REVIEW DATE: 23 Jul 2010
Can the second generation X3 make a name for itself and more money for BMW? Steve Walker takes a look.
The positioning of the X3, sandwiched between the X1 and the X5 in BMW's 4x4 line-up, presents it with a particular set of problems. If it gets too big or flashy, it risks tap dancing on the toes of the larger X5. Make it too affordable though and suddenly the point of the compact X1 is called into question. The kind of balancing act that the X3 has to pull off is nothing new; manufacturers are constantly struggling to achieve the perfect equilibrium in their model ranges. The questions centre on how adeptly the latest model can pull it off.
The X3 is probably best described as a premium compact 4x4. That is a compact 4x4 sized vehicle with a premium badge and a price tag to match. It's not a car with a huge number of direct rivals because although there are numerous compact 4x4 models out there these days, only a handful can match the badge equity of that BMW roundel.
Despite occupying a niche that's relatively sparsely populated, the X3 has had a chequered history. The original car was regularly accused of deliberately dumbing down so as not to effect sales of the X5 luxury 4x4. Some disliked the looks, others felt the interior was too dowdy but it still proved far from unsuccessful. The arrival of the X1, an even smaller BMW 4x4, made the task facing this second generation X3 even more difficult but BMW is banking on an increase in size, efficiency and quality helping it find its place in the world.
Unlike the vast X5 which relies on six and eight cylinder engines, the X3 is also available with some of BMW's best four-pot units. The big seller is virtually certain to be the xDrive20d model with a 181bhp version of BMW's 2.0-litre diesel installed. There are lots of diesel engines out there with this kind of capacity but this has to be the best with 380Nm of torque helping the substantial X3 through 62mph in 8.5s. Other highlights include the xDrive23d which uses a similar engine but with twin turbochargers helping it to 201bhp and those who must have a sextet of cylinders can go for the xDrive35i range-topper with its turbocharged straight-six petrol. Packing 302bhp that model will pass 62mph in only 5.4s.
"The difficult middle child in BMW's 4x4 range, the X3 is looking to break free from the shadow of its siblings"
All X3 models in the UK are four-wheel-drive but there is a choice of gearboxes. Both the six-speed manual that comes as standard and the eight-speed automatic come with an automatic start-stop function as standard to save fuel. The independent suspension has been redesigned for these second generation cars and BMW's Drive Dynamic Control system is available as an option. The DDC set up that was previously seen on a number of BMW's other products allows drivers to switch between Normal, Sport and Sport+ modes to alter the set-up of the vehicle. Adaptive dampers adjust the ride and body control, throttle response and steering weight are altered, automatic gearshifts are varied in speed and the DSC stability control system is tweaked, all transforming the way the car drives.
To fit more neatly into the gap between the X1 and the X5, the X3 has grown in its latest guise. Not by too much but there is 78mm of extra length taking the total up to 4,648mm and 14mm of extra height extending the roof up to 1,675mm above the ground. The wheelbase is also increased by 15mm and owners will feel the benefit in the shape of a 550-litre boot that's 70 litres up on the old car. BMW also claims significantly enhanced leg and elbow room across a three-seater rear bench which splits 60:40 and can fold down when not in use to increase the luggage capacity to 1,600 litres.
Design wise, the X3 doesn't do anything too dramatic. It's more of an amalgamation of features from the X1, X5 and the previous X3 but there's nothing wrong with that. The rear doors are noticeably longer than in the old model which will improve access and there are sharp contour line rippling across the bonnet and slicing down the flanks. Naturally, the kidney grille takes pride of place on the nose but there might be a hint of Audi about those rectangular headlamps with pointy corners (don't mention this to your BMW dealer). The interior quality has been increased with more upmarket trim choices and the latest switchgear as seen previously on the 3 Series.
Pricing looks pretty competitive but remember that this is a 'premium' compact 4x4 not your mainstream Toyota RAV4, Nissan X-Trail, Honda CR-V fare. Direct alternatives to the X3 aren't too thick on the ground but its arch rival is undoubtedly the Audi Q5. Land Rover's Freelander would like to muscle in at the lower end of the range and the Infiniti EX is another option that takes a similar approach.
All X3 models trundle off the production line with leather upholstery, two-zone climate control and a colour screen display with the iDrive menu-driven control system. Pay a little extra and desirable options like a powered tailgate, a heads-up display, a reversing camera and a panoramic sunroof are available.
Efficiency has been a big area of improvement for this X3 despite its increase in size. The xDrive20d model weighs some 1,790kg but its advanced diesel engine and stop-start technology help it to combined cycle economy of over 50mpg. Emissions of CO2 for this model are measured at 149g/km which will help make it very cost effective to run and a viable company car. The xDrive35i is less parsimonious with 32mpg economy and 204g/km emissions but that's still very respectable for a 300bhp 4x4.
The difficult middle child in BMW's 4x4 range, the X3 is looking to break free from the shadow of its siblings in second generation guise. The recipe wasn't changed too dramatically but an increase in size and practicality is welcome, especially in conjunction with efficiency improvements and a more upmarket interior. The technology contained within the X3 helps the car stand out, even if you'll need to explore the options list to get some of the more desirable features.
|For X3 RANGE|
|OVERALL||7.0 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||6|