Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Another new model has been added to the BMW recreational 4WD stable with the arrival of the second generation X3.
BMW have run a new broom through their 4WD line up in the last couple of years launching a second generation iteration of their flagship X5 and the X, an all-new compact model that gives buyers an affordable leg up to the first rung of the BMW 4WD ladder. This latest X3 bursts on to the market with more power from its two diesel engine options teamed to a ground breaking 8-speed automatic.
It X3 does not set out to be a radical game changer because beamer buyers like evolution not revolution and its reflected in the approach BMW has taken with the design of this model. They have simply built on the strengths of the previous X3, added some new innovations into the mix all of which should hit most of the right buttons with potential buyers.
Just two X3 models are offered, both turbo diesels, one an up rated version of the lively 2.0 litre motor found in the X1, the other a rip snorting 3.0 litre six and priced at $87000 and $107000 respectively. The model fitted with the smaller of the two engines was provided for this road test. But nearly $20000 in optional extras pushed the price within a whisker of the six-cylinder version. The most expensive options were $5600 for the 19 inch alloys - ouch! A memory adjustable driver seats cost $3200 and $4250 for a navigation system both accounted for sizeable wedges of the optional extra pie.
The X3 is pretty well equipped without any needed to go trawling through the options list and risk ramping up the asking price up by several thousand dollars more than it needs to be. This is confirmed by a quick scan of the list of standard equipment that includes a rear view camera, USB audio interface, Bluetooth and keyless starting. BMW Efficient Dynamics helps owner keep more money in their wallets by making sure not to much of it siphoned into the coffers of oil companies. Heading the fuel saving crusade are innovations such as an automatic start-stop function. Whenever the vehicle is stops the engine automatically shuts off and fires up again when you prod the accelerator.
Kicking the X3 along with a reasonable amount of enthusiasm is a 135kw four-cylinder in-line diesel that zips through the 0 to 100 km/h dash in a brisk 8.5 seconds. However this looks a bit sluggish against the 6.2 seconds the 190kw three-litre six-cylinder in-line diesel engine takes to do the same job. While not as responsive as it is in the lighter BMW X1 I drove last year, throttle response from the 2.0 litre motor is strong from around 2000rpm onwards and engine noise almost indiscernible at open road cruising speeds. In urban driving diesels are often more intrusive, but this one keeps the volume button down to levels that some petrol motors would battle to better.
A new 8-speed automatic is a first for this market and while I can see the benefits of all these gears in the barn storming 3-litre turbo diesel, they are hardly essential for the lower powered 2.0 litre motor. I felt the engine could do the job on both the performance and fuel economy fronts just as effectively with a cheaper six-speed auto clocking the gear changes.
Load and passenger space is among the more generous at the prestige end of the SUV market. Luggage capacity is never an issue with 550 litres available with the rear seat in use and almost 1600 litres when they are folded down. If you had to be picky, rear leg and shoulder room is only adequate. The back seat will accommodate three adults albeit a little snuggly if they are built like they were born to be front row props. In these situations, you are better to red card one of the heavies to the front seat and if the person in the front seat is built like a half back, make a positional change and move them to the back row.
It is the clever stuff that help sell vehicles at this end of the market at the X3 is loaded in that department starting with a Dynamic Damper Control system that lets the driver select "NORMAL", "SPORT" and "SPORT+” settings. The shock absorbers are stiffer in "Sport" mode and softer in "Normal" mode. This means that wheel damping and body roll can be adjusted in an electronic instant to whole range of driving and road conditions. It is not the electronic that move the suspension from good to great, but BMW’s suspension nous and knowledge that has come up with just the right balance of ride comfort and road holding. Solving this equation is a bit like trying to thread a fine needle when you are wearing large woollen mittens, damn near impossible. So why has BMW have been able to nail it? By drawing on its huge bank of suspension tuning know-how accumulated over many decades that is constantly added to and refined to meet the needs of today’s buyers.
What is the verdict? Classy but not a huge advance over the model it replaces.