New BMW X3 xDrive30d review: Mellow Monster

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BMW X3 xDrive 30d review
The new gen X3, straddling the entry level X1 and the family elder X5 has big expectations and tough competition to contend with. Steppin into the shoes of its bold, even if slightly flawed predecessor, the X3 has a lot of boxes to check. The big, bad X5, though due for replacement soon, blew us off with its impeccable road manners and uncompromised performance. So is the younger brother as dazzling a gem as its luminary sibling? We took the top of the line X3 xDrive30d out for a 500km drive to find out. Did it impress us? Well, it’ll take you a little longer to find out. Read on!

Design and visuals
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The new X3 follows the BMW X family design template. The forward sloping BMW kidney grille, big headlamps, a big bumper housing the two fog lamps and the aggressively styled bonnet with powerful creases – it doesn’t take more than a fleeting glance to identify the X3 as a BMW SUV. Particularly interesting are those creases over the bonnet, which form a set of ‘power recesses’ contradicting the power bulge concept you’ll find on many big cars.

The sloping bonnet is rather low for a big SUV, so when viewed front on from eye level, the X3 looks rather tall-ish. Drop the eye level down, though, and the kidney grille, along with the massive bumper incorporating mesh inserts looks quite imposing.  The upper band of the headlamps is highlighted with chrome inserts. Bright white LED lights, along with optional xenon lamps, lend a bit more character to the X3’s face.

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In profile, the low bonnet and the relatively high sloping roofline are together targeted to give the X3 a wedge like silhouette. There is an extremely prominent crease emanating from the front fender, forming the car’s waistline and merging into the tail-lamps. Another imposing crease at the lower section of the car makes the X3’s profile an interesting interplay of convex and concave surfaces. Aluiminium roof fails, stylish alloys, a chrome lined greenhouse and triangular fender mounted blinkers add other valuable highlights.

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At the rear, the family connection is evident again with the familiar tail-lamps which are keenly similar to the bigger X5. The tailgate has a sharp bulge right below the rear windscreen followed by a recessed section for registration plate. Finally, you have another sharp horizontal recess at the bottom of the tail gate which is a single piece unit, unlike the X5’s twin panel unit. Single side twin exhausts and an under bumper aluminium garnish (front has it as well) completes the X3’s design package.

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In pictures, especially those highlighting the profile the X3 looks very athletic and lean. In real life, however, the SUV looks much beefier and substantial. The X3 design works very well from some angles, the front three quarters, for example. It’s not an all out effort to awe the bystanders with its sheer girth and presence. The X3, instead, is an effort more towards staying true to BMW X family’s designs ethos, and staying true to its lineage.

Engine and transmission

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We drove the top of the line xDrive 30d variant, which means that we had almost 260 bhp of power and 560 nm of twist at hand. The straight six turbo diesel engine on the X3 produces its peak power at 4000rpm and more importantly, its monstrous 560nm of peak torque between a wide, and lowly band of 1500-3000 rpm. An instant shove awaits you for every dab of the throttle. Power and torque, with the 30d is available in abundant measure and across the entire rev range. The X3 may not be an out-and-out performance machine, nor is it a performance sedan, yet, just out of sheer interest, we managed to sprint through the Mumbai Pune expressway in one of the shortest time ever. Speaks volumes about the punch that three liter oil burner can deliver.

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The ARAI rated fuel efficiency for the X3 30d is 13.87kmpl, not bad at all for a 258bhp engine which can propel you from 0-100km/h in 6.2 seconds flat. Top speed is electronically governed at 210km/h. Working its magic silently under the metal skin is the BMW EfficientDynamics tech which employs tricks such as brake energy recuperation, Stop/Start system, an advanced engine-tranny tech, optimized aerodynamics and lightweight construction to make the X3 the most efficient vehicle in its class. The Electric power steering, which replaces the earlier elctrohydraulic unit, also contributes its wee bit in saving oil.

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Mated to that engine is a brilliant 8 speed automatic transmission which is flashing quick and super smart. There is hardly ever a need to shift manually, but if you really are in a rush, and wish to shift a notch or two down you’ll have to do it via the drive selector – no flappy paddles here. Having said that, manual kickdowns with modern BMW’s are as convenient as they could ever be, you just have to shove the selector sideways to put it in manual mode, and thereafter, every fore or aft movement changes the gear for you rather swiftly.

