We were lucky enough to sample BMW’s top dog in the X3 range, the M40i a number of times by now but while that may be the fastest car in the line-up it will most likely be overshadowed by a different version when it comes to sales figures. If the previous two generations of the X3 are anything to go by, the xDrive20d model will be the best-selling version in the range and that’s dictated by the huge appetite Germans have for frugal highway cruisers with diesel engines under the hood.
That appetite expands to the entire EU if we’re to think in single-market terms and that means that no matter how big the US or Chinese markets are, the EU-27 group will still be the one market in the world where the Germans sell most of their cars. Since the original launch of the X3 in 2003, more than 1.5 million units were sold by the Bavarians and almost 50 percent of those went to the EU. Care to know how many of them were powered by 2-liter diesel engines? Too many to count.
Therefore, the car we’re showing you here today is of paramount importance not only for BMW but also for the Average Joe in Germany and the surrounding countries, looking to jump on the SUV bandwagon that is apparently dominating the world these days. With nearly two thirds of all new cars sold worldwide being SUVs, BMW knew that the new generation of the X3 had to be at least on par with the car’s newest rivals and there’s some fierce competition out there these days, some of the cars having not even been around when the old X3 was launched.
I’m talking, of course, about the Alfa Romeo Stelvio and Jaguar F-Pace among others and these two aren’t playing around. Dynamically, the Alfa seems to have the rest of the cars in the segment in a tight spot while the Jaguar might have the edge in terms of looks. But when one decides to buy a car, a host of other factors need to be taken into account.
The BMW X3 was developed from the ground up on BMW’s CLAR architecture. The G01 codename shows that its development began a while back, giving engineers plenty of time to sort out every kink and take advantage of the new platform. In this regard, despite offering a considerable amount of new tech compared to the old F25 X3, the new G01 X3 in xDrive20d tips the scale at exactly the same figure: 1,825 kg (4,023 lbs).
Before criticizing it, you should bare in mind that, compared to the old X3, the new model doesn’t only bring a lot of new tech to the table (sensors and wiring do add up in the weight department) but also different proportions overall. Physically the G01 X3 is simply 51 mm longer than the old model, wider by 10 mm and 16 mm taller. At the same time, taking into account the fact that it won’t be doing any off-road driving, BMW lowered the standard xDrive20d by about 8 mm. Therefore, the fact that the weight remained the same while offering a bigger car in every aspect, does work in favor of the CLAR platform.
And you can feel the extra room once you get in. Both up front and in the back, occupants get more room for their extremities, no matter if we’re talking about feet, elbows or heads. I’d even venture as far as claiming that three adults can now sit abreast in the back and feel comfortably for longer trips. Our tester was fitted with a panoramic sunroof which typically cuts into the headroom and yet I didn’t feel cramped in the back whatsoever.
Up front you get an airier design, borrowing quite a lot from the 7 Series and 5 Series models in terms of ergonomics. The windshield is wide and tall and lets a lot of light get into the cabin while also offering a commanding view of the road. That brings me to my first gripe with the new X3 too, unfortunately. For some reason, I felt out of place behind the wheel of the X3, something that didn’t happen inside the old model. I can’t really explain it but I felt like the driving position was just way too high the whole time I spent behind the wheel. The dash is positioned a bit lower than usual and the seat is just too high, driving the car making me feel as if I was sitting on top of the steering wheel and not behind it.
The position of the steering wheel also seemed to be way too low and even in its most upward position it still felt as if it was not high enough, hitting it on a number of occasions with my knees even though on the older model that was never an issue.And if you’re not sitting comfortably behind the wheel, your entire perception of a new car can be altered. For example, the steering seemed a bit slower than usual and that could be explained by the way I had to hold the steering wheel from the position I was driving. Even though I know the steering rack is fast enough on the X3, it seemed slow in this particular car.
However, the interior is definitely a step up in terms of both design and quality. The fit and finish is impeccable as usual and our tester had the Vernasca Oyster leather inside while the dash was wrapped in Sensatec. Positioned as low as it is in the new X3, the dash feels like it has more depth than in actuality and that offers a sense of space for the front occupants.
You also get plenty of storage bins through out the cabin and some great cup holders up front. Right next to them you’ll find a generous induction charging plate for phones with wireless charging capabilities. Right above it there’s a subtle X3 badge engraved, for dramatic effect. For most of my time with the car, I charged my phone using the wireless charging plate but I have to say that it’s so big, you’ll have to watch it every time you step on the gas more vigorously, as your phone might just fly off.
