I was never a fan of the first generation X3. There, I said it. I found it ‘ok’, but nobody buys a BMW because they’re ‘ok’. There are certain expectations you have from the purveyor of sheer driving pleasure, none of which were really met with the last X3. It was stiff, cramped and relatively lackluster in every area except for engine performance — so long as you picked the 3.0 liter or diesel versions, that is. Personally, I felt that BMW rushed into the segment too quickly just to catch a boom. And I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who thinks so.
Well they were right about the boom, but unfortunately for them Volvo came out with the traffic stopping XC60 shortly after, Audi launched the Q5, Mercedes developed the GLK, and Lexus were already well into a second generation RX. And for once, BMW was not on the top of the shopping list. In spite of various upgrades throughout its life cycle, it struggled to compete with the more refined models that offered better equipment levels, comfort, space, and left the folks from Munich with the unusual problem of staging a comeback.
But there were lessons to be learned first.
BMW needed to understand where they failed before they could have any chance of success. So they looked long and hard at their mistakes. History has shown us that the best are usually only beaten after they’re forced to do things differently – and in BMW’s desire to get the jump on their competitors back in ‘04 after the growing success of the RX and the European popularity of the Freelander, they ended up diving head first into an unfamiliar segment and became a diluted version of somebody else’s idea. So this time, they went back to basics.
Today, almost 8 years on, the all-new BMW X3 arrives. And this time, it is no longer reacting to a trend but developing its own. And in typical BMW style, it has thrown out the rule book and written a brand spanking new one in a language that will take its’ competitors several years to translate. It is, in a few words, everything the previous X3 wished it could be. And a week or so before the official launch, we had a chance to make up for lost time.
First thing you will notice is that it is noticeably larger than the model it replaces. With an extra 3.1 inches in length, 1.1 inches in width, and a bump of 3.6 inches for the the front and rear track, it’s flirting with the dimensions of the first generation X5 — which is no coincidence, either. Asides from reacting to customer complaints of a tight rear seat, BMW are creating a larger gap for their X1 to make more sense. As it was, there were too many blurred lines between the 3 series wagon, X1 and X3; this new model clears things up quite a bit.
The increase in size was expected, but what is particularly impressive is the unprecedented drop in weight. BMW are claiming a reduction of 25kg, despite it also rolling out with additional standard equipment. But the real coup here may end up to be the introduction of the auto start stop feature that switches the engine off during traffic. The system can be disabled of course if you find it intrusive, but you do get used to it quickly; and if you drive anything like me, 14.2 kilometers to the liter in the city cycle is more than a decent trade off. Part of the fuel savings are down to the elimination of senseless idling, while part comes from the incremental increases in efficiency across many key areas including electromechanical power steering which uses less energy and yet provides ample feel and confidence, as well as the previously worshipped 8-speed automatic transmission that makes more efficient use of the engine’s torque, plus of course a better power to weight ratio than ever before.
The rear end design is a clever mix between the current X5 and the X1, with deeply pronounced character lines along the side, expressively modeled surfaces and a handsome, albeit non-functional, rear diffuser. Curiously though, the front headlights stray away from the new family face and retain uncharacteristically sharp lines that one guest at the steel car park launch in Makati cheekily described as “very Q5.” Regardless, it is a radical departure from the first generation and should have a much longer shelf life.
But arguing about design is like debating over colors; you either like it or you don’t, and the initial response from those who have seen it seem to overwhelmingly lean more towards the former. What’s important is that the X3 retains all the legendary driving dynamics of the brand while offering all the comfort and luxury of its’ competitors. And after an exhilarating thirty minute drive across a mixture of dirt and cement roads leading up to the Palace in the sky, the new multilink rear-suspension setup with revised front struts and retuned suspension components manages to hit that sweet spot and deliver ride quality similar to a 3-series without sacrificing any agility.
It glides over the road and responds quickly to imperfections. As the road surfaces changed during the drive up and down the back roads to Tagaytay, so did the X3. This unit wasn’t fitted with the optional body dampening controls, yet it still adapted beautifully, giving exceptional grip and firmness in the corners and a forgiving rebound in the bumps and ruts. It is no longer just a taller, wider and burlier X1; if anything, the X3 may end up putting unexpected pressure on the X5.
