Friday, November 24, 2017

Bucket Seat: 2017 BMW X3 - First Impressions

The past two days I found myself in the Western Cape, sampling one of BMW's updated offering in their X Line, the all new X3. You couldn't have set the scene any better, blue skies, greenery and mountains around us, all that was left to do was for us to go out and ruin this tranquility with the noise of a burbling 3 liter, straight 6 roaring it's way through the countryside. But before I get to that, lets dabble in a bit of history about the BMW X3, seeing that this is the 3rd generation of this mid-range "SAV" (Suburban Activity Vehicle), seeing how the previous two generations fared in the segment is always handy. Since launching their first X model, the BMW X5 in 1999, the company has so over 5.4 million units world wide, in fact BMW have said that every 1 in 3 model sold globally is an X model. The first BMW X3 rolled off the line in 2003 and to be honest, it wasn't very pretty. The size was perfect for small families who wanted something with a bit more space, the raised ride height had it's advantages but other than that, it wasn't for everyone. The second generation was better to look at, offered a whole lot more and became quite a popular option in the segment, this helped push sales to 1.5 million units sold in the world for the first and second generation models, so from 5 X models on the market, the X3 contributed to 28% of sales, not bad.

Coming back to the new X3, first things first, whats different? Well the short answer would be "everything", no seriously this is entirely a new vehicle. The design language borrows a lot from the current gen 7 and 5 series, from the outside to the inside. The X3 will be offered in 3 packages, xLine, Luxury Line and M Sport, all of which add their own distinct differences to the car but all look great. At launch the X3 is available in 4 engine variants, 2 petrol and 2 diesel. Exterior highlights include the xenon lights being ditched and LED's added as standard with the option of having adaptive LED's for a little bit more, the rear also gets LED lights with a 3D effect. The kidney grille is more larger and prominent, as seen in the new X7 concept, looks like a trend in the X models to come. The X3 also has grown, it is bigger than the previous, not by much but millimeters here and there also the X3 now has bigger wheels ranging from 18" to 21" which BMW say are capable of light off-roading which we put to the test on the launch. Moving inside, BMW have really outdone themselves with this interior. Luxury and premium feel from floor to ceiling, A 10.2 inch screen along with a screen instrument cluster, active lane assist which steers you back into the lane should you veer off. 3 zone climate control, with the front two have their own temperature settings and the rear having their own. There's a lot of other cool things on the inside, like the revised full colour heads up display, the professional SatNav being as accurate to the last meter and the colours and trims available for the X3 will have you astounded. 

On the launch, BMW had 3 variants for us to drive, starting off with the 2.0d Diesel and 3.0 Diesel xDrive and the range topping M40i. Interesting to note that all X3's will come with xDrive with the option of sDrive later next year. Day 1 saw us take a long route through the Western Cape with a mixture of tar and gravel roads, lots of climbing up mountains and for this I opted for the M40i. Plenty of power, lots of grunt and BMW have added a noisy exhaust and boy does it sound good! The power is derived from the M Performance TwinPower turbo technology which has a Twinscroll turbo charger which produces a whopping 265kW and a Max torque of 500Nm. This proved to be awesome while climbing many of the mountain passes. On the gravel the car seemed to be surprisingly at home, in comfort mode the ride was smooth and quiet given the the type of terrain we were on. The xDrive system really works well as I felt it kick in on the loose sections, correcting the car before something bad could happen. It made me look like a rally driving pro. I also got the chance to sample the base level 2.0d, again handled just as well on both road and off road, but with that added beautiful fuel economy. 

The new X3 is a special car for us in South Africa, as from April 2018, plant Rosslyn will start manufacturing the model for local sales as well as exporting majority for Europe. This is a massive feather in the cap for the local industry as it has saw the German manufacturer invest quite a hefty some in upgrades to the plant to transition the assembly of the 3 Series to the X3 and now a further R160 million to increase production capacity by 10%. Rosslyn will be one of three other plants in the world making the X3, with the others being Spartenburg in Germany and Shenyang in China. Selected staff at the Rosslyn plant were sent for training for the new model and a new training center will be opening in Feb of next year for the rest of the plant personnel. Overall the new X3 really seems like the complete package for a mid-sized SUV, it really has moved up a notch in the premium category and offers so much more than the outgoing model and which justifies the price tag. With the base level xD20d starting off at R684,200 and the top of the range M40i coming in at R991,100.

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