road terrain are ensured by HDC (Hill Descent Control), both fitted as standard and automatically controlling both the speed of the vehicle and brake intervention on steep downhill gradients and there is no doubt that the X3's HDC does a great job.

The only real concern (on and off road) is that the X3 comes with a space saver spare wheel, which limits the vehicle's range to 80 km and speed limit to 80 km/h. This could be a problem for X3 drivers travelling in less civilised areas of South Africa.


The X3 2.0d comes as standard with 17 inch light-alloy rims in a new design.

There's also automatic air conditioning with air circulation control, an alarm system with radio remote and central locking, electrically-operated windows and mirrors, tyre pressure monitor, front side and head airbags in front, and manual headlamp height adjustment.

Accompanying the launch of the X3 2.0d, more new features enhancing comfort, communication, entertainment, and safety in all versions of the X3 were introduced as standard as of September.

The BMW Business CD audio system, for example, is now able to play CDs with MP3 files. Also, a child seat based on the ISOFIX standard can be fitted on the front passenger's seat, with the airbag function being deactivated in the process.

However, you can load the car with options such as 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.

Safety items include DSC Dynamic Stability Control, DBC Dynamic Brake Control, CBC Cornering Brake Control, as well as BMW's two-stage Brake Force Display for greater safety.

And like all of BMW's SAVs, the X3 2.0d also comes with BMW's Trailer Stability Control automatically recognising and correcting dangerous pendulum motion of the trailer.


There is no doubt the X3 is already quite a popular model in the BMW stable and looking at the carmaker's overall sales worldwide its small SAV is indeed a big hit for BMW.

The introduction of the 2.0d will increase demand for the X3 and I would not be surprised if this becomes the top selling model in the range as it offers much better value for money than the petrol models.

Although it is not as potent as the petrol X3s, it is a more sensible buy. Furthermore it is a practical vehicle with loads of space and you also have the ability to do limited off-roading.

As Wheels24 has pointed out several times before, there are more capable 4x4s you could buy for the price of an X3. But of course the BMW badge is a big selling point and it is perceived as a vehicle which will boost your image.

And few other vehicles (if any) in its class can match the great driving experience of the X3 - it is, after all, a BMW.

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