Friday 23 February 2018

X3 comes of age for BMW

Lower emissions help cut the price of new model by more than €4,000

X3: Few can match its agility and sporty drive.
X3: Few can match its agility and sporty drive.

Eddie Cunningham Motoring Editor

THEY can say what they like about the new BMW X3 but I think the ‘money’ will speak louder than anything.

Sure, it’s much bigger inside and there’s a lot of equipment – leather upholstery, dual control air con, aluminium roof rails and iDrive controls are standard – but the price is the one element that will put renewed focus on this.

It will cost around €4,000 less than the current one when it gets into our showrooms on November 20. In other words, its price drops to €46,660 on-the-road.

In doing so it overcomes one of the major criticisms of the existing model – that it was too close in price to the exceptional and much larger X5.

They have also managed to overcome the other major crib – that it was too small inside. The cabin is now much bigger, palpably so. It will take four adults comfortably and five with a little push (but not much).

Central to the lower price is the two-litre diesel engine which manages to increase power to 184bhp while reducing emissions to 149g/km. That is impressive by any standards because it means the VRT drops to 20pc. The road tax now also comes in at €302 a year.

That 4-cylinder engine – there will just be the 2-litre for now – pushed us along at a rate of knots on our first drive yesterday. I drove the six-speed manual and I certainly knew there was 184bhp under the bonnet.

Power in this is up approximately 7bhp but they’ve managed to cut consumption by what seems an extraordinary 14pc (to 5.6 litres/100km).

The figures are impressive for this sort of vehicle: 0-100kmh takes 8.5 seconds and the top speed is 210kmh. However, I was disappointed that the engine wasn’t much quieter. I felt BMW could have dampened things down a fair bit more.

Despite that, it is one of those engines you just love to drive with deep reserves of pulling power and plenty of zip for overtaking.

In terms of looks, there is no mistaking it for anything other than a BMW sports activity vehicle. Somehow or another, here and there, they have managed to make it look a fair bit different from the current one.

I was talking to one of the designers and he agreed the changes when taken separately are small, but together they mark a pronounced sharpening of design and focus.

The most striking element is the punch contrived by the combination of the kidney grille and headlights at the front.

The manufacturers were at pains yesterday to emphasise the newcomer’s off-road capabilities, not that anyone is going to pull trailers across muddy hillsides with this. Rather, the emphasis is to highlight the level of traction and balance that translates into a sharp handling, taut driving machine on the tarmac from the four-wheel drive xDrive technology.

I – and thousands like me – love the elevated driving position in motors like this. The more I think of it the more I realise how important that has become for those who now find themselves almost at a loss to drive an ordinary-level saloon. There are loads of decentsized storage slots, cupholders, trays and nicky-nooks for the family on the move. And an 8.8-inch (that is big) hi-res screen incorporates the sat nav.

The rear is designed for three – two adults and a mediumsized teenager I’d say – and BMW is claiming a best-in-segment for the luggage compartment which goes from 550 litres to 1,600 litres when the rear seats are folded flat.

The three segments of the rear seat backrest can be split 40/20/40 with each folded separately or together. Stop/start technology is on board too, while other frugality additions include brake energy regeneration, electric power steering, the six-speed manual gearbox, the fact that it is 25kg lighter, electric power steering and reduced rolling resistance tyres.

On and off the road the newly developed suspension came into its own in a moderately energetic drive yesterday. Frankly it is no more than you’d expect from this sports activity (not utility) vehicle. Few can match its agility and sporty drive.

There are many contributing factors, such as the five-link rear axle and 92mm wider track. Options include Dynamic Damper control which electronically adapts the dampers’ reactions to the road conditions and your manner of driving.

So you can choose between Normal, Sport and Sport+. There’s a big range of options by the way – from panorama sunroof and high-end audio equipment to a tow coupling that has an electronically pivoting ball head.

You can also get head-up display, adaptive cornering headlights and reversing camera including Top View (easily the best around).

But at the end of the day, lower price, more space (it now has the same footprint as the original X5 believe it or not) and equipment are the basics they’ve managed to get right for a market so sensitive to value for money.

The X3 has grown up big time. Thankfully the price has gone the other way. It’s not a bad combination these days.

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