2011 BMW X3 review, test drive
30th Jul 2011 7:00 am
We drive the soon-to-be launched X3
The new BMW X3 is both longer and wider than the outgoing model, it feels like a barely scaled down version of the X5. Although it does look far more attractive than the earlier X3, the design isn’t jaw-dropping. The details of the car look attractive and the sections are nicely designed, however it does take time to get used to looking at the tucked-in waistline, the pitch forward belt-line and the very upright bonnet. Despite all that, you can’t help but marvel at the new X3.
As one would expect, there’s more than a bit of the X5 in the X3’s details. The kidney grille looks very similar, the heavy looking bumper is there on this car too and look at it from the rear and you’ll swear this is BMW’s full-sized SUV. The new X3’s footprint is actually almost the same as the original X5 – BMW’s iconic first SUV – which means this car is both longer and wider than the outgoing X3. But the increase in size hasn’t brought a corresponding increase in mass. This new car actually weighs 15kg less than the earlier car with the same specification.
The X3 is actually based on the estate or Touring version of the 3-series, and so what you get is a monocoque or ‘frame-in-body’ construction, a longitudinally placed engine in the nose and independent car-like suspension for all four wheels. X in BMW terminology stands for four-wheel drive, and this car uses an electronically controlled multi-plate clutch to distribute torque between front and rear axles. To improve efficiency, this version comes with auto start-stop that switches the car off at signals, and this BMW, like recent examples, comes with an electric steering for greater efficiency too.
On the road, a heavy 1.8-tonne kerb weight, an upright SUV stance and a two-litre 181bhp diesel don’t exactly spell performance. But generous torque from the motor and the presence of the eight-speed gearbox improve things considerably. There is considerable grunt in the midrange, the gearbox is quick to downshift, and this allows it to keep up with traffic quite easily.
However, the X3 lacks the ability to suddenly up the pace at these speeds. The motor constantly has to work hard and performance is only really good in the midrange. Stability at speed is far more impressive. The X3 tracks faithfully even at very high speeds, there is absolutely no hint of nervousness and the BMW feels glued to the road even at speeds in excess of 180kph. A light but firm touch is all you need on the wheel, there is no sloppiness in the way the X3 changes lanes, and the brakes have plenty of bite and stopping power as well. The X3 is also well insulated and feels quite refined at speed. There is very little tyre roar, the car rides silently over expansion joints. In fact so silent is the rest of the car, you sometimes hear wind swishing over the mirror and the ‘A’ pillar.
On smaller roads I decide to switch back to ‘Normal’ mode to soften the dampers. And the effect is immediate. Despite having large 18-inch wheels, the X3 simply glides over many of the rough patches and holding onto a particular line is no problem either. The X3 also feels easy to punt around and navigate through the centre of some small towns. The light, electric steering and compact dimensions of the car make it quite easy to thread through narrow cobblestone streets and parking with the electronic driver aids is quite easy too.
In ‘Sport’ mode, the dampers firm up nicely and body control is much tighter and the steering feels weightier too. Unfortunately, this feels a bit artificial and odd and I miss the light but very precise feel of the system in Normal.
On smaller roads, the X3 also feels substantially quicker than out on the open roads. Performance for these roads is more than adequate and using the strong mid-range delivers a decent kick. You do need to place the gearbox into S if you want to drive in a spirited manner though. This motor doesn’t have the strongest bottom end and looking for performance when the eight-speed ’box is shifting up as often as it can for greater efficiency does get a bit frustrating.
What’s vastly improved however are the interiors of the X3. This one feels as big and as airy as Audi’s Q5 on the inside. The width of the cabin is impressive, the wide dashboard makes this feel like a full-sized SUV and BMW has used first-rate materials too. The design of the soft-feel dash is full of attractive curves and swoops, a smart looking metallic strip has been used on the bottom of the central console and this and other metallic insets help lift the mood of the cabin.
The instrument panel is nearly identical to that of a 5-series, the air-con and audio system controls are like the 3-series, and the seats are identical to the 3-series as well. BMW has used sumptuous double-stitched leather to cloak the insides, door pads included, and you get the full bells and whistles iDrive too. Also on this car, is BMW’s Dynamic Drive Control that allows you to toggle between Normal, Sport and Sport + at the touch of a button.
At the rear, you sit a bit low but legroom is surprisingly good and the backrest is very supportive too. The seats can be folded and flipped for additional luggage space but with the standard 550 litres available, we doubt you’ll ever feel the need to make use of this feature.
The new X3 is on much more solid ground than the outgoing model. It is more spacious on the inside, is both beautifully crafted and built, and it looks larger on the outside too. It may not be as much fun to drive as the earlier car and performance from the 2.0 motor isn’t spectacular either. But the new X3 delivers almost everything Indian luxury SUV buyers seem to be looking for. All BMW needs to do now is deliver this SUV at a competitive price, from somewhere around Rs 40 lakh, and watch the order books fill up.