First drive of the 2018 BMW X3
IF BMW has a heart, you're looking at it. The new X3 will be the Bavarian brand's core model in Australia. It's almost certain to become its most popular model, relied upon to deliver a steady-pulsing flow of revenue.
These days, in case you hadn't noticed, BMW spells SUV. More than half its sales here wear an X. Glued to a BMW the chrome-plated letter means simply "Not a Car”.
So far this year the small X1 and the big X5 are the first- and second-best selling BMWs here. From November, the middle-size X3 will slot neatly between them. The just-right newcomer will replace BMW's third-best seller in Australia this year, the existing X3.
As the end draws near and despite its enduring popularity, BMW's current premium-medium SUV underperforms on the sales charts and in road tests. It's being handily outsold by the GLC from arch rival Mercedes-Benz, and critics keep carping on about its flair-free interior, not-so-comfy rear seat and substandard ride.
So, does the coming X3 remedy the shortcomings? The short answer: yes, mostly.
The new X3 uses BMW's best and freshest body construction, suspension design, all-wheel drive tech and more. It's related, under the skin, to two cars recently launched by the company; the Commodore-size 5 Series and the even bigger 7 Series.
There's growth in every direction, along with a reduction in weight, but the significant differences in size in the new X3 are overall length and wheelbase. The increases have been invested mainly in increasing rear-seat room.
As well as more space, second-row passengers in the vehicle get a more comfortable seat. Cargo space behind the bench remains unchanged at 550L.
Overall ambience also takes a big step in the right direction. The instrument panel of the new X3 echoes the style of that in the almost-as-new 5 Series. Decorations may not be as upmarket but the X3's dash is home to the same impressive array of infotainment tech.
Centrepiece of BMW's new iDrive6 is a lusciously high-res central screen. It's easy to look at but the graphic layout and menu structure also make it easy to use.
At launch in Australia there will be three versions, all priced a little higher than their equivalents in the current line-up. They are the $68,900 20d, $75,900 30i and $83,900 30d.
All are equipped with an eight-speed automatic and BMW's xDrive all-wheel drive. With each step up in price comes an increase in engine power, with the 30i and 30d also delivering a richer list of standard equipment.
BMW Australia plans to expand the new X3 range in 2018, and will certainly add the powerful M40i (pictured). This is the first X3 to get the M treatment from the company's performance-car division. It's intended to take on powerful contenders such as the Audi SQ5 and Mercedes-Benz GLC43 AMG.
As well a 265kW turbo in-line six-cylinder, the range-topping M40i will come with stiffer suspension, stronger brakes, variable steering and M Sport embellishments inside and out.
The least costly X3, on the other hand, will be a much tamer drive. The 20d has a 2.0-litre turbo diesel delivering 140kW, a little more than half the power of the M40i.
The 30i also has a 2.0-litre turbo four but this 185kW engine burns petrol. The 30d increases the power again, to 195kW, from a 3.0-litre in-line six turbo diesel that's one of BMW's most recent designs.
BMW bought only the 30d and M40i to the international presentation of the new X3 in Portugal, not the four-cylinder models that most customers will buy.
The 30d premium-medium SUV is very fine to drive. The engine is outstanding; strong, responsive, smooth and with a richly satisfying exhaust note. Its suspension delivers a fine blend of round-the-bend agility and bump-absorbing comfort.
The M40i delivers an increase in pace, both on the straights and through the corners, but there's a price to be paid for the speed. In Comfort mode, which softens the adaptive shock absorbers, the ride is still jiggly - even on relatively smooth Portuguese bitumen it's not comfortable.
Selecting Sport Plus mode makes it even stiffer and holds the transmission in the low gears, keeping engine revs high. Waste Fuel might be a more accurate label than Sport Plus.
So the M40i isn't going to be the version of the new X3 that delivers what most customers most want in an SUV.
If the less expensive four-cylinder variants drive as sweetly as the six-cylinder 30d, BMW has a new model that deserves to win hearts.