Middleweight BMW X3 is right on the money
Decent performance and economy at a big price-saving over the X3 range-topper
Getting a handle on modern car nomenclature is rather like trying to keep up with South African cabinet reshuffles — it can keep one busy.
Recalling simpler bygone days when car badges usually denoted engine size, an unsuspecting buyer eyeing a new BMW X3 xDrive30i might well be mistaken for expecting a 3l six-cylinder engine under the bonnet. It’s in fact a 2l four-cylinder petrol turbo serving duty, as the powerful 3l six-pot engine is reserved only for the range-topping X3 M40i model.
Knowing in advance what engine’s in the snout has significant bearing on how you’ll perceive this middle model in the locally-built X3 range. Go into it expecting a six-cylinder and you’ll be underwhelmed by the pace and the sound; but get behind the wheel knowing it’s a 2l, and it overdelivers on promise.
BMW X3 xDrive 30i
We LIKE: Handling, performance, interior
WE DISLIKE: Vapid sound, some turbo lag
VERDICT: A value-for-money X3 with some vooma
With 185kW of power and 350Nm of torque, for a 2l vehicle the xDrive30i shifts along at a satisfyingly swift pace, and its claimed 0-100km/h sprint in 6.3 seconds and 240km/h top speed earn it the right to be called a middleweight sports SUV.
The sports part is a little watered-down by the lack of any charismatic acoustics; the four-cylinder engine’s very refined but sounds like the proverbial sewing machine. At Joburg altitude it also suffers from a touch of turbo lag in standing-start acceleration, but then I’m comparing it to the X3 M40i, which just feels so darned responsive every time you tickle the throttle.
Once this 2l version sheds the initial lag and gets into its stride, it makes rapid progress, with effortless cruising legs and the ability to briskly overtake long trucks.
This new X3 lives up to the sports tag in terms of its driving dynamics too, and the suspension’s on the firm side to ensure hunkered-down handling. Though the ride quality’s not bad it’s not particularly great either; this mid-sized SUV is clearly set up more for corner-carving ability and, for its size, this weighty Beemer makes quick direction-changes with impressive agility — if that’s what you want from an SUV.
The driver can switch between comfort, eco and sport modes which adjust the engine, transmission and steering responses (and the adaptive suspension too, if optionally fitted).
The tarmac is clearly this vehicle’s preferred playground, but the elevated 204mm ground clearance and xDrive all-wheel-drive system enable jaunts on rougher-than-expected gravel for more adventurous pursuits. While it’s not a “real” 4x4, the X3 is relatively capable offroad, thanks to its intelligent xDrive system being able to direct drive to the wheels with most grip — so on axle twisters you won’t end up with a wheel in the air spinning uselessly.
BMW has beefed up the styling of the third-generation X3, and while the length is basically unchanged it’s a little wider and sports a bigger kidney grille to give it more road presence. Full-LED tail lights with a 3D look give the rear a more distinctive edge too.
BMW’s interiors were becoming a little staid, but the designers are finding their mojo with the latest cars. The cabin of the new X3 has a more upmarket vibe with some classy touches. It can be further dolled-up with the optional interior ambient lighting, which has subtle light strips that can be set to one of several colours.
The xDrive30i comes with a half-decent array of standard-fit luxuries (see Tech Specs), but you’ll have to pay extra for some of the high-end stuff like a head-up display, wireless cellphone charger, electrically-powered front seats, locking/unlocking the car by touching the door handles, or using hand gestures to control things like the audio volume — to mention just a few of the options.
Semi-autonomous driver aids like automatic cruise control and lane-keeping assist are also available at extra cost.
Voice control technology in cars is becoming ever better and I was usually (though not always) able to change radio stations or input destinations by spoken instruction. The factory-fitted navigation also showed real-time traffic information on major routes, just like with Waze and Google Maps.
Cabin space inside the X3 comfortably accepts four tall adults and is roomy enough to make you question whether you really need to buy a larger X5. The big 550l boot expands to a cavernous 1,600l which swallows a 29” mountain bike whole.
In summary, I reckon the gutsy but economical 2.0l diesel at R711,369 is still the most sensible buy in the X3 range, but the appeal of the petrol xDrive30i is that at R776,631 it offers very decent performance and economy at a quarter-million rand saving over the range-topping M40i.
It may lack the character and outright pace of its six-cylinder brother, but that’s probably something one can live with at the price.
Type: four cylinder turbo petrol
Capacity: 1,998 cc
Power: 185kW at 5,200-6.500 r/min
Torque: 350Nm @ 1,450-4,800 r/min
Type: Eight-speed Steptronic automatic
Type: Full-time xDrive all-wheel drive with variable torque distribution between front and rear axle
Top speed: 240km/h
0-100km/h: 6.3 seconds
Fuel Consumption: 7.6 l/100 kml/100km (claimed); 10.5l/100km (as tested)
Hill descent control, automatic tailgate operation, rain sensor, automatic headlights, three-zone climate control, push-button engine start, remote central locking, leathertec upholstery, cruise control, navigation, six airbags, stability control, ABS brakes, electric mirrors, electric windows, LED fog lamps and low-beam headlights, daytime running lights, touch screen infotainment with iDrive and voice control, runflat tyres with pressure monitoring
Cost of ownership
Warranty: Two years/unlimited km
Maintenance plan: Five-year/100,000km Motorplan
Lease*: R16,595 per month
* at 10% interest over 60 months no deposit
MOTOR NEWS star rating
Value For Money ****
Audi Q5 45 TFSI Quattro, 185kW/370Nm – R754,000
Jaguar F-Pace 25t AWD Pure, 184kW/365Nm – R897,025
Lexus NX 300 EX, 175kW/350Nm – R690,900
Mercedes GLC300 4Matic, 180kW/370Nm – R775,391
Volvo XC60 T5 AWD Momentum, 187kW/350Nm – R693,346
Volvo XC60 T6 AWD Momentum, 235kW/400Nm – R745,384