There are some notable differences between the new SUV and the 5 and 7 Series after which the interior was shaped. While the instrument cluster and its graphics are exactly the same, the HVAC panel on the dash is a bit different and it took a me a moment to figure out exactly what it was. While on the 5er and 7er you get an interesting display on it, just behind the climate control temperature, giving you the impression of depth, on the X3 you get the white figures against a plain black background which does take away some of its beauty. At the same time, the button for the fragrance settings is gone and instead you get a menu button on the left, allowing you to choose whichever scent you might prefer. All the touch-sensitive buttons are gone and in their stead, you’ll find conventional buttons which work fine for me, to be honest.
There’s three-zone climate control included as standard on the X3, with the rear occupants get their own climate zone now, allowing the passengers to choose their most comfortable setting. There are also other notable changes done throughout the cabin that are aiming at improving ergonomics. For example, the lock/unlock button is now located on the driver’s door panel, next to the opening lever while the buttons for the memory seats are also moved to the same location. That’s a welcome change as the old location on the sides of the front seats did cause me some headaches over time, by pressing the wrong button.
On the center console you’ll notice that the DDC (Dynamic Damper Control) buttons are now sporting yet another option on top of the usual Eco Pro, Comfort and Sport modes, allowing you to choose the Adaptive driving mode, a premiere for the X3 model. Following in the footsteps of the 7 Series, the new SUV is now available with adaptive dampers that can adjust on the fly depending on your driving style and that soon became my preferred driving mode, as the chassis of the new X3 has truly been setup just right.
Prospective buyers of the xDrive20d won’t be looking to win drag races or take the car to the race track but it’s good to know that they have a more than capable chassis sitting under them. That said, you can feel the longer wheelbase working in favor of the new X3 as well as the better damping absorbing the bumps and cracks in the road easily, despite riding on 20” runflat tires. The car is comfortable when not using the Sport mode and the damping is exemplary.
On the highway, at speeds up to 130 km/h (80 mph) which is the usual speed limit on European highways, the noise protruding inside the cabin is isolated and reduced to a hum. Some of the credit goes to the new acoustic windshield which does its job perfectly but our tester also came with optional acoustic front windows which reduced the noise even more, limiting it to whatever made its way inside from the wheel wells. Around town the same serene atmosphere was kept, with the 2-liter B47 diesel engine being reduced to a distant buzz most of the time. You could hear it roar only when pushed over 3,000 RPM but considering the full amount of torque, 295 lb-ft, is available from some 1,500 RPM, you rarely need to rev the engine that hard.
The gearbox also won’t encourage you to do so, having been obviously set up more for comfort rather than a sporty feel. It does its job great but even in the sportiest setting it won’t rush to change gears in a hurry, keeping things as calm as they come. On a couple of twisty bends, the car keeps its composure just fine in Sport mode, showing good body control and traction. To be fair, the xDrive20d doesn’t feel exactly at home when pushed hard and we did notice a bit of understeer but then again, that’s not what it was made for.
Instead, most customers will be using it to make sure their families and their luggage are all welcome aboard when setting off for a longer road trip. In that regard, the xDrive20d X3 will definitely rise to the expectations. In the boot you get the same 490 liters of storage space as the old F25 but it looks a lot more usable now, due to a squarer layout. The floor is flush and you even get some useful storage space under it. Fold the rear seats using the relocated buttons at the bottom of the rear seats and you can access up to 1,600 liters which is enough to carry that Ikea closet you always wanted home. Don’t overload the car though as the 190 HP engine might have a bit of a hard time reaching triple digit speeds.
The car is swift up to 100 km/h (62 mph) doing the benchmark sprint in 8 seconds flat but after 130 km/h (81 mph) it starts to lose some of its vigor. It’s still enough for most driving situations, as long as you won’t be aiming to reach the car’s top speed of 212 km/h (131 mph) which might take a while. However, it’s hard to imagine a mom rushing back home from her son’s soccer match, speeding and looking to break a speed record on the highway behind the wheel of this xDrive20d.
Instead, the car is more likely to be used around town in heavy traffic situations which will be dealt with brilliantly thanks to the new Traffic Jam Assistant Plus system which can keep you in lane and move at the same pace as the traffic around you without much input from the driver. You can now also get Gesture Control inside a BMW X3 but remote-controlled parking is missing from its arsenal. Nonetheless, this will definitely be a crowd favorite thanks to its technology and looks, combined with the comfortable ride and plentiful room inside the cabin. Those factors combined will surely turn the BMW X3 xDrive20d into a crowd favorite, a well-deserved title too.