Life Motoring

Tuesday 11 December 2018

Why new BMW X3 would 'need to be' as good as it is

Watch for price and cost of extra spec

Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

They have a saying down my way that fits this week’s review car quite well. If something has notably improved, we’d say “it would need to have” — thereby succinctly underscoring progress and pragmatic assessment in one phrase.

The new BMW X3 is much better than the old one. I have no problem saying that. But really, after several attempts, “it would need to” be. Not least because it is €4,000 or so more expensive. And not least because it has had several runs at improving, upgrading and impacting to become a shortlister for anyone looking for a posh SAV (it’s never SUV with BMW — it’s always Sports Activity Vehicle, SAV). Does it matter what it’s called so long as it does the business? Absolutely not.

Anyway, I’m old enough to remember the first X3 SAV. It was cramped and dowdy. The second was roomier but struggled to shake the overhanging legacy. So this new-gen would need to be a lot better. It is in many ways without necessarily being utterly convincing.

Leather and shiny metal can give any car a semblance of achievement, especially in an age where we are in danger of having our senses numbed by the sheer volume of SUVs (and SAVs).

Among those vying for your money in the X3 league are the likes of the Jaguar F-PACE, Volvo XC60, Mercedes GLC and many others.

What the X3 lacks in ‘personality’ (the F-PACE has it in abundance — it is a Jaguar so it would ‘need to’) it makes up for in tangible dynamism. In other words, there’s a feeling of energy coming through the drive. Look, I know that sounds like an esoteric reason for buying a car like this but the lines of differentiation between models are quickly narrowing and blurring in these days of the SUV (and SAV).

If you were to ask me what the X3 does best I’d, rather predictably, tell you ‘drive’. And I wouldn’t be surprised to hear you reply: “It would need to be. It’s a Beemer.” Point made all round.

But let’s tick a few other boxes (there are negative ones, too). The leather certainly lifts what is a fine interior, though its digital interface trails the best that Volvo (XC60) can offer. Nonetheless, this area of scroll-and-click has evolved into a much classier compendium and virulently dispels dashboard dullness.

The selection of devices that can connect now ranges from smartphones (iOS, Android) and smart wearables such as the Apple Watch and Samsung Gear (S2 and S3) to the Amazon Echo. All increasingly important ‘need-to-have’ elements on a modern SAV.

On more tangible practicalities... the X3 is roomier, thanks to 5cms more wheelbase and the boot’s design is such that you get to use every cubic centimetre — as well as being able to split/fold the rear row of seats for more if needs be.

Yes, it would need to offer all that. Others do similar, but it was still good to be able to adjust the angle of the 40:20:40 split/folding rear-seat backrests and, a couple of times, to use the expanded 1,600-litre luggage space with the seats folded.

With all-wheel drive I expected, and got, the decent drive I mentioned. Leaving aside the technicalities, the set-up gives better balance, a more controlled, assured way of dealing with the demands on stability from bends and curves. I found that agility impressive on energetic, slippery-surface drives over awkward Co Meath back roads.

The seats were excellent — I spent a lot, and I mean a lot, of time driving, or sitting, in this. I can’t emphasise enough how important that can be for prospective buyers. Styling, design, power and all that can be reduced to a load of ould cod if you can’t sit for a decent while (I spent hours) in relative comfort and not emerge with your legs half numb.

I didn’t need the power of the 3-litre diesel (good to have it though) because really there should be enough muscle in the 2-litre.

It was excellent on the motorway, which is where hundreds of kilometres accrued but, as I’m sure you’re thinking, it would need to be.

I could spatter several criticisms, such as the relatively conservative styling (still not as uninspiring as the new Audi Q5), the increased pricing (in fairness, equipment and technology account for a chunk of the rise) and the lack of need for all-wheel drive which adds to the price.

But the one thing I find most difficult to extrapolate is what’s standard spec and what is not. This isn’t just BMW being criticised. I think too many carmakers are conveying the impression that certain spec and technologies are part and parcel of a car.

In the majority of cases, lots of that stuff only kicks in at higher, more expensive, trim levels.

We need greater clarity on this. Considering there are thousands of euro at stake, you’d have to say many of them ‘need to’ up their game.


BMW X3, 2,993cc, 6cyl, xDrive Sports Activity Vehicle (SAV), 265bhp, 6.3/6.6litres/100km, 149/158g/km, 0-100kmh 5.8secs. Spec includes 3-zone auto climate control, 18ins alloys, 8spd auto transmission, LED head/tail lights, auto tailgate, acoustic glass. Also on the X3: Vernasca leather seats, sport steering wheel, ambient lighting, Business Navigation, Park Assist (including rear-park camera). Loads of driver assistance stuff: the new semi-autonomous CoPilot system includes Active Cruise Control and Driving Assistant Plus (steering/lane control assistant, lane change/keeping assistant). Price: from €58,580.

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