Vince Pornelos / Kelvin Christian Go | July 16, 2018 18:35
Third Time's A Charm
Twenty years ago, a car company created something that would change the way many perceived luxury automobiles. It was nothing less than a market riot, one creating a new class of car that blends the usability and ride height of a big SUV, but with the comfort of a car fit for executives.
Interestingly enough, that model wasn't the ancestor of the crossover you see on this screen; in fact, it was the Lexus RX, a name that debuted in foreign markets in 1998. Much in the same way that the RAV4 started the compact crossover revolution, the RX kickstarted it for the luxury compact crossover.
BMW, however, was paying very close attention, and introduced the X3 in 2003. Back then, the class was basically a two-horse race. But other competitor brands started to notice that they've been missing out. In 2008, three carmakers introduced their own luxury compact crossovers with the launch of the Mercedes GLK (now the GLC), the Volvo XC60, and the Audi Q5. In 2016, Jaguar joined in with the F-Pace. The RX had moved on into the larger midsize class, though they also launched a smaller NX to re-compete in with the luxury compacts.
BMW had to level up their game, given the illustrious and tough competition. After spending a few days with the third generation X3, I think they've recaptured that mojo.
Now importance of the crossover for BMW Philippines cannot be understated as we're very much a high-riding crossover and SUV market. So it comes as no surprise that BMW Philippines launched the X3 just about 7 months after the world premiere. The one you see here is the 2018 BMW X3 xDrive20d M Sport; yes, it's quite a mouthful to try and say, but it's going to make a lot more sense when we drive it.
Personally, I was never a fan of the styling of the previous two generations of the X3, but this third one has changed my mind. Of course there are design elements like the double kidney grill, the quad-headlights, and the Hofmeister kink; the signature touches that make this BMW, a BMW. But while those classic elements are there, it is the execution that has changed quite a bit.
The grill looks like it was pushed out, making the kidneys more prominent. The lower bumper conveys strength, as do the not-so-round wheel arches. The Hofmeister kink is still there, but executed differently. But what I really liked was how the designers highlighted the rear quarter panels; they're quite suggestive of BMW's rear-wheel drive tradition. And, being an M Sport version, this one gets some niceties like M badging and those big 19-inch lightweight M wheels. Yes, this X3 looks very proper, given the expectations.
Once inside the cabin, I can easily tell that BMW really put in a lot of thought to how the X3 delivers the company's brand of driving pleasure. While there are a lot details about the dashboard to make it look properly business class, there's nothing in the way of excess; just subtle hints that this is an M Sport variant like the blue stitching, M Sport colors on the seat piping, and the M badge on the steering.
The instrument cluster is now a screen; a big departure from the classic look of BMW's gauges. Most of the vehicle's functions are available to be viewed, changed, or adjusted via the main screen above the climate control and radio panel on the center stack; it's controlled via the iDrive dial and button cluster just beside the shifter. There's none in the way of clutter that would require you to pull out the manual just to figure out where everything was; it's just instinctive and very easy to get familiarized with if you've driven a BMW before.
Ergonomics are spot on; the seat can be easily adjusted, and strikes that perfect balance between comfort and lateral support for cornering. I quite like the extendable thigh supports; while I'm not a tall individual, they can provide a bit more comfort if you're in traffic for long periods of time. The back seats could have been better though; they seem quite flat, meaning you don't so much settle in them as you do on them.
Pop the hood and you'll see the 2.0-liter turbodiesel that moves this X3 along, and it's paired with an 8-speed auto. The engine is one of the latest generation of BMW's diesels, one that has a turbo that's designed to reduce lag, improve efficiency, and produce even more power. As it stands, this X3 20d has 190 PS and 400 Nm of torque to its name; very respectable, especially since it not only has to be able to handle the weight of this all-wheel drive crossover, but deliver the driving performance we know BMW for.
Power up the X3, and there's a bit of that diesel judder at start up, but that's it. The engineers definitely worked at suppressing the outside world, and the diesel-ness is kept to an absolute minimum; there's only a hint of a clatter when you really try to accelerate hard. And accelerate this can; the X3 takes just 8.4 seconds to get from 0 to 100 km/h from a standstill, but I think it can do better if we make a few driving adjustments.
When you're making grocery runs and shopping sales, chances are this BMW will win you over. Boot space is quite sizeable at 550 liters, though a bit narrow. That can balloon to so much more if you fold the 40/20/40 rear seats flat. My favorite bit has to be that rear cargo floor; it tilts up to expose another compartment that's perfect for laptop bags and valuables to keep them away from prying eyes.
As an urban drive, the X3 does fare a lot better than its predecessors. BMWs are quite famed for their use of runflats that compromise comfort all to save you from carrying a spare, but that doesn't seem to be the case with this new X3. Yes, they're still runflats, but the suspension -even the stiffer one on this M Sport version- has been tuned well to deliver a better ride. The clearance is respectable too; at 8 inches (203mm), you've got plenty to easily sail past most road debris and clear taller-than-normal speed bumps.
As expected, the X3 xDrive20d takes very light sips from its tank. Even though BMW claims an urban fuel consumption of about 17.5 km/l, with our city traffic that goes down to a still superb 11.5 km/l (19 km/h average). You can be more fuel efficient than that because I opt to deactivate the idle start/stop system; it's just too intrusive for my liking. On the highway, that fuel economy can easily hit 16.2 km/l (94 km/h average); I say easily because my right foot wasn't being all too sensible with overtaking.
As a daily all-around vehicle, yes, the 2018 BMW X3 xDrive20d M Sport (again, a mouthful) is superb. The X3 ticks all the boxes for improved comfort, practicality, design, maneuverability, safety, so on and so forth. These are, however, things you can get with any of the BMW X3's other competitors. We could talk about how BMW installed all kinds of airbags, all manners of driver assist systems, and the rather gimmicky gesture control for the audio system's volume, but you can browse the brochure at your local dealer to find all that out. But what's important (and exceptional) with the X3 is how it drives, and how it earns its right to wear the BMW badge; a logo that means it can deliver a thrilling driving experience.
That it can drive well isn't so obvious. Sure, there are things you read on a spec sheet like the M Sport suspension (on this version) or activate like the drive mode selector (I just kept it on its base setting), but what makes the X3 different are the things that BMW did that aren't so easily seen. Things like the positioning of the engine in order to put most of its mass a little bit behind the shock towers; doing that keeps its weight within the wheelbase for better handling. There are even strut bars that connect the shock towers to the front beam of the X3; that's something you usually see on high performance cars (or racing cars) for extra rigidity.
Power and torque are definitely there from that turbodiesel, but the excellence shows in how everything works together to be able to excite you, make you roll up your sleeves, and take a longer route home, preferably one with a few (or a lot) of nice, high and low speed corners.
The result? There's a certain confidence about how the X3 M Sport makes its way around corners. This thing gives the driver a degree of control that almost says “Dude, speed up; I can go faster than that”. The weight of the steering, the grip afforded by the tires, the braking control and stability, the control of the X3's weight mid-corner, the almost rear-driven feel, all are very classic traits of BMW.
This just happens to be taller.