ticks all the right
And sporting BMWs
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to many respectable
First we had Multi-Purpose and Multi-Activity Vehicles. Then we had Sport Utility Vehicles. Now there are SAVs or Sports Activity Vehicles. The BMW X3 and X5 four-wheel drive models are prime examples
of what the SAV sector is all about: brand and model desirability and must-have style and presence. Everything, in fact, that makes them the vehicles of choice for Mr and Mrs Wellheeled.
In Cheltenham, my nearest largest town, you will see many Georgian houses with an X3 and an X5 parked in the same driveway all the personal transport of financial and industry executives, physicians, dentists, lawyers and their respective wives and partners. They have no real need of a 4x4, but their lifestyle and 'peer pressure' make them must-have vehicles that fit in with their family requirements and their affluent social and business image.
Travelling to polo or towing a horse-trailer or boat all respectable urban lifestyle activities is assuredly the domain of the BMW X series. By comparison, deep in the working countryside, their Cotswold neighbours seem more than happy to stick with more traditional 4x4s from Land Rover or Jeep.
Since its launch in 2004, UK sales of the X3 have continued to grow and are now just under 8,000 units per year a few more than the larger X5, but then customers are eagerly awaiting the new X5 model. The UK accounts for 8 per cent of all X3s sold in Europe, making it the second largest market after Germany. The X3 2.0d model accounts for two thirds of UK X3 sales and the sales split between male and female X3 customers in the UK is an 'equal opportunities' 50:50.
When the X3 was first launched by BMW, it didn't seem to make much sense. Principally because it was pretty close in size to the X5, which was also a five-seater. However, with the introduction in April this year of the new and very much larger seven-seat X5, the recently revised X3 now has a better 'fit' in the BMW X range. Precisely as BMW intended.
The X3 is roomy enough for five adults and although it is pricey £28,560 for the cheapest 2.0d diesel model right up to £38,175 for the top of the range 3.0sd diesel M Sport variant it will be more affordable and more company car tax-friendly than its new big brother.
The X3 has five engine options, all six cylinder units. There are two petrol engines (2.5 and 3.0-litres) and three diesel units 2.0-litre, 3.0-litre 218hp and 3.0-litre 282bhp. The most recent specification changes include the introduction of new 3.0-litre petrol and diesel engines.
Depending on the model chosen, the transmission can either be manual or automatic. But all models benefit from BMW's xDrive all-wheel drive system. Specification levels are SE and M Sport and are available for all engine sizes.
The latest X3 features subtle changes to the interior and exterior. At the front, a larger kidney grille sits above a redesigned front bumper and spoiler and the front foglights are now incorporated into the main section of the bodywork. The X3 3.0sd also rides on bespoke 18-inch light alloy wheels as standard.
The side profile remains true to the original X3, but the new rear light clusters feature 'rods' of LED lights. The styling of the rear bodywork has also changed, with colour-coded panels now extending lower down the bodywork.
Inside, the driver benefits from a new style of three-spoke steering wheel while enhanced materials used on the centre console have been included. Again, the owner of an X3 3.0sd gets special treatment with stainless steel foot pedals to confirm the nature of this high-performance variant.
But the best news is that the new X3 features the latest version of the twin-turbo 3.0-litre diesel engine first showcased on the BMW 535d. Now with an output of 282bhp, this unique engine represents the pinnacle of BMW diesel engine development. Such power propels the X3 3.0sd into the realm of sports car acceleration courtesy of a zero to 62mph time of 6.6 seconds and a 149mph top speed. For such a powerful unit, fuel economy is good. Officially the average is 32.5mpg and my test vehicle returned 29.1mpg overall. Touring and city driving figures are, respectively, 39.2 and 25mpg.
