The third generation of BMW’s X3, which was launched in Portugal, has managed to evade the ugly stick that seemed to have afflicted the second and first generations.

For its new looks, you can thank exterior designer Calvin Luk, who was also responsible for the current X1, the 1 Series facelift and the Z4 concept first shown at Pebble Beach Concours a few weeks ago.

BMW X3 M40i
BMW X3 M40i

We will bring you an interview with Luk in a forthcoming issue, but for now it is all about the new X3 and what we have gleaned from our drive in Portugal.

The company’s latest raft of sport utility vehicles have featured bigger and more assertive grilles. The X7 concept, shown at the recent Frankfurt Motor Show, is a prime example and the new X3 follows that trajectory. While some might find it overwhelming, it’s impossible to ignore — which is arguably the whole point.

That said, the new model’s proportions are every bit as agreeable and you would be hard-pressed to find an angle that looks incongruent with the rest of the package.

However, it is in the cabin appointments that there has been the most significant move upmarket, with lashings of satin silver plastics adorning the cabin in a 7 Series manner.

This was particularly evident in the sporty M40i, which is the first M Performance model to be introduced into the X3 range. We will explain this a bit later, because the X3’s significance is not only about the sheer brilliance that is the third generation model, but also the fact it will now be built at the Rosslyn plant in Tshwane.

You will have read reports about this in previous issues of Motor News, but now the model’s production on our shores is imminent. I have it on good authority that the first model, a pre-production version, rolled off the assembly line a few weeks ago.

Of course, there will be a great deal of quality vetting as far as that is concerned, but according to Klaus von Moltke, head of project X3, the first full production models should roll off the assembly line by December.

I am confident the local assembly will churn out world-class X3 models, which will at this stage supply most of Europe. Von Moltke says the Spartanburg, South Carolina plant in the US, which has been responsible for production of all X models, has reached overcapacity.

The interior has touches of 5 and 7 Series about it. Picture: BMW
The interior has touches of 5 and 7 Series about it. Picture: BMW

The BMW board then had to delegate production of the X3 to countries such as China and SA to meet demands. This bodes well for the country as many of the model’s parts will be locally sourced, which shows a great deal of investor confidence in the country.

Back to the X3, though, and the M40i in particular, which will be the high-performance offering until the X3M makes its debut in the not-too-distant future. It is distinguishable from its siblings by the anthracite kidney grille and wing mirrors and 21-inch M Performance wheels with mixed tyres, which are home to blue M Performance brake calipers.

At the rear, dual trapezoidal exhausts sprouting out on either side of the rear valance belt out a melodic straight-six howl at lofty revs.

The cabin has sports seats, M40i badges and a thick-rimmed M Sport wheel. Overall it melds a high-premium polish and tactility with just the right hints of sportiness.

While the overhangs have basically remained the same, the wheelbase has been extended slightly, which has given rear occupants a bit more leg room. The boot has remained fairly unchanged at 550l (1,600l with electrically retractable rear seat backs folded).

We spent a lot of time at the wheel of the M40i, which with its 3.0l Twin Power turbo engine making 265kW and 500Nm, is an absolute peach of a performer.

The company has introduced a Land Rover style activity wrist key for the X3. Picture: BMW
The company has introduced a Land Rover style activity wrist key for the X3. Picture: BMW

Allied to the xDrive four-wheel drive — which has a rear-biased torque split — and the eight-speed automatic replete with launch control, this will be the X3 of choice for those who enjoy a sporty streak.

Snaking through the winding roads of the town of Sintra outside Lisbon, I found the response of the engine immediate, the grip levels prodigious and body control was superb for a vehicle of this stature.

The M Performance sports exhaust adds a fruity soundtrack to the cocktail, particularly when you have dialled Sport+ into the drive mode selector. This one will take the fight directly to the Mercedes-AMG GLC43 and should make for an interesting comparison.

We then switched to the xDrive30d with its familiar 3.0l turbo diesel putting out 195kW and 620Nm. It remains a stellar performer with almost irreproachable fuel efficiency.

To put that high torque figure to the test, we drove over some gravel roads, which included steep inclines and declines where the vehicle’s hill descent control did most of the work. Granted, the vehicle performed remarkably well under these conditions, but not many X3s will probably venture off-road.

When the model is launched here towards the end of 2017, it will be available in xDrive30i (185kW and 350Nm), xDrive20d (140kW and 400Nm), xDrive30d (195kW and 620Nm) and headlined by the M40i.

Pricing will start at R684,200 rising to R991,100 and the new X3 should be on showroom floors by the end of November.

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