REVIEW | Why the BMW X3 xDrive20d is still a solid choice in 2021
The BMW X3 deserves more credit than it receives. It was, after all, the first of the German three to enter the medium-size sport utility vehicle ambit.
Well, to be correct, the Bavarian company refers to their expression of the breed as a sports activity vehicle. It arrived in SA in June 2004 and cost R385,000 for the 2.5i manual or R428,000 if you treated yourself to a 3.0i automatic.
At the time, it was the 3-series that served as bread-and-butter for the manufacturer. Imagine if you had been told that nearly two decades in the future the iconic sedan would no longer be produced at the Rosslyn plant, replaced instead by the third-generation X3?
Indeed, things look very different for BMW today. It has a considerably more diverse product portfolio, including a wider array of models embodying the principle of the X badge. At the bottom of the scale is the junior X1, all the way up to the mammoth X7.
Earlier this year, BMW took a scalpel to the G01 X3. The light reconstruction job yielded a more aggressive face, with squarer headlamps and a larger kidney grille. But not in cartoonish fashion, as is the case with other family members. The rear light clusters also received attention, outlined by a black border.
While the automaker says the interior has been significantly redesigned, the average person may struggle to see how. We certainly did, but this is not to imply the designers are lazy, because the logical and uncluttered layout of the pre-facelift G01 was something to be admired from the get-go. The centre console is said to have been adapted from the 4-series. A 12.3-inch central screen is standard across the range; a touch-operated version of the infotainment system is optional.
The diesel derivatives outnumber the petrol versions in the new range. Starting things off is the sDrive18d, followed by the xDrive20d and xDrive30d. Those partial to petrol can choose between the sDrive20i or the M40i. All vehicles are equipped with an eight-speed automatic transmission.
We had requested a go in the base sDrive18d, but when our turn came it was in the xDrive20d, which uses the same engine but in a more powerful state of tune: 140kW/400Nm compared to 110kW/350Nm. It is a familiar power source and one that left a favourable impression, as before, thanks to its torque-enriched ease of momentum and obvious economy benefits. The motor is remarkably smooth with excellent suppression of noise and vibration, the latter being all but non-existent from occupants’ perspectives.
Typically, BMW touts the sportiness and inherent dynamism of its contender, but this is a virtue that seemed less convincing from behind the wheel. That could be attributed to the fact that before our stint with the X3, we spent time with direct rivals boasting a touch more pedigree in the performance department: one a Porsche and the other an Alfa Romeo. No prizes for guessing.
But if, like most buyers, you were looking for praiseworthy comfort levels and ease-of-use, the X3 ticks the boxes and then some. Milling around poorly-surfaced urban areas, the BMW is confident and assured, with a well-damped ride and cocooning feel. On the freeway it pulls along with the steady resolve of a locomotive, cruising effortlessly in a manner that would have you relishing any prospect of inter-provincial travel.
And you can relax further if you choose the driving assistant professional option, an offering available in the X3 for the first time. The system facilitates semi-autonomous driving, providing steering guidance in tandem with the adaptive cruise control that brakes and accelerates on your behalf when engaged.
This is a really crowded market segment. Including the other two referred to earlier, the X3 faces rivalry in the likes of the Audi Q5, Mercedes Benz GLC-class, Lexus NX and Volvo XC60. The BMW has time on its side, however: a long-established presence in the market that still sees it around the top of buyers’ minds when shopping in this category.
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