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BMW X3

BMW South Africa is undergoing some fundamental changes currently, not least of which is the changeover from producing the BMW 3 Series at Plant Rosslyn, to build the new X3 instead. We sampled this third-generation of BMW’s mid-size SAV in the Western Cape recently.

BMW has an excellent story to tell in South Africa, both from a sales perspective, but also from a manufacturing point of view. Plant Rosslyn, on the outskirts of Pretoria, was the very first BMW plant to be built outside of Germany in the 1970s and has been producing some of the most popular BMW models in the world ever since.

It’s an award-winning facility that was recently awarded the contract to produce right-hand-drive versions of the brand new BMW X3 range, and if rumours currently doing the industry rounds are to be believed, they might soon add the production of another BMW model to the plant’s repertoire.

Overall, the local proxy for the revered Munich automaker has gone from strength to strength in recent years. Much like the X3 itself has evolved, from rather humble beginnings, into one of the most popular vehicles in the Bayerische Motoren Werke stable.

LOOKING BACK

2003 marked the start of the journey of BMW’s first-generation X3 sports activity vehicle (SAV), the pioneer of the mid-size all-purpose car. Since then, 1,500,000 new X3s have been registered worldwide, and in 2016, nearly 25% of all BMW X-cars were of the X3 variety.

The global popularity of both the first- and second-generation X3 has laid the groundwork for the new third-gen car in the hearts and minds of a leisure-mad buying public. And BMW certainly has not disappointed with its latest offering.

IN THE NOW

To say that BMW has redeveloped the X3 would be somewhat of an understatement. A re-imagining, if you will, would be a more fitting narrative for the car.

Every aspect of it has drawn the attention of BMW’s army of development engineers who have been poring over the car’s development in the last few years. Exterior design, interior layout, new materials, production processes, electronic gizmos, everything is new, and the result of this renewal, brilliant.

Besides the apparent changes to the exterior and interior (which I will get to in a moment), key features of the new car include a new windscreen made from acoustic glass to minimise wind noise intrusion at speed. There are now also LED headlights and fog lamps across the board where, before, LEDs up front were an optional extra.

Active air-flap control debuts on the X3 too, the first new model to receive the speed-dependant front grille cooling system after the 5 Series was introduced earlier in 2017.

Inside the X3 cabin, things have gone decidedly more upmarket than before. Across the spectrum of cars that we sampled at launch in the Western Cape, there is a sense of luxurious comfort that wasn’t quite there in the previous X3 range.

BMW has retained its recognisable driver-focused dashboard layout in the new X3. The environment is created familiar enough in the Bavarian style to make BMW fans feel right at home, without being so stark as to put you off if you’re unaccustomed to a BMW interior. The standard 10.2″ touchscreen infotainment system with gesture control is a welcome upgrade (as is the new multi-function steering wheel), but it is unfortunate that many of the goodies one wants to have in a car of this class are charged for as options, including the must-have 12.3” digital instrument cluster, full-colour head-up display, a three-zone climate control system, and adjustable ambient lighting.

Storage space is not a problem whatsoever; with larger nooks and wider crannies now ready to swallow even more odds and sods.

Outside at the rear, all models now sport twin tailpipes and raise the bar in this segment with automatic tailgates now standard on all models. Not standard, however, are the stunning new rear LED lights installed on the flagship six-cylinder X3 M40i we sampled during the launch. More about that, right about now.

NEW FLAG BEARER

It’s been a long time coming, but finally, BMW has added a right performance flagship model to the X3 line-up.

The X3 M40i stands out among its peers thanks to a specially-tuned 3.0-litre M Performance six-cylinder engine that boosts the X3 to produce 265 kW and 500 Nm of torque (between 1,520 and 4,800 r/min). It also gets the M Sport brake system found on the M2 coupé, and an M-specific drivetrain set-up developed exclusively for this car.

The result is pretty darn remarkable. Not merely for the fact that this is supposed to be a plush pavement crawler, but many comparably-powered sports cars won’t manage to hold a candle to the sporty X3. The Nissan 370Z, for example, is a 3.7-litre V6 fiend that generates 245 kW and weighs 655 kg less than the X3, yet it runs from zero to 100 km/h in 5.3 seconds. The SAV will do it in 4.8.

And, given its 204 mm of ground clearance (that’s 4 mm more than a Jeep Cherokee), it will happily help you to overcome some slightly tougher terrain than the average Sandton mom might ever encounter, all without breaking a sweat.

Of course, not everyone will be keen, or able, to invest R1,000,676 in a mid-size family car, so the X3 range is also available with a 2.0-litre petrol turbo and turbodiesel engine options, as well as a 3.0-litre turbodiesel mill. Four trim levels: Standard, xLine, Luxury, and M Sport in various combinations of either manual or automatic gearboxes, bring the total number of model variants in the X3 range to 21.

LAST WORD

If you have been holding out on considering the X3 as an option because maybe the first generation was just not good enough, or you felt that the previous version just wasn’t enough of a ‘true’ BMW for you, then it is time to take another look at this car. For once, the X3 aspires to be more than just another BMW; it now also makes sense for all sorts of reasons that have nothing to do with being sensible, and everything to do with getting out there, having fun, and picking up a couple of your own good stories to tell, along the way.

 

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