Power from the newly tweaked 2.0 liter diesel has been bumped up slightly to 181bhp and comes on nice and early. It continues to percolate all the way through the rev band until the factory imposed cut off of 5400 RPM — some 1,000 or so more than most diesels — and never runs out of breath until an indicated 195km/h. Its very snappy for a diesel and pulls strongly from any one of its eight gears, arriving at 100 kilometers an hour from standstill in a fairly impressive 8 and a half seconds
A lot of the credit can be hurled at the sensational new gearbox that distributes all that power evenly through 8 seamless gears. BMW may not be the first to offer the 8 speed transmission, but they could very well be the best. Whether in sport mode or normal, there’s rarely a situation where you find yourself in the wrong cog or craving the urgency of a dual clutch sequential box. It shifts so quickly, smoothly and decisively, that it has rendered the humble six speed manual gearbox obsolete, at least for the US and the Philippine markets.
Sad as that may be for some, you have to still be shooting in film and listening to cassettes to miss the old self shifter. Let’s save that joy for the M3’s of this world, and have good old fashioned modern technology do the work for us in our SUVs (sorry, SAVs) and daily drivers.
Yet as impressive as all those improvements are, the real joy happens on the inside. BMW seem to be overcompensating for all the disappointments of the last X3 by putting together one of the classiest interiors in its segment. While the previous one was criticized for sub par materials and feel, the new softer materials around the dash, door trims, console and seats really make it feel like one of the family again, while the new iDrive gets paired up to a very large (6.5inch), bright and functional multimedia display that is both easier to use and far more pleasant to look at.
The all new X3 has taken defeat, analyzed it, learned from it, and then come back to give it a proper whooping. There’s no shame in losing so long as you never lose the lesson and bounce back even stronger, and that’s exactly what BMW have done here. Defeat, perhaps, may have been the only way the all-new X3 was able to become everything the last one wasn’t, which just in case you haven’t figured out yet is a very good thing.
You would have to have not been held much as a child or maybe even dropped once or twice as a baby to find genuine fault in this car. It is handsome, athletic, efficient, powerful, luxurious, practical and you would need to look at spending a great deal more to find anything out there that can beat it, which coincidentally should be around the time when the next generation X3 should arrive.
Model & Variant: 2011 BMW X3 xDrive20d Executive
Location: Front, longitudinal
Cylinder Block: Aluminum alloy
Cylinder Head: Aluminum alloy, dohc, 4 valves per cylinder, intercooled Variable Geometry Turbodiesel
Fuel & Ignition: Turbocharger with Variable Intake Geometry, Common Rail Direct Injection with Piezo Injectors
Max Power: 184 bhp @ 4000rpm
Max Torque: 280 lb ft @ 1750-2750rpm
Drag Coefficient: 0.33cd
Transmission: Steptronic 8-speed Automatic, All Wheel Drive xDrive
Front Suspension: Independent aluminum double-joint tension-rod spring strut, anti-dive
Rear Suspension: Independent five-link, shocks & springs spatial suspension, anti-squat and anti-dive
L x W x H: 4648mm x 1881mm x 1675mm
Brakes: 1-piston Floating Caliper Vented 12.91” Front discs & 1-piston Floating Caliper Vented 12.99” Rear discs, ABS, Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), Dynamic Traction Control (DTC), Cornering Brake Control (CBC), Dynamic Brake Control (DBC) Rain brake control, Fading compensation, Hill Start Assist, DSC linked w/ xDrive, Hill Descent Control
Wheels: 7.5 J x 17 inch Light Alloy
Tires: 225/60HR17 (Front and Rear)
Weight: 1,800 kg. (3968 lbs.)
Fuel Capacity: 67 liters (17.7 gallons)
0-100 Km/H: 8.5 sec.
Top Speed: 210 km/h (130 mph)
Fuel Mileage: 5.6 liters/100 kilometers (Combined), 6.1 liters/100 kms (City), 5.3 liters/100 kms (Highway)
Price As Tested PhP 4,490,000.00
+: Great engine, start stop technology, vastly improoved everything.
-: Front headlights could be little rounded off to tie in with the family
C! Rating: 9.5