BMW X3 2.0d: Road Test

There is something about driving a BMW that brings a smile to your lips. In fact it could be said that a BMW that didn't achieve this little trait, would not quite be a BMW. Vikram Gour returned from his day out with the new BMW X3, but he was grinning from ear to ear!





BMW India has been moving from strength to strength and after having started with a small production run in their first year, the plant in Chennai is already being scaled up to handle 10,000 units this year. It isn’t just luck or a strong brand following that has lead to this phenomenal growth; for a lot of the credit goes to strategic planning and product roll out. BMW India has kept the momentum going by keeping a steady pace of new introductions to the market and the latest to join the bandwagon is the BMW X3, which promises to take the game a couple of notches higher in the premium small SUV category.


The last time that BMW brought in the X3, it didn’t really cut the market for it was too boxy, the rear was not very inspiring and on the whole it didn’t look proportionate. It also looked too narrow for a BMW and it didn’t have that inspirational touch that gave you the notion of power, speed and handling. The BMW X3 really didn’t cut it in terms of looks and despite the fact that it was well appointed on the inside, it didn’t find any space in the Indian automobile market.  Not ready to accept defeat, BMW India pulled the plug on the X3 and decided to wait for the 2011 edition as this new version surely had incorporated those missing elements.







They were right. Waiting for the new X3 is a gamble that is destined to reap rewards. The new BMW X3 is a stunner. It borrows a lot of its design cues from its larger sibling, namely the X5, however the designers have managed to stretch the sheet metal and carve a well proportioned, stylish SUV that boasts of the quintessential BMW genes. It has a strong muscular stance, sits well on its wheels and has a wide purposeful sporty look. The chiseled bodyline, BMW kidney grille, large 17-inch wheels and the signature BMW headlights all come together to create the perfect picture. Then there is the rear. Luckily, designers at BMW didn’t look at a cardboard box for inspiration this time around, and have sculpted the rear along the lines of the X5s back end. It’s got curves, some chiseled edges and a neat taillight cluster which works well with the rest of the vehicle’s design and sums up the picture quite well. 







The interiors are typical BMW in terms of offering high quality materials, an impeccable fit and finish and a host of gizmos and gadgetry. The dash is well crafted and finished in a two tone look that is separated by a wooden insert. Apart from the driver information console that also houses the multifunctional display unit, the X3 also comes with the state of the art iDrive infotainment system. An asymmetric centre console hints at this being a driver’s car, like most BMWs, and the overall feel of the interiors stays in line with the brand’s philosophy. The 8.8-inch high-resolution screen of the iDrive featured in the new BMW X3 also happens to be the largest on-board monitor in its segment.








It’s a good thing that BMW makes their vehicles as comfortable as a cocoon on the inside, for these machines are built to perform and what better could you ask for in terms of having the best of both worlds, luxury on the inside and performance on the outside. Incidentally the X3 will be launched with a 2.0 litre diesel mill. This engine is essentially the same unit that does duty under the hood of the BMW X1, BMW 3-Series 320d,  and BMW 5 Series 520d.  Mated to an 8-speed steptronic gearbox for the first time, the X3 can hustle up to 3 digit figures in no time at all. In fact it does 0-100 in just 10.22 seconds, which is commendable for a vehicle its size and weight. And let’s not forget the 2-litre engine under the hood, which many may deem to be a wee bit small for an SUV.


In fact, some critics might argue that a 2.0 litre engine is too small and the BMW X3 might be underpowered, but all that is required to silence the critics is short stint behind the wheel of the X3. The 2.0 litre engine generates enough grunt to convince you that it is anything but a 2.0 litre motor. Power delivery is linear and the X3 can really surge forward, but the engine is a little throaty and NVH levels were higher than one would expect from a German luxury SUV, at least on our test vehicle. The engine downsizing though may have helped the vehicle churn out better fuel efficiency in European conditions, but in our tests in India the car disappointed a wee bit in terms of frugality, returning 9 kilometres to the litre in city, and 11 kmpl on the highway. It’s not too low, but we did expect better figures given the diesel and new eight-speed automatic gearbox.







Matching the spirited drive dynamics are the ride and handling. Typical of any BMW, the suspension is slightly tightly sprung, so there is a bit of a loss in terms of ride quality and road undulations can be felt, however the bright side is the handling. Despite a higher center of gravity, the X3 manages to stick to its line with minimal body roll. It’s a delight to drive and I have a strong feeling that most owners will be too busy enjoying the spirited drive that the X3 offers to notice how the vehicle is sprung. The tyres run a healthy profile of 225/60, which provides decent cushioning and should also allow them to resist punctures better.










At the root of this uncharacteristically composed handling for an SUV is some serious tech, starting from the Dynamic Damper Control, which comes standard on the BMW X3. The system makes it possible to vary the suspension setting according to different driving styles and situations at the push of a button using the Dynamic Drive Control function. The permanent four-wheel drive technology, which BMW like to call xDrive, provides an electronically controlled system to ensure variable distribution of torque between the front and rear axles. By means of innovative configuration designed to enhance driving dynamics, the intelligent four-wheel drive technology optimizes not just traction in tricky conditions, but above all, handling around corners.


Despite using an electric power steering as opposed to a hydraulic one, steering feedback is top-notch. All this does not come at the cost of comfort though, since the new BMW X3 also features completely redeveloped suspension. The combination of a double-joint spring-strut axle at the front and a five-link rear axle offers in conjunction with a triple strut mount for both axles the ideal prerequisites for optimising agility and driving comfort. A sports-oriented suspension is available as an option, but we wouldn’t quite recommend that just yet, given the already competent suspension setup.







The car does come with its own set of grudges though, especially if one is considering living with it. To start with, our test vehicle did not have reversing camera which borders on being scary with the vehicle’s size and the small rear windscreen. The parking sensors could miss out on high objects right behind the car, and cars many segments lower now come standard with reversing cams, we hope it has been supplied at least as an option. The throaty engine intake is a little disturbing, especially in city traffic when one is not driving quickly and allowing the car’s fantastic dynamics to keep one occupied.


The BMW X3 is an entertaining vehicle. It has grown up to boast of better proportions that are now well suited to meet the demand of Indian consumers. The additional space is a welcome asset and the fact that it looks so much like the X5 is bound to have a trickle down effect on the X3. It has the premium feel, yet it is easy to drive around a congested city, which definitely increases its appeal for many. Overall the X3 does its job of being a brilliant premium small SUV. It’s a joy to drive and nowhere does it really leave you wanting. The X3 will take on the Audi Q5, which is the current king of the roost, in a head to head battle. However, before we get them in a ring together to beat it out point for point, I should add that the X3 might just have a few tricks up its sleeve.


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