The X3 coped with some very narrow village roads. Picture: MARK SMYTH
The X3 coped with some very narrow village roads. Picture: MARK SMYTH

Understandably, many people are upset about the high cost of fuel at the moment.

It is not that long ago that the oil price exceeded $100 a barrel with some predicting it would double. Since then the oil price has dropped well below those highs, although it has risen again in recent months. However, the fuel price has risen and risen and risen again to its current high level.

This isn’t an editorial about the fuel price though, it is a review of the latest generation BMW X3 M40i, a car that boasts a 3.0l six-cylinder petrol engine with turbocharging and a 0-100km/h time of 4.8 seconds. It has been fettled by BMW’s M performance division while having space for a family and their paraphernalia.

All of which made it a great choice to drive around the UK, until you consider that the petrol price there equates to R25.71 a litre. Possibly not such a great choice then I thought to myself as we headed out of Heathrow Airport. It is, of course, a performance SUV and you only buy one if you understand that you might have to fill it every five minutes, except that we didn’t.

It’s hardly hard-core off-roading but the X3 coped with a farm road rather well. Picture: MARK SMYTH
It’s hardly hard-core off-roading but the X3 coped with a farm road rather well. Picture: MARK SMYTH

No sooner had we left Heathrow than we hit the M25, notorious as being one of Europe’s biggest car parks.
Traffic slowed and so we trundled along at a gentle pace before heading onto the A3 and then through beautiful English villages to our destination.

Occasionally we got to put the pedal down a little providing an opportunity to listen to the superb sound from the engine and sports exhaust, but the weather was good, the scenery great and we were in no rush.

Which is probably why we achieved 28.6 miles to the gallon. That’s 8.2l/100km. Not bad for a six-cylinder with 265kW and 500Nm.

The X3 coped with some very narrow village roads. Picture: MARK SMYTH
The X3 coped with some very narrow village roads. Picture: MARK SMYTH

Over the course of the weekend, the Beemer took us through villages, over the Goodwood car park (a field basically) along gravel tracks and down single track roads when we didn’t want to sit in the long queues to get in and out of the Duke of Richmond’s estate.

It did a run back to Heathrow and then 100 miles west and still the consumption remained
fairly consistent. In fact by the time I met up with a man with a truck who was going to take the car back to BMW UK, the average was still 8.9l/100km, exactly the average BMW claims. Not bad at all.

I obviously need to point out that it wasn’t exactly driven as a performance SUV. We didn’t head for the Welsh hills and the famous mountain passes where enthusiasts take their sports cars on the weekend.

£1.47 a litre for unleaded fuel, that’s R25.71 a litre. Picture: MARK SMYTH
£1.47 a litre for unleaded fuel, that’s R25.71 a litre. Picture: MARK SMYTH

We didn’t charge through Cotswolds B-roads or Scottish highlands. It was all rather sedate really, but evidence of the performance was always there. The M40i growled when you wanted it to and the engine response was immediate when the navigation said duck out of leave the traffic and go down a back road.

I even did a bit of very mild off-roading when I realised a narrow road to my destination was no longer accessible. I turned around, headed down the road and turned onto a farm track. The X3 forded through a small river, along a bumpy track and out the other end, all without so much as a flicker of the traction control light. Hardly conquering the Kalahari I grant you, but more than most X3 owners will ever do.

It is difficult to give a verdict on the car, because I could have done all of that in an X3 2.0l diesel. The M40i is a performance machine, engineered to be driven not cruised, but what the experience showed is that it can be both and more.

People buy sports cars because they want to know they can if the environment is suitable and the mood takes them. The BMW X3 M40i is the same. It’s a great reflection on the level of efficiency that car companies are managing to achieve these days, but it is also a great reflection on the fact that they are managing to do so while still delivering real performance.