A truly gripping ride
Now and again I really get put on the spot. There I was having a grand cup of tea and a second slice of Madeira cake when the cousin's phone rang.
Little did I know he was to weave a web of intrigue.
"No, bother," says he to the caller. "Mr Cunningham is here with a big flash Beemer. He'll sort you out."
I saw the glint of devilment in his eye and knew I faced a test.
It transpired the caller was another cousin whose wife was sort of stranded in the snow and ice. Both mine host and the other cousin have four-wheel-drives of a sort but the steep hills, sharp turns and inclines had deterred progress on a couple of earlier sorties on less urgent business.
So I, and the new BMW X3, with its x-Drive four-wheel-drive system, were to be put to the test in a real way.
Secretly, I had no real concern because in a circuitous route over hard-snow roadways to my cup-of-tea destination I had tried out some hard accelerating and braking on a clear patch of non-traffic tarmac.
So I accepted the challenge on condition that the two cousins accompanied me. Now, these are hard men to impress -- as I've found to my cost several times over the years. My dilemma was to make sure I took absolutely no chances but still put on a little bit of a show, sure you know what I mean.
So off we went at a decent rate of knots. I felt perfectly safe and well within limits. What the cousins did not know, ha ha, was that my wheels were shod with winter tyres as well. They made a huge difference: having all the technology is fine but that extra bit of grip and hold paves the way for it to manifest itself.
As we skittled down a sharp narrow road, I could detect a slight intake of breath on both their parts. Then I showed them how well the ABS and traction control worked as I applied solid pressure to the brakes (I had done this off road earlier and was happy there was no risk at all). A couple of approving nods later and we were heading uphill again without as much as a hint of a slip, skid or loss of speed.
Then down a dirty, twisty hill with aplomb and, finally, around the corner/hill that had thwarted several vehicles one morning previously. Not a bother.
At this stage the pretence was over. The two boys were impressed and prepared to admit it. The lady we "rescued" listened to their praise with a mixture of joy and fear. She looked at me, pointed out that she wanted no showing off on the return journey; she was nervous. So I promised and whisked all four of us home by the time you could say X3.
Was I the proud man when I pulled up outside their home? Listen, I have no problem taking credit for other people's input -- in this case the engineers at BMW who are trying to transform this "snobby woman's SUV" (a colleague's description) into something that earned the respect of two good judges.
Now that was all when the snow had so many imprisoned. Please God we won't have too much more of it but the episode I've just outlined makes a wider point. It is this: four-wheel-drive when subtly done -- as it is in the X3 -- can give you road-holding and balance that makes driving it enjoyable in ordinary weather conditions on our roads.
Frankly, I wouldn't concern myself too much with how the xDrive works. If you can just imagine a little techno-fairy in there somewhere making sure there is no slippage of the wheels you are more than half way to visualising the impact. I think, as my story shows, it works and that's really all that matters.
Anyway, there is more to this new arrival than wheels, and snow and grip and ego.
In response to a lot of criticism (including from me) they have managed to make this a good deal bigger. It was rightly panned for having too small a cabin and too large a price. Why buy this when an X5 beckoned?
The cabin is a good deal roomier now -- there was ample space for four adults and a decent array of cupholders, storage slots, trays etc. However, it is no more than it should always have been, so let's not lose the run of ourselves. The boot is much larger than I anticipated (and can go from 550 litres to 1,600 litres with the rear seats folded flat).
By the way, you can split the three segments of the rear-seat backrest 40/20/40 as one unit or into parts. Nifty.
The other critical element is that they've managed to knock around €4,000 off the price of the old one. Playing a part in that is the reduction in emissions that cuts down on Vehicle Registration Tax (VRT). It also means your road tax is down to €302 a year. At the same time they increased the power of the engine by 7bhp (there's a serious 184bhp on tap now) while cutting consumption by 14pc to 5.6 litres/100km -- stop/start technology contributes a bit to this.
In a previous drive I thought the 2-litre diesel a tad rough and raucous for a BMW but it didn't impact that way at all for me on Irish soil. Indeed, it behaved extremely well. It had lots of low-down digging power and plenty of zip on the overtake.
It doesn't look that much different in the round. Indeed, it takes a bit of work to see change, but there are, of course, myriad changes. Perhaps the front is the most striking.
Around €46,000 is still a handful of money to pay for a moderately sized SAV any time, even if it is lower priced than before.
Still, it makes a far better case for itself than the old one.
And I know at least two hard-headed 4x4 owners it impressed in a big way.
BMW X3 mid-size sports activity vehicle (SAV), 2.0d (1,995cc, 184bhp, 0-100kmh in 8.5secs), 6spd gearbox, xDrive four-wheeldrive, CO2 of 149g/km; 5.6l/100km VRT is 20pc. €302 annual road tax.
From €45,810. Delivery, related charges extra.
Families, well-off couples.
Room, price, four-wheel-drive, equipment.
Still a lot of money; unfavourable comparisons with X5 linger.
Leather upholstery, dual-control air con, aluminium roof rails, iDrive controls, several airbags, electric power steering, multifunction steering wheel.
Others to consider
Audi Q, Land Rover Freelander, Volvo XC60, Honda CR-V
Star Rating: 82 / 100