Drive control lets you further sharpen or relax the engine behavior by choosing normal, sport or sport + mode. The various modes have their bearings on the steering and suspension too, but more on that later.

Ride and handling

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The X3 has to be one of the most absorbent Bimmers we have driven of late. The bigger X5 had its uncompromising gaze on razor sharp handling, and thus had a rather stiff ride. The X3, on the other hand cares a lot for the ride quality. With struts up front, multi link units at the rear and equipped with electronically adjustable dampers, the X3 achieves the daunting task of delivering the best of both the worlds. In Normal mode, the ride quality is remarkably acquiescent. The suspension firms up impressively for the Sport+ mode for able corner carving.

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The X3 in its second generation avatar is a very capable handler for an SUV.  Unshakeable all the way up to its controlled top speed of 210 km/h, the X3, without doubt is the best SUV in its segment as regards on-road stability and control. Braking is sharp, and body pitch is bafflingly low for a vehicle this heavy, even under heavy braking. Around corners, the X3, running of 18 inch wheels with 245 / 50 rubber (mildly high profile) shows plausible poise and treads its path in a strikingly predictable manner.

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The capable xDrive tech which is proficient in juggling power between all four wheels very judicioulsly and very quickly helps a mighty lot is endowing the X3 with truckloads of grip. The 50:50 front rear weight bias further helps the balance and poise. Servotronic steering works hard to keep your palms well informed. There hardly ever is a moment where you’re in two minds about your commitment with this X family middleweight.

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All that said, however, the X3 isn’t quite the gymnast its bigger brother, the X5 is. The new EPS steering while nice, heavy and neutral isn’t as engaging and charming as the hydraulic unit on the X5. The X5, right from its inception was singularly focused at pushing the boundaries for the handling characteristic of an SUV. With the X3, however, BMW have taken a more practical approach. While that may not be very plausible for an unwavering petrolhead, the philosophy makes a lot of sense in the real world. The X3, even with its relatively ‘softer’ feel as compared with the X5 is far more comfortable as regards ride quality. Bigger 19 inch wheels and lower profile rubber would improve both the steering feel and mid-corner stiffness for those who don’t care so much for the ride quality.

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The previous generation X3 was consistently criticized for its stiff ride. With the new gen X3, BMW have taken an overly cautious route. Suspension is one area where the new X3 absolutely dazzles you with its abilities. The good news is, the BMW dynamic DNA has not been lost in the tradeoff. Relatively mellow as the X3 may be compared with the X5, it still is head and shoulders above the competition as regards dynamic ability, especially around corners.

Cabin comfort and features

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The new X1 isn’t much smaller than what the previous gen X3 used to be. To fit the X3 properly between the X1 and the X5 the new gen version has grown substantially in size. Compared to its forebear, the new X3 is longer by 83mm, wider by 28mm and taller by 12mm. The comfort and space inside the cabin has also improved significantly over the earlier gen car.

Inside the cabin, familiar and time tested BMW materials and layout welcomes you. Features abound, but BMW have kept the interior simple, tasteful and clutter free. There are ample storage spaces within the cabin. Both front and rear doors have space for big 1 liter water bottles. There is a twin cup holder ahead of the drive selector. The central armrest can also hold quite a few items. There is an additional storage area under the steering wheel on the right hand side which can store items like wallet, mobile and then some.

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Ingress to the cabin is easy thanks to the big, doors. Driving position is high, making for great all round visibility. Front seats are extremely comfortable, with great support for back and thighs. At the back there is apace to seat three adults shoulder to shoulder. The seats in themselves are well designed to accommodate three without any raised surface in the middle, but the transmission tunnel and the rear A/C blowers may pose a bit of problem for the knee-room of the central passenger. There is a central armrest for the rear passengers too with twin cup-holders built in.

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As mentioned earlier, the X3 delivers a surprisingly compliant ride for a BMW car. Noise and vibration cancellation within the cabin is impressive and there is hardly any sound until you are driving substantially above the 100km/h mark.

The xDrive 30d that we had as our test car was loaded with features. For the lower spec models, some of these features come as options which cost extra.  A comprehensive list of features on the X3 xDrive 30d is provided below.

