How BMW's all new grown-up X3 gives you bigger and better while the 6GT rivals 7 Series for space
First drive: BMW X3, 6 GT
As more and more buyers abandon saloons and hatchbacks for apparently more versatile SUVs, vehicles such as the BMW X3 are becoming increasingly important to the automaker.
There's a new X3 on the way, which we'll get here next month, but we had a chance to drive it recently in Portugal.
The X3 has really grown up and is now based on the 5 Series' chassis, so all the tech from that car is available, including level three autonomous driving.
The car has grown by 5cm in length and wheelbase and all this extra room has gone into the interior, making it more spacious.
At the moment, all X3 versions will come with four-wheel drive. A base model with rear-wheel drive may follow, but it's not guaranteed. Also standard is BMW's excellent 8spd automatic transmission.
We first tried the X3 off-road; it was highly capable. Our route was a mountainous forest track so dry I couldn't help thinking of the recent forest fires. It's easy to see how they started.
Our test cars had 3-litre diesel engines, and the prodigious low down torque, high ground clearance and clever four-wheel drive hardware made light work of things.
Most of the time, second gear was all we needed, with the standard Hill Descent Control taking care of steeper paths.
For the official road drive we had an X3 M40i top-of-the-range with a 360bhp 6cyl petrol.
Hardly relevant for the Irish market, but it was indecently fun with huge performance and grip; 20ins alloys and optional adaptive suspension completed the changes to this first M version of the X3.
Of more interest in Ireland will be the 2-litre diesel, which will start from €57,730. That's about €4,000 more than the current model, but standard equipment has been enhanced significantly: 18ins alloys are now standard, along with an automatic transmission, LED headlights, auto tailgate and acoustic glass for the windscreen.
Allowing for the extras, there's no price rise really, and the car is bigger, lighter and more aerodynamic.
The base xLine is joined by an M Sport variant and a new Luxury trim to complete the range.
We also got the chance to try the new 6 Series Gran Turismo, a car that in every way except the name replaces the outgoing 5GT (never quite took off).
BMW are hoping a move upmarket will help, and to this end have stretched the wheelbase and length to match that of the larger 7 Series saloon.
Not only does this liberate huge cabin space, it also lends the car a much sleeker, sportier look. It's quite a handsome design now.
Again, it's based on a 5 Series chassis, but the car has been widened, dictating changes to the dashboard design. There's huge room in the front, and fit and finish are all first-rate.
Rear-seat passengers are well catered for, with lots of legroom and the option of rear seat entertainment screens and tilting seat backs. There's as much room back there as in a 7 Series. The rear seat is also lower than before, creating more head room.
Boot space is huge too (610 litres rises to 1,800 litres with the seats down).
Despite the extra room, it is up to 150kg lighter than its predecessor and sports a drag coefficient of 0.25.
Rear, self-levelling air suspension is standard across the range and there's an option of air suspension at the front, along with dynamic damper control, active roll stabilisation and active steering. Both rear-wheel and four-wheel drive variants will be offered.
We tried a top-of-the-range 640i with a creamy-smooth in-line 6cyl engine. It was a comfortable and engaging drive, but particularly good in the back seat.
The price hasn't been revealed yet, but we'll find out before the car arrives in Ireland this November.