Driven: The New BMW X3

by Brent vd Schyff

South Africa’s homegrown SUV gets a fresh new make-over. Call it a tummy tuck, sucking in those hips and creating a sharper look as it progresses along its product lifecycle but is the BMW X3 still topping the medium-sized SUV market with its latest offering? We head out to Johannesburg to find out.

The facelifted BMW X3 now it’s fourth year of enjoying top claim to the premium medium sized SUV sector fighting off the ambitions of Audi’s Q5, Mercedes’ GLC and Volvo’s XC60, enjoys a refresh and at first impressions, it’s every bit the exclusive package it started off with, at the beginning of its life, now moving with the times in sharpening up its act.

Changes include a revised front bumper with sharper lines, side sills, a revised larger kidney grill with a LED headlight cluster. Step around the back and you’ll notice the 19” wheels which come standard and then, at the rear, there’s a new taillight design, rear bumper section and flush fitting tailpipes. The interior gets the enormous 12.3” infotainment display, a new centre console with M sport seats coming as standard across all models. One shudders to think where the screen sizes will end up at this rate.

BMW has simplified the offering by including certain options as standard which you would’ve had to add previously. Options like sport seats, a Harmon Kardon sound system which provides the usual brilliant range in sound quality and the 12.3” centre display which houses the main controls for the BMW over-the-air system that will ensure that your car remains up to date with all software changes down the line.

On the M Sport Package, you’ll find 21” wheels as standard, dark black accents contrasting the M Brooklyn Grey paint scheme I drove, M Sport badging and the iconic blue and red stitching on the interior as well as blue callipers, all indicating that this is a different animal.

Of the five engine options available you’ll find 3 diesel and 2 petrol derivatives. Despite the echoes that the X20d is the sweet spot in the range of which I’m in violent agreement with, one better get used to diesel remaining part of the future offering in this market so don’t expect BMW to phase it out any time soon. Out of the two variants that were sampled, the performance capabilities of the X40M shine bright, which against my predisposition that a SUV should not be this fast and is difficult to reject when putting the pedal to the floor. A theatrical soundtrack of all the right noises.

Our route to the Pilanesberg offered up varying road conditions, a riot outside of a small town and a myriad of what’s quickly becoming a national monument of shame in South Africa, the pothole. Quintessentially Mzansi. Both variants, more than capable when stepping up to the conditions which face it, when travelling with you and your family onboard, will ensure peace of mind motoring.

Upon our route with the X20d I decided to venture onto some gravel to feel out the capabilities and am pleasantly surprised at the level of control that exists. While I assure you that this is not an out-and-out 4 x 4, the Xdrive does offer the comfort and control a four-wheel-drive system brings.

The range-topping (for now) X40M backs up the “Go faster” bits on the outside with aggressive acceleration but I’m reserved in my opinion that this type of performance should remain in a more low-slung option like a sedan or hatch. It’s still quite intoxicating to stamp on the pedal and notice objects behind you get smaller rather quickly, while it quickly moves through the 8-speed ZF Steptronic transmission. Reason being that the power on tap is 285kW which means the X40M does the 0-100 kph sprint in 4.5 seconds.

One can’t help ignoring the downside to the overall package which is the unfortunate high price tag, meaning that the new X3 will be beyond the reach of most South Africans hunting the premium experience, which is ironic for a car made in the country. Apart from that, one can’t fault BMW for making a formidable package that is hard to find anything wrong with. Whether it’s a hit or not in the South African market, the data won’t lie.

Pricing:
BMW sDrive18d R895,658
BMW sDrive20i R939,798
BMW xDrive20d R997,176
BMW sDrive18d M Sport R935,658
BMW sDrive20i M Sport R979,798
BMW xDrive20d M Sport R1,037,176
BMW xDrive30d M Sport R1,210,764
BMW M40i R1,415,042

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