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New X3 revealed: vital for BMW, crucial for SA

2017-10-17 12:02

Image: Supplied

Ferdi de Vos

Lisbon, Portugal - The third-generation BMW X3, latest incarnation of the vehicle that launched the mid-size Sports Activity Vehicle segment, is a vital model in Munich’s line-up – not only for BMW, but also for South Africa.

Why? Well, since the X3 was introduced in 2003 it has proved immensely popular. More than 1.5-million new registrations across the two model generations have been recorded so far, and with the SUV craze rolling on unabated much is expected from the new incumbent.

Proudly South African

More importantly, especially in terms of our local industry, is the fact that the new X3 will be produced at BMW Plant Rosslyn in South Africa. In preparation for this BMW South Africa has pumped an additional R160-million into the facility to enhance production line speed. 

This additional enhancement, coming off the back of a R6-billion investment announced in November 2015, will raise the plant’s maximum production capacity by almost 10%, from 71 000 units to 76 000 units, in anticipation of production volumes exceeding all previous figures in its 44-year history.

Image: Supplied 

BMW X-models accounted for more than 30% of total global sales for the brand last year and the X3, in turn, accounted for more than 24% of the global BMW X-model range.

Created by Australian designer Calvin Luk.the new generation BMW X3 follows in its predecessors’ tyre tracks by combining strong, muscular looks with a sporting presence – as prominently demonstrated by the fleet of X3 M40i’s, the first M Performance model in the X3 range, at our disposal for test drives in and around Lisbon.

Luk’s styling, with chunky “three-dimensional” kidney grille treatment and foglamps featuring a hexagonal design for the first time on an X-model, portrays confidence and poise, brings the X3 closer to Big Brother X5 in terms of looks.

This is accentuated by understated character lines on the side and more finely balanced proportions between the long bonnet with extremely short front overhang and the glasshouse with roofline that slopes markedly to the rear.

At the rear, the light clusters with a three-dimensional look in optional full-LED guise, a prominent roof spoiler and beefy twin exhaust tailpipes adds a further touch of masculinity to the design.

Three trim variants

The newcomer is available in three trim variants, including Luxury Line trim with chrome radiator grille bars, two-tone underbody protection and classic light-alloy wheels to emphasize the elegance of the X3 design.

The xLine model with radiator grille and other exterior details in aluminium and specifically designed alloy wheels emphasises the robustness of the SAV, while the M Sport model – with M aero features, a sports braking system and blue callipers, a dramatic wheel design and optional Phytonic Blue paint – focuses attention on the dynamics of the new X3. Now standard is 18-inch wheels (previously it was 17-inch), with options for wheel and tyre combinations in sizes up to 21-inch. 

Inside the new BMW X3 is classier and more luxurious than its predecessor. The interior design, with hexagonal forms and precise, bevelled edges follows BMW tradition with a driver-focused and ergonomically optimised layout. Material quality and fit and finish is now in the X5 league, and evidence of the attention to interior detail includes the X logo which occurs frequently in different forms – for instance embossed in the electroplated accents in the front and rear doors and on the B-pillars. 

Image: Supplied 

The three model lines also take specific approaches to the looks and specifications inside. The xLine majors on elegance, with the standard sports seats swapped for full leather items while the Luxury Line model offers a Sensatec-covered instrument panel with contrasting stitching and fine wood trim strips with pearl chrome accents.

Inside the M Sport model M-specific items abound, including an M Sport leather steering wheel, sports seats, anthracite-coloured BMW Individual headliner and aluminium interior trim strips, while optional BMW Individual features is centred around three exquisite variants of Merino leather.

Options galore

Equipment options not offered for its predecessor include three-zone automatic climate control, which adds separate temperature controls for the rear compartment to those for the driver and front passenger.

Perforated leather seats are also available, while the angle of the 40:20:40 split/folding rear seat backrests can be adjusted individually. This optional cargo feature also allows the backrests to be released remotely from the load compartment, expanding the standard load capacity of 550 litres to 1600 litres.

Contour and ambient lighting is also optional, as well as an Ambient Air package of fragrances for the interior with a choice of eight pleasant scents in three levels of intensity…

Also available is a generously sized panoramic glass roof and acoustic glazing for the two front side windows (besides the standard acoustic glazing for the windscreen).

The BMW Display Key (familiar from the 7-Series and 5-Series) is another new option which not only locks and unlocks the vehicle by radio remote control, but also shows a variety of status information and serves as the control unit for the optional auxiliary heating, for example.
In terms of BMW ConnectedDrive the BMW Personal CoPilot that focuses on driver assistance and (semi-)automated driving with Active Cruise Control and Driving Assistant Plus, including Steering and lane control assistant, Lane Change Assistant and Lane Keeping Assistant, is optionally available.

Image: Supplied 

This line-up puts the new X3 in a league of its own compared to its direct rivals, and the X3 now also features BMW Connected to integrate the vehicle seamlessly into a user’s digital life. It can, for example, transfer mobility-related information automatically into the vehicle’s navigation system to calculate the optimum departure time for a journey. 

It now also features gesture control of navigation and infotainment system functions while the likewise optional Voice Assistant lets the driver use everyday language as commands. Finally, the optional Head-Up Display projects drive-related information into the driver’s field of vision.

Optimised drivetrains

In line with BMW’s EfficientDynamics strategy the application of lightweight design measures means the new X3 is up to 55kg lighter than its respective predecessor models, and also has a classbeating drag coefficient of Cd 0.29. 

A more efficient line-up of engines, consisting of two diesels and three petrol units (only two for South Africa), is available in the new range. It consists of the xDrive20d with four-cylinder diesel engine, the xDrive30d with a straight-six diesel unit, and the range-topping petrol model, the X3 M40i – all earmarked for South Africa.

