Not only is the X3 the right type of vehicle to take the brand into the future, but it’s also soon to be produced at the automaker’s Pretoria-based production facility.I was given the range-topping M40i variant to drive recently to see what the new model has to offer.
Many people mistook the X3 for an X5 during my tenure behind the wheel. It would appear then that the X3 has grown-up in the styling and dimensions department. Except that’s not particularly true; it’s fractionally longer and wider than the old X3 and is lower while also weighing a bit less too.
The latest design then just makes the car look more imposing and in my opinion, gives the X3 an identity that it has been sorely lacking since the first generation.
Up front, we have a creased bonnet, oval-shaped headlamps and the traditional kidney grille, which appears to get larger with each passing generation. The M40i variant also gets more aggressively styled lower air intakes, which also features daytime running LEDs.
The side profile is dominated by the massive 21-inch optional M Sport alloy wheels and a rising shoulder line that extends to the rear, which houses new, uniquely-shaped taillamps and one large exhaust exit on either side of the new bumper.
The interior of the latest X3 is my favourite BMW interior at the moment. The ergonomics and location of the switchgear and buttons make sense to me. Gone is the generic BMW look inside and in its place, an all-new aesthetic that, in my opinion, rivals that of its Audi counterpart, the Q5.
There’s a new steering wheel, a completely reshaped centre console, a wireless smartphone charger, the latest and truly, the greatest iDrive infotainment system as well as a digital instrument cluster to name a few new touches.
Driving M Performance
I used to find performance SUVs rather pointless, that was until I realised that most vehicles of this nature are quite useless off-road. Therefore, if they’re spending more time on the road than off-road, why shouldn’t there be the option of having a fast one?
The M40i is certainly no slouch; the B58 3.0-litre straight-six turbocharged motor up front produces 265kW/500Nm and is paired with a superb eight-speed Steptronic transmission and more importantly, xDrive all-wheel drive. This allows this rather large SUV to get to 100km/h from zero in less than five seconds while going on to an electronically limited top speed of 250km/h.
In the ride and handling department, the X3 juggles the difficult balancing act of being a performance car with the fact that it is still an SUV. By using the drive mode selector, the driver can select between Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport+, which alters steering feedback and throttle response, meaning that the X3 can go from a rather sedate commuter to hot hatch hunter.
In Sport+ mode, it feels eager and even sounds rather angry, even if some of that sound is artificial. In the handling department, I found the X3 more willing than I thought to wiggle its tail when provoked; the xDrive definitely favours power going to the rear.
When compared to its rivals from Audi, Jaguar, and Mercedes-AMG, the X3 M40i would certainly be my pick in the rather niche mid-size performance SUV segment.
More importantly though, driving this model allowed me to see that BMW is headed in the right direction in terms of its design and model offerings going forward. I would like to see what the company does with the X3 M in response to the Mercedes-AMG GLC 63S and the Alfa Romeo Stelvio QV.
BMW X3 M40i - R1 000 676