#CarNews: BMW’s X3 set to stir up the compact luxury soft roader market

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The soft roader segment is gaining undue attention as manufacturers have realised that in the next 10 years, SUVs and soft roaders will account for over 50% of total volume sales. As main stream and niche brands fight to have a piece of this lucrative pie, the consumers tend to benefit immensely from a pricing and quality perspective.

BMW can rightfully blow their trumpet without hesitation as the first niche brand, to venture into the brave SUV world back in 1999 with the introduction of the X5. So popular was this model that BMW began an SUV onslaught to satisfy customers based on need. The X3 was born in 2003 as a product suited for a young family in need of space and safety.

Bigger, bolder and capable the X3 now is in its third incarnation which by the way speaks volumes on how popular the model is globally. The good news is BMW has finally considered sub-Sahara Africa as the last bastion of growth and the X3 will lead the way towards conquering the untapped market. Starting 2018 the X3 will be built in South Africa hence making it a vehicle that was built to conquer sub sahara’s unique conditions.  It is to this effect that BMW South Africa invited yours truly to sample the new generation X3 in the scenic town of George together with other distinguished automotive journalists. Question is will it dominate rival brands like the Jaguar F Pace, Mercedes Benz GLC and the Porsche Macan in Kenya?

Design Language

Developed from the ground up the new X3 is based on BMW’s current modular chassis that has larger and wider dimensions compared to the outgoing model.  Designed to cater for the young family the design theme is uniquely BMW with the signature‘Kidney Grill’ and the striking alliteration of the ‘Angel Eyes’ completing the front profile. Square shaped wheel arches and subtly bulging fenders gives the X3 an athletic stance while the shoulder line shadow running across the sculptured body represents the bold image BMW intended for the vehicle.

Cabin pleasures

In order to stand out of the crowded soft roader pack BMW decided to line the interior of theX3 with quality materials and Germanic craftmanship. Starting from the base xDrive20d you can tell that that nearly all bells and whistles come as standard save from the M spec models. As any BMW driver expects, the driving position is spot on and seat comfort for the passengers isn’t compromised as the sufficiently bolstered seats provide adequate lumbar support suitable for long road trips.

Zoom in to the dash and you notice that its logically laid out tablet style 10.2-inch multi information unit displays auxiliary vehicle functions from the dual zone climate control, navigation and audio controls. The fully digital instrument binnacle coupled with a colour heads up display plays a critical function in keeping the driver focused on the road, by offering vital information like speed limits, current speed and navigation without the need to fiddle with the touchscreen system.

Fire Power

Kenya and select sub-Sahara Africa countries will get 3 engine derivatives i.e. the frugal 140kW/400Nm xDrive20d that sips 5.7 litres per 100 kilometres on average, the torque rich 195kW/620Nm xDrive30d and the lively xDrive30i that produces 185kW/350Nm on tap.

If you are in search of the ultimate X3drive experience then you can order the top spec drive M40i that churns 265kW/500Nm and accelerates from 0-100KM/H in a claimed 5.4 seconds. The adaptive eight-speed ZFgearbox is paired with the xDrive all-wheel drive system and is standard across the range.

Drivability

I was impressed with the drive of the X3 considering that I have previously sampled its close competitors namely Porsche Macan and the Jaguar F-Pace. Power delivery on the xDrive M40i is linear and sharp, similar to the equivalent Jaguar F-Pace 3.0L Supercharged V6. This due to its ‘trigger happy’ pair of turbochargers that spool very early to give you full boost when burying your right foot. On ‘sports mode’ the steering beefs up, throttle sharpens, gearshifts are lightning quick plus the suspension hardens to give you that taught chassis feeling of an accomplished sports car.

The suspension set up is tuned to give both comfort and handling. Front wishbones and rear independent suspension set up are on active service, proving comfort and handling capabilities.  Finding the perfect balance is a feat BMW engineers in Munich should feel proud of. The Macan handles exemplary well on tarmac but the X3’s inherent handling predictability both on gravel and tarmac with ease sets it apart from it’s German rival and closer to the Jaguar F-Pace.

Bundu bashing capabilities

Since majority of the X3 buyers dwell in the urban concrete jungle, BMW gave the X3 abit of off-roading credentials just in case one decides to venture out to a murram adventure. XDrive all-wheel drive system constantly monitors the road surface and adjusts grip levels at any given time. This system comes to play during the wet season when roads are slippery and can ideally correct understeer or when the driver runs out of talent. Ground clearance is sufficient enough for a murram excursion, with the suspension able to absorb ruts and road imperfection with ease.

Summary

If you are looking for the perfect compact luxury SUV then your choices have just expanded. The X3 has stepped up its game and now offers a serious preposition to the typical BMW 3 series driver looking to upgrade, or the 5 Series owner looking at owning a good luxury soft roader without selling their kidney.

Set to arrive on our shores by Q1 2018, the X3 finds itself stark in the middle of a segment war between the Jaguar F Pace, Porsche Macan and Mercedes GLC. If you are attracted to the Bavarian propeller, the xDrive30d offers the beast mix of performance without compromising on efficiency. Visit Bavaria Auto at Aspire Centre in Westlands for more info on the X3.

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