They will be followed by the X3 xDrive30i (also scheduled for SA) and the 20i engine variant, available in both rear-wheel drive and xDrive versions. However, these models will not be made available locally.

The M40i is powered by a new M Performance 3-litre six-cylinder in-line engine generating 265kW – an increase of 40kW (+18 percent) over the previous top variant, the X3 xDrive35i.

It’s peak torque of 500 Nm represents a full 100 Nm – or 25 percent – hike over the xDrive35i, equipping the M40i to sprint from 0 to 100 km/h in 4.8 seconds and hit a top speed of 250 km/h.
The 2-litre four-cylinder petrol engine in the X3 xDrive30i delivers 185kW – 5kW more than the outgoing xDrive28i, and 350Nm of torque between 1,450 and 4,800rpm, enough to sprint from 0-100km/h in 6.3 seconds and reach a top speed of 240 km/h.

The 3.0-litre straight-six diesel in the X3 xDrive30d now delivers 195 kW and 80 Nm more torque (620 Nm) between 2,000 and 2,500 rpm, while the X3 xDrive20d has an output of 140 kW and 400 Nm of torque between 1,750 and 2,500 rpm. Both will be available locally from next month.
All the engines are mated to an eight-speed Steptronic transmission and all the models are equipped with xDrive all-wheel drive with a lighter rear differential and a modified transfer case.

Enhanced dynamics
With a 5 cm longer wheel base and a 50:50 weight distribution the dynamic prowess of the new X3 has been enhanced. It is further augmented by the xDrive system, offering grip on slippery surfaces.

With Driving Experience Control you can choose between various modes – Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport+ (only in the 30i, 30d and M40i) – changing the vehicle dynamics to be more comfortable or more efficient to drive.

The combination of a stiff chassis, reduced unsprung mass, a double-joint spring strut axle at the front and a five-link rear axle and rear-wheel biased AWD makes the new X3 a pleasure to drive.
Handling dynamics, straight-line stability and steering feel have benefitted from the uprated axle kinematics and the power steering system with Servotronic function, and a host of dynamic safety systems are available.

In its basic specification, the new X3 rides on 18-inch light-alloy wheels (17-inch previously), while wheels up to 21 inches in diameter are available and dynamic options include an M Sport suspension, Dynamic Damper Control, M Sport brakes and variable sport steering.

On a short off-road track, the X3 xDrive30d showed it possesses the same off-road skills as its predecessor. With a ground clearance of 204 mm, acceptable approach (25.7°) and departure angles (22.6°), a breakover angle of 19.4° and a fording depth of 500 mm, it was quite at home on rutted gravel and rocky, churned-up tracks.

So, is it any good?
For sure. With its more striking, dynamic design, powerful yet efficient drive systems and quite lavish appointments the new X3 is set to continue to success story of its popular predecessors.
The quality of its interior trim and design and the quietness of its cabin enhances its appeal even further, and in M40i guise it also blends outstanding driving qualities with sporty looks (perhaps a precursor to a true M model?).

But with a price tag just under R1-million (without any options added) the new X3 flagship model isn’t exactly cheap, and the same applies to the other models across the range.

It also remains to be seen how those optional low-profile 20- and 21-inch tyres will cope with local road conditions, particularly rutted dirt tracks. But having moved further upmarket the new X3 makes one wonder if it still makes sense to purchase an X5… All this bodes well for Rosslyn, with local production of the X3 scheduled to start in the first half of next year.

Models and pricing for South Africa:

BMW X3 M40i:
Engine: Six-cylinder in-line petrol
Capacity: 2998cc 
Power: 265 kW at 5,500 – 6.500 rpm
Max. torque: 500 Nm at 1,520 – 4,800 rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed Sport Steptronic
Acceleration (0 – 100 km/h): 4.8 seconds
Top speed: 250 km/h
Consumption (combined): 8.4 – 8.2 l/100 km
CO2 emissions (combined): 193 – 188 g/km
Price (Sport Steptronic): R991,100

BMW X3 xDrive30i: (from December 2017)
Engine: Four-cylinder petrol 
Capacity: 1998cc
Power: 185 kW at 5,200 rpm
Max. torque: 350 Nm at 1,450 – 4,800 rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed Steptronic/Sport Steptronic
Acceleration (0 – 100 km/h): 6.3 seconds
Top speed: 240 km/h
Consumption (combined): 7.4 l/100 km
CO2 emissions (combined): 168 g/km
Price (standard model): R739,800
Price (Sport Steptronic): R742,800

BMW X3 xDrive30d:
Engine: Six-cylinder in-line diesel
Capacity: 2993cc
Power: 195 kW at 4,000 rpm
Max. torque: 620 Nm at 2,000 – 2,500 rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed Steptronic/Sport Steptronic
Acceleration (0 – 100 km/h): 5.8 seconds
Top speed: 240 km/h
Consumption (combined): 6.0 – 5.7 l/100 km
CO2 emissions (combined): 158 – 149 g/km
Price (standard model): R868,300
Pice (Sport Steptronic) R871,300

BMW X3 xDrive20d:
Engine: Four-cylinder diesel
Capacity: 1995cc
Power: 140 kW at 4,000 rpm
Max. torque: 400 Nm at 1,750 – 2,500 rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed Steptronic transmission
Acceleration (0 – 100 km/h): 8.0 seconds,
Top speed: 213 km/h
Consumption (combined): 5.4 – 5.0 l/100 km
CO2 emissions (combined): 142 – 132 g/km
Price: R684 200

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