BMW features

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Remote boot opener button. The tailgate is electrically operated for convenience

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Contoured steering wheel with silver insert. Beautiful, ergonomic and functional, with mounted controls

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Reading lights for the rear passengers

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A high quality, clutter free and ergonomic layout for the driver biased dashboard

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Audi and basic A/C controls. Two zone climate control is standard.

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The familiar iDrive control knob to browse through the menus

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Electronic parking brake and automatic Hill Hold function for sharp and slow ascents

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Drive mode selector lets you choose between Normal, Sport and Sport+ modes.

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Hill descent control and rear view camera functions

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Drive selector. Push it to your left to slot into the manual mode. Now move fore and aft for down and up shifts respectively. No pedal shifters available here.

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The simplistic, yet highly functional center console.

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Additional storage space under the steering wheel

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Headlamps setting knob

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Hi resolution, colored display instrument console. Delivers truckloads of information about the car’s status

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Front door panel with ample storage space for bottles.

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Electrically adjustable driver’s seat with two memory slots

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Triangular blinker units on the front fender

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Back seat passengers don’t get two-zone climate control. You can control the temperature and blower speed though

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Spacious rear seats can seat three abreast. rear blower unit and transmission tunnel is a bit of hindrance though

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rear door panel have space for a full sized bottle too

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Ample headroom and legroom at the back bench. Notice the panel for the panoramic sunroof

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Button on the tail-gate for electric operation

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Capacious boot offers 550 liters of storage space. Flexible seats can be split 40:20:40 and folded flat to expand storage to 1600 liters

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fastener units and other kits under the boot

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Twin exhaust pipes add an aura of sportiness to the rear

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Chrome inserts above the headlamps add character to the fascia.

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Stylish 18 inch alloys shod with 50 profile rubber. Increase size one inch if you want a stiffer ride and more feedback from the steering wheel

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Mind your head when you open the bonnet.

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What’s that? The name of the car’s color?

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The bonnet opener lever

Verdict

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Priced at Rs 51 lakh ex-showroom, the X3 xDrive30d isn’t exactly an inexpensive SUV. There are, however more economical variants (powered by a 2.0 liter diesel) available which start from as low as Rs 39.5 lakh. Comparing all the variants and the respective prices, the X3 is almost identically priced as compared to its key rival, the Audi Q5. The recently introduced ML250CDI, though from a segment above, has entered the Q5/X3 territory with a very aggressive sticker price, and may eat into both its compatriot rivals’ sales.

Having said all that, the BMW X3 stands out as the most driver oriented package amongst the three. If you want an SUV that goes fast without a fuss in this segment, the X3 is the top dog. Its feature laden, has ample space inside and as a surprise rides brilliantly too. The xDrive tech, along with a 212mm of ground clearance makes it a fairly capable off roader and it can tread the untrodden road with confidence.

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Technically, there is no questioning the X3 – it’s almost flawless. The other products in the segment too, however, are worthy competitors, and they have their own flavor and qualities. Our word of advice here would be – taste them all, before choosing your poison.

Price as tested:

  • X3 xDrive30d 50.9 lakh
  • X3 xDrive20d Advantage Rs 39.5 lakh
  • X3 xDrive20d Rs 44.5 lakh

Technical Specifications:

Weight

  •     Unladen weight EU in kg        1,790 [1,800]
  •     Unladen weight EU in kg        2,290 [2,300]
  •     Permitted load in kg        575
  •     Permitted axle load front/rear in kg        1,080/1,280

Engine

  •     Cylinders/valves        4/4
  •     Capacity in ccm        1,995
  •     Stroke/bore in mm        90/84
  •     Max. output in kW (hp) at 1/min        135 (184) / 4,000
  •     Max. torque in Nm at 1/min        380 / 1,750 – 2,750
  •     Compression ratio : 1        16,5

Wheels

  •     Tyre dimensions front        225/60 R 17 H
  •     Tyre dimensions rear        225/60 R 17 H
  •     Wheel dimensions and material front        7.5 J x 17 inch, light-alloy
  •     Wheel dimensions and material rear        7.5 J x 17 inch, light-alloy

Fuel consumption

  •     Tank capacity, approx. in l        67

Performance

  •     Top speed in km/h        210
  •     Acceleration 0–100 km/h in s        8,5

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