What specifically sets the X3 3.0sd apart from previous X3s is the twin-turbo technology. By using two turbochargers one smaller and one larger the X3 3.0sd offers high levels of low-down pulling power as well as top-end performance. This is down to a smaller turbo that boosts power at low revs for instant, smooth and swift acceleration. Then as engine speed builds, the larger turbocharger comes into play to continue the rapid progress. The result is an engine that develops impressive peak torque of 428lb ft from just 1,750rpm through to 2,250rpm, but is capable of continuing to rev up to 4,400rpm an unusually high figure for a diesel. And to make the best of it, the X3 3.0sd comes as standard with a six-speed Steptronic automatic gearbox.
Aiding performance and safety is BMW's latest stability control system which in the X3 is allied to xDrive BMW's unique four-wheel-drive system. xDrive comprises two key functions: an electrically-activated multiple-plate clutch which changes drive distribution from axle-to-axle, and the Dynamic Stability Control+ system that regulates power to each wheel. Responding in just 100 milliseconds, xDrive reacts more quickly than more conventional four-wheel-drive systems.
The 'intelligence' of xDrive comes from the DSC+ stability control system, which delivers vehicle data, including individual wheel speed, steering angle, lateral acceleration and yaw rates. By constantly processing this information, xDrive is able to detect situations in which traction loss is likely and, in an instant, transfer drive to the specific wheels with the most traction.
DSC+ can intervene but, because of xDrive's ability to re-direct power and prevent traction loss, interventions are far less frequent and only happen in extreme circumstances. Where traction loss is unavoidable, DSC+ cuts power and, if necessary, applies brakes to individual wheels, allowing the car to regain a foothold but not necessarily reining-in progress.
And because xDrive predicts a loss of traction rather than reacting to it the X3 can use the intelligently distributed power and drive to negotiate off-road terrain or to maximise enthusiastic on-road driving.
For the first time on an 'X' model, BMW's innovative Dynamic Stability Control+ comes fitted as standard. DSC+ on the X3 brings with it four additional features aimed at improving safety. These are brake pre-tensioning (that shortens stopping distances), brake drying (where the pads are applied periodically to clear water), hill start assist and brake fade compensation.
My test X3 the range-topping 3.0sd M Sport only accounts for around 5 per cent of X3 sales and, according to BMW, they are mostly driven by men. This twin-turbo high-torque engine, coupled with the xDrive traction system and a brilliant chassis, proves the X3 to be more of an elevated sports car than a conventional 4x4. Yes, it does cope with off-road conditions such as grassy fields and farm tracks. But on the road its BMW performance pedigree is most impressive. In the wet, mud and snow it gives real grip and in the dry it just improves road-holding for high-speed motoring.
The Sport suspension is not the most comfortable and the ride can be unsettled, but the grip it gives is most reassuring. Bodyroll, unavoidable in most MPVs and 4x4s, is virtually non-existent, so the X3 handles like a sports car. All thanks to the technology involved, although at the core of it is the wonderful new twin-turboed, 3.0-litre, six-cylinder, 24-valve direct injection diesel engine. It is quiet, smooth and fantastically responsive. Another great new powerplant from BMW.
As you would expect for the money, the standard specification is of the highest level, although there is a long list of extra cost 'goodies' for owners wanting the ultimate X3. In addition to its £38,175 on-the-road price, my test car had over £3,500 worth of extras. The add-ons included brushed aluminium interior trim, leather upholstery, satellite navigation and communications package and side air bags for the rear passengers.
The X3 is roomy, well able to accommodate five passengers and their luggage. However, the bulky transmission tunnel in the rear seating section does restrict legroom for the middle rear seat passenger.
Admittedly the BMW 'brand image' doesn't come cheap. But then it will hold its price better than most. Ride comfort is on the firm side and
you either like the styling of new BMWs or you don't. Major plus points include the amazingly good diesel engine, roomy cabin, excellent road holding and a 2,000kg towing capacity. If you want a sports activity vehicle that really does handle, steer and go like a proper sports car and which has seating for five and you can afford it this X3 is undoubtedly the perfect choice. David Miles
BMW X3 3.0sd M Sport | £38,175
Maximum speed: 149mph | 0-62mph: 6.6 seconds
Test MPG: 29.1mpg | Power: 282bhp | Torque: 428lb ft
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