Sequels aren’t equal. I’m talking, of course, about the film industry. Did you see Cars 2? Then you’ll know what I mean. The original had an entertaining script, brilliant animation and some very cute characters. Anyone else have a crush on Sally Carrera? Pixar had outdone itself and then totally ruined the follow up (though Holley Shiftwell was worth the admission price…)
My theory is it sabotaged the next instalment to give it a reason to have another go at the franchise (the inevitable Cars 3) and keep the coffers swelling. Which is precisely why I don’t understand BMW’s take on the second-generation X3. It’s become so good that I don’t know what BMW will do to improve it when the time comes for a third gen.
Beauty isn’t only skin deep
Introduced in 2003 and marketed as Bimmer’s second sports activity vehicle after the beefy X5, I never really thought much of the original. A gangly body and thin tyres don’t impress me much. Criticised for a harsh ride, it found puddles quite challenging, let alone anything remotely hazardous.
The interior was minimalist at best and if that wasn’t enough, you’d need to save a serious amount of dirhams for one. In spite of this, it was a sales success and soon other manufacturers were dabbling with crossovers of their own. There have been some good efforts too, particularly the Audi Q5 and Caddy SR-X.
But now part two is here and rather than botch it up Hollywood-style, Bimmer has made amends in every single way on the new X3. Starting with the exterior, it’s added some real muscle to the body. It shows its sporty credentials with a striking design that combines a low front and high rear.
A wider BMW kidney grille, sharper headlights and a powerful front apron go a long way to improving its looks. I love the pumped-up bonnet while the profile is simply glorious, characterised by no less than three contour lines and powerfully flared wheel arches housing 18in alloys. Two chrome exhaust tips poke out from under the rear bumper and it gains LED taillights. It’s as if a bored bunch of boffins mated the boxy X5 and curvy X6 and out popped this, the prettiest member of the X family.
The interior is classy yet understated — words you’d never use to describe its predecessor. Those nasty hard plastics have been replaced by silky smooth surfaces, delightful to the touch. I love the padded seats while the lashings of wood and leather make for some delicious eye candy.
The dash, which arcs elegantly towards the driver, boasts an 8.8in high-resolution sat-nav, the biggest in its segment. Five large adults can enjoy the modern cabin and they’ll be as happy as Larry, especially since the X3 is 86mm longer, meaning legroom has increased at the back. It does have a few blind spots caused by a small rear window and thick pillars but you’ll never struggle while parking because the top-view monitor offers a 360-degree view around the stylish X3. The massive panoramic sunroof just adds to the glamour quotient but it’s as practical as it is pretty, boasting 1,792 litres of boot space with the rear seats folded.
The ConnectedDrive gives you a host of driver assist features which go a long way in improving comfort and safety, but most important of all, driving pleasure. The Night Vision boasts the automotive world’s first individual person-detection system to make driving when it’s dark that much safer.
The head-up display is neat too, even though it tended to distract me no matter which way I adjusted it. If you own a smart phone, you can hook it up and access emails, messages and the like and have them shown on the control display or read out to you. Just make sure they’re not naughty if you’re riding with family.
The Bluetooth Audi Streaming lets you enjoy your favourite songs from your phone or audio player without needing any cables. You can access them from the iDrive controller and they sound crystal clear too through the 12-speaker sound system. So, it looks good inside and out but more importantly, does this thing go?
Oh my, it does. The 306bhp xDrive 35i has enough grunt to fling it from 0-100kph in just 5.7 seconds. No, that isn’t a typo. How is it so quick, I hear you cry? It’s borrowed lots of oily bits from its faster siblings such as a twin-scroll turbocharged 3.0-litre inline six motor that has been mated to a sublime eight-speed automatic.
The superb motor delivers smooth and effortless power without any detectable lag and it sounds as good as it performs too, revving happily to 7,000rpm. Since it’s been designed around BMW’s EfficientDynamics strategy, it sips just 8.8 litres-per-100-km and emits 204 grams of CO2-per-100-km, making it class-leading in terms of performance and fuel efficiency. This is thanks to features such as brake-energy regeneration, electric power steering, the lightweight construction, runflat tyres and fuel-saving seventh and eight gears that allow the engine to relax.
On the road, it handles exceptionally and feels more like a saloon than a crossover. Weight distribution is almost equal over the front and rear axles and the chassis doesn’t feel as if it’s bogged down, even though the X3 weighs 1,915kg, meaning you are able to toss it into corners without getting into a pickle.
The speed-sensitive steering offers good road feedback and allows you to fling this car around at will. But, even so, the X3 remains perfectly poised while body roll is barely noticeable. Though it has three driving modes — Normal, Sport and Sport Plus — just stick it into the latter and leave it there for a fun-filled ride. This stiffens the suspension and sharpens the throttle response to deliver sheer driving thrills which you wouldn’t think were possible for a car of this size. Straight-line acceleration is astounding. Floor it and you’re pinned back to your seat by 406Nm of tyre-melting torque. The xDrive sends 60 per cent of power to the rear wheels and 40 to the front when you’re coasting along. But this sophisticated all-wheel-drive system can send 100 per cent to either end, depending on the situation.
Sequels may not be equal in the film industry and that often applies to the car industry too. There have been some calamities. The worst of the lot? The Trans Am Kammback. Why, Pontiac? Why did you make a station wagon out of the greatest muscle car of them all?
BMW hasn’t taken a step back in order to take two steps forward with the new X3. It’s instead gone and jumped miles ahead of its rivals. In true Hollywood fashion, there’ll be yet more sequels, good and bad from the others. Grab some popcorn…
Model BMW X3 xDrive 35i
Engine 3.0-litre inline six
Transmission Eight-speed auto, AWD
Max power 306bhp @ 1,300rpm
Max torque 406Nm @ 5,800rpm
Top speed 245kph
Price Dh205,000 (base)
Plus Great interior and exterior, performance
Minus Some bad blind spots