BMW has been the leader in creating cars that blur the line between luxury and performance. The brand has been at the forefront when it comes to delivering immensely pleasurable, yet hair-raising, goose bump inducing experiences behind the wheel. Their unrelenting effort to create the “Ultimate Driving Machine” in each segment has mostly worked, and the SUV market has been no different. While the X1 has been a great entryway into BMW’s SUV lineup, the X5 has for long been the big brother, with its distinct character, powerful performance and road presence. Sandwiched in between, the X3 has the challenging task of not only carving out an identity of its own in the line up, but also coming out of the shadows of rivals such as Audi Q5, Mercedes Benz GLC and the smartly packaged Volvo XC60.
With the new X3 however, things have changed for the better. BMW has made significant changes to give it some showstopper appeal and catapult it into the limelight. We spent over a week with the new X3 xDrive20d Luxury Line recently. And we realised that at first glance, it is quite easy to mistake this for an X5. Which is a good thing. As it means more SUV swag for less.
In terms of design, the updated X3 mimics the X5 in more ways than one. It feels bigger, more muscular, and has heaps of presence on road. Up front, the kidney grille is larger than before, and the headlamp design has been reworked with new LED inserts. The new grille is also an “active grille” – where the shutters open up when the engine needs cooling, and close when it doesn’t. It makes the front more aerodynamic. Down the side, the X3 resembles its bigger brother quite closely. The chrome surrounds around the windows give it a luxury feel, and the 19″ alloys give it a ton of presence and a very agile stance. The wraparound tail lamps are reminiscent of other BMW SUVs, and the twin exhausts round off a sharp design at the rear. Overall, the new X3 is an immensely good looking grown up SUV, with powerful aesthetics and a modern, edgy, athletic design.
Step inside the X3 and you are treated to familiar BMW luxuries. The doors close with a satisfying thud, and the first thing you notice, is how isolated the cabin is from the hustle-bustle outside. The X3 has excellent noise cancellation, and while driving, the cabin is devoid of any significant engine, road or wind noise. Absolute bliss.
The front seats are ergonomic and plush, while the rear ones even recline a little to provide extra comfort. All wrapped in luxurious leather. Three can easily be comfortable at the back, and thanks to an added 54 mm in the wheelbase, rear legroom is more than enough. The X3’s cabin feels very roomy, more so, due to the huge panoramic sunroof that opens up right till the back. Rear visibility however is dismal, due of the relatively small rear windscreen. Also, the roof curvature and rear headrests prove to be blindspots for the driver looking into the rear view mirror. There is plenty of storage around the cabin though – a large glove box, wide door panels, ample space under the armrest and in the central console; and a massive boot that offers tremendous flexibility with electronically foldable rear seat backrests.
The interior fit and finish is quite exceptional. The ash wood inlays, galvanised surfaces and contrasting dark brown leather on the Luxury Line variant, are all very exquisite. The customisable ambient lighting further accentuates the mood, and the embossed X3 logo on doors and central console is a mark of mastery.
In terms of features, the X3 Luxury Line comes packed with everything you need, and more. The SUV gets BMW’s latest infotainment system, which has Apple CarPlay built in. The 10.25″ touchscreen system is responsive and bright, and overall a joy to use. With all communication, entertainment, navigation and vehicle information available at a single touch or voice command. You also get two zone automatic climate control, adaptive headlights, rain sensing wipers, and all the other premium basics. The 16-speaker Harman Kardon speaker system was a particular favourite of ours, and the clarity of the surround sound took our breath away every time we turned up the volume. Another useful feature was the wireless charging pad in the front console – a feature we would like to see incorporated in more vehicles.
What was surprising though was the lack of keyless entry in the X3. A feature that is pretty much standard even in mass market sedans, should have found its way into a 2019 luxury SUV. That’s a small but significant annoyance that one will have to live with every day, in the new X3.
Under the hood, the X3 comes with the familiar 2.0L diesel motor producing 190 BHP and 400 Nm of torque. While it is not the most powerful engine out there, it certainly gets the job done in the X3. Mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission, the engine delivers its power smoothly, and after just a bit of initial turbo lag, the X3 gets to three-digit speeds in a flash. 0-100 km/h takes merely 8 seconds, which is great for a car this size, and the X3 remains planted even at very high speeds. Put it into sport mode, and the X3 becomes tighter and more responsive. The transmission shifts down at the slightest touch of the accelerator, and the X3 is an engaging SUV to drive. There’s also comfort mode and eco-pro mode, which limits the power and increases efficiency slightly. The transmission can seamlessly switch between regular drive mode, sport and manual mode. And the paddle shifts on the steering give you total control whenever you are in a mood for it.
Over roughly 800 kms. that we drove, we averaged 14.5 km/l (mostly driven in comfort & sport mode), which is a commendable figure for a largish SUV. Tank up, and you could easily do close to 1000 kms. on the highway before looking out for the next fuel station. At 65 litre capacity, this one has a sizeable tank and a brilliant range.
Our test car came with the optional adaptive dampers, which stiffens the suspension when the car is put into sport mode. The perfect 50-50 weight distribution plays its part as well, and the X3 has little to no body roll when thrust into corners. The steering is sharp and direct as well, although the turning radius isn’t the best. But overall, it is unlikely that you’ll find a more enthralling drive in this segment. All this comes at a price though, and the ride of the X3 is a little on the firmer side. However, given the superb driving dynamics, that is a compromise we will make any day. While it is technically an SUV, the X3 doesn’t come with a dedicated off-road mode, and is most at home out on the tarmac.
With prices starting from INR 56.00 lacs, the X3 isn’t cheap by any means. Our test car, the range topping xDrive 20d Luxury Line, is priced at INR 59.30 lacs. Which is a lot of bucks. But the X3 is a lot of SUV too. With one of the finest cabins we’ve seen in this segment, a decently powerful and efficient engine, and the best driving dynamics we could ask of a car this size, the new X3 might just be the only SUV you will ever need.