On a flowing bitumen road the driver forgets it's an SUV, responding more like a semi-sporty sedan. Photo Gallery
Stuart Innes road tests and reviews the BMW X3 xDrive 20d.
Sure, Euro SUVs are seen more double-parked outside private schools or in carparks at posh shopping centres than they are covered in dust and belting along a rough dirt road in the Bush. But they need to be able to handle the latter scenario if they are to have credibility. After all, it's what the original "crossover" vehicles tried to achieve - a foot in each camp.
The BMW X3 indeed is a good allrounder: it has the badge respect to be seen among the upper demographic, it is comfortable and has enough gadgets and technology to impress.
Its various versions have weird names. We drove the X3 xDrive 20d, which in English means all-wheel-drive, two-litre diesel. As a mid-size luxury SUV wagon where fuel economy is a criteria, it's a good 'un.
Bluetooth connection and USB interface you'd expect, and get. The xDrive is an all-wheel-drive system with variable torque distribution. An eight-speed automatic Steptronic transmission is a highwater mark in this field.
Hill descent control underlines this car can get its wheels grubby. The 135kW power and 380Nm torque also impress from a two-litre diesel that is frugal (helped by stop-start) and low emission. It has keyless go.
The $62,200 tag makes this the entry level for the X3 series and includes cruise control with downhill braking function, park distance control front and rear, rear view camera, dual zone auto aircon, personalisation of key controls and six-speaker sound system.
And the BMW badge. As always BMW hurts with the cost of options, on the test vehicle $2350 for 1in larger diameter wheels, $1900 for metallic paint, $3000 for sunroof, $2000 for sat-nav etc.
Leather is not standard on this version. Power seat adjustment adds $2700. Maybe buyers of this X3 are not choosing the diesel because it saves a few bucks at the pumps.
When the X3 first came out, observers wondered why, because it was close in size and format to the X5. So what did BMW do for this second-generation X3? Make it bigger - to allow room for the smaller X1. X3 has no feeling of being the X5's poor kid brother.
It's an SUV wagon shape with good space inside, though the centre rear seat passenger gets shortchanged. The tailgate is a bit of reach and struggle to pull down for shorties. Under the car is flat for aero gains. It has no spare wheel - worrying for going off bitumen in the big land.
X3 has airbags for driver and front passenger, head airbags front and rear plus side airbags for driver and front passenger. It has stability control, a flat tyre indicator, active headrests, ABS, hill-start assist, all-wheel-drive grip, rear-view camera and cornering brake control. The new model has not been ANCAP crash tested (the original X3 scored four stars).
On a flowing bitumen road the driver forgets it's an SUV, the vehicle responding more like a semi-sporty sedan. In top - eighth - gear, it settles at just 1700rpm at 110km/h; good for just a two-litre. Claimed fuel economy is 5.6 litres/100km but we averaged 7, still not bad for a 1725kg AWD wagon.
Yet 0-100km/h in 8.8sec is tidy, too. Stability control tames off-bitumen cornering but switch out the DSC and some wheelspin can be achieved to aid on softer surfaces. The diesel engine is just evident on cold start and idling but at constant throttle remains well behaved. You rarely need to go above 2500-3000rpm. On gravel, this X3 is well poised and exudes confidence.
A decent-sized BMW SUV giving all-wheel-drive without paying stupid money, though watch out for costly options. It does the job of luxury family wagon and will eat up a graded dirt road. Performance belies the size of the diesel engine, yet it remains frugal.
BMW X3 xDrive 2.0d
Price: from $62,200
Warranty: 3 years, unlimited km
Service Interval: 15,000km or 12-months
Economy: 5.6 l/100km, on test 7l/100km; 147g/km CO2
Safety: Equipment six airbags, ABS, EBD, DSC. Crash rating Untested, previous model 4 stars
Engine: 135kW/380Nm 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo-diesel
Transmission: 8-speed auto, AWD
Body: 4-door wagon, 5 seats
Dimensions: 4648mm (L); 1881mm (W); 1661mm (H); 2810mm (WB)
Tyre: Size (optional) 245/50R18. Spare Tyre none
Others to consider
Audi Q5 quattro 2.0 TDI
Engine: 2.0-litre, 4-cyl turbo-diesel, 125kW/350Nm
Trans: 7-speed automatic; all-wheel-drive
Body: Four-door wagon 4629mm long
Thirst: 6.8L/100km; 179g/km CO2
"The Audi version of the award-winning VW Tiguan which is no bad thing, but more expensive."
Peugeot 4007 SV
Engine: 2.2-litre, 4-cyl turbo-diesel, 115kW/380Nm
Trans: Six-speed automatic; all-wheel-drive
Body: Four-door wagon 4635mm long
Thirst: 7L/100km; 185g/km
"The Peugeot badge gives the cachet of a European but it's priced lower because it's based on a Mitsubishi Outlander. SV has seven seats.
Land Rover Freelander 2 HSE
Engine: 2.2-litre, 4-cyl turbo-diesel, 118kW/400Nm
Trans: Six-speed automatic, four-wheel-drive
Body: Four-door wagon, 4500mm long
Thirst: 8.5L/100km; 224g/km
"Less cabin space but best of this lot off-road where it's no pretender. Torquey but a bit more thirsty. Like X3, can tow 2000kg.