Updated: September 25, 2020
If you've read my latest Eurotrip article, then you've already met our star for today. A few months back, I changed my grubby hands upon one BMW X3, and drove it from Lyon, France to Berlin, Germany, a handy trip worth 1,200 km, including some decent speeding on the autobahn. In the previous piece, I focused more on the journey itself, with hintful bits and pieces about the car itself. Now, we must fully dedicated ourselves to the SUV and its merits.
This ain't the first time I drove the X3 - but last time, I had the more powerful 3.0-liter diesel, which is the sort of engine used to turn smaller planets with its immense and all-too-fun torque figure. The more restrained 2.0-liter four-cylinder specimen is here, producing "only" 190 HP and solid 400 Nm of torque, spread democratically on both axles. So let's see what gives.
What do we have here?
Quite a lot. The xLINE trim level stands just one below the fanciest M Sport, and that translates into heaploads of options, gadgetry and comforts. To dump it all in one long list would take away some of the fun, so I'm just going to broadly mention some of the features, and then we will slowly expose them throughout the review.
Tons of safety. More acronyms than you can believe - ABS, ASC, CBC, DTC, ADB, brake assist, hill descent control, crash sensors, six airbags. Larger fuel tank, with a 68-liter capacity, which makes it ideal for long drives. On the visual aesthetics front, you also get quite a bit. The xLINE also means 245/50 R 19 wheels with Y-spoke alloys, extra interior and exterior finishes, all-LED lights, three-zone climate control, plus sport seats. This transforms a seemingly docile elevated transporter into a mean road trotter. The one thing that I miss from the M Sport line is the classic three-spoke steering wheel, but then, you can't have it all.
Now, the engine is what interests me the most, of course, especially since I'm already familiar with a lower-powered version of the two-liter block from an earliest test, as well as the vigor of the six-cylinder beast. If you've read the Eurotrip piece, you already know whither my feelings go, but more about that a bit later.
Normally, SUVs have a rather ... mundane reputation. The letter S invariable stands for sport or suburban, take your pick. You'd expect them to go offroad, but they often aren't rugged or cheap enough to bang over a stretch of grass, mud and rock somewhere. You'd expect them to be sporty, but they are all too often used in infamy for the school run sorties, much to the detriment of good driving. Hand in hand, many an SUV comes with soft, urbane looks, designed to please the more concrete-loving buyer with offspring rather than whatever idealistic purpose they might have been conceived to serve in the first place.
Which means, when it comes to looks, it's hit and miss with SUV. But X3 managed quite well, I must say. I find it more refined than any of its bigger brethren, and it has a reasonable dose of brawn and finesse to confuse any of its prospecting owners. The xLINE furnishing helps take it out of the mundane zone and closer to the fun zone, where one (me) expects vividity and vigor from a car. Pretty, yes, if a bit reserved, boring, not at all, mission accomplished, very nice, I like, too big by all means, and yet, nicer than most cars in this class - although I personally find Volvos to be quite smartly done, plus some of the Audis do quite well, too.
The interior is quintessentially BMW. This means a combination of analog and digital, sporty and classy. The dashboard is digital, which means it will change based on your preferences. For instance, switch to Sport mode, and the dials will change from gray to red, with speedo increments set to 50 km/h rather than 20 km/h. The central console is dominated by a 10-inch, high-resolution, touch-capable display. The infotainment is just like any BMW – very simple and intuitive and powerful.
I tried a whole bunch of functions, and they all worked fine. This includes navigation – you can use touch or the rotary knob to control the interface - phone pairing via Bluetooth (plus voice control), driving modes customization, and then some. In the main screen, you get a three-split setup with media, navigation and system data, which is quite helpful, as it gives you a good overview of everything at a glance. You also get live traffic updates, and I even received a new map data package (which required a nav system restart).
Underneath the MMI, you get MANUAL climate control buttons – no complaints there, and then farther below, oh bewoe me, no manual handbrake! You get a silly little button, but you can slightly alleviate your pain by using the auto function. I know this is considered modern progress or whatnot, but it's more tedious, especially in traffic when you wanna switch to N and rest your leg.
The elegantly shuttered floor console well hides a nice little surprise – Wireless charging for thy gadgets. I tried that with my now retired Microsoft Lumia 950, and it worked just fine. No such luck with the Moto G6, because it doesn't support it, but you do have USB ports, if you need some juice. And cupholders, golly. No, they don't help with anything phone-related, in case you be wondering.
There are smart, classy touches everywhere, like the faint glow of the door insets when you open them. I had always wondered about the lighting in different BMW, and the differences between various editions. My initial thought was - blue for M, red for Sport and perhaps xLINE, but here, it's more sort of sunset orange. Ahem.
The seats are superb. Black leather with white stitching, looking sporty – and feeling ultra snug. They really dig into your flesh, which means your muscles don't need to work hard to support you, ergo you feel fresh after many hours of driving. You can position them any which way you like, but the recline angle is governed by a spring lever rather than a cog – quite annoying and rather cheap for this class of vehicle – no memory settings either (optional extra). The front-back and up-down range is governed by simple DIY handles, but you do get buttons for seat and back depth configuration, go figure.
However, I was able to quickly forget the setup woes once I started driving. You won't bemoan the seats even after a full day on the road. They are as good as the ones I remember from the BMW 330d. In the back, there's plenty of space. The boot is also huge, and can swallow at least three full-size suitcases easily. That would be 550 liters of water, to be more precise.
When you need something less drastic than a suitcase, you have full-size bottle pockets in all four doors, and there's a sizable climate-controlled compartment inside the arm rest between the front seats. Very handy for stuffs for when a-travelin'.
I was thoroughly impressed - and rather surprised - by the amount of grunt and bite the 2.0-liter diesel had. Having driven a less-aggressive 150HP version in a BMW 218d, I didn't think there would be a significant difference, especially since the X3 weighs a hefty 1,800 kg dry. But then, I began driving, and soon realized that this is a superbly tuned engine, with excellent responsiveness and plenty of pull. Any diesel does that, but then the transmission is half the magic. In this case, you can't fault the fantastic eight-speed auto, or the four-wheel drive. All of these work in sweet unison to give the driver and the passengers a good sense of classy haste.
The humans are cosseted from the road noise, the suspension is firm but yielding when needs be, and the ride is supple. You only feel the car's height when there's a lot of crosswind at high speeds, the kind that is only legally attainable in Germany. Anything below 150 km/h feels silky smooth. Dial in SPORT, and everything becomes even more fun - tighter, sharper, more responsive, with the dial graphics to match. Acceleration is good, surprisingly good. Dry figures suggest 0-100 km/h in 8 seconds. This is quite brisk for any vehicle, especially something this size - and weight.
The X3 is designed for cruising, and it brings out its best qualities on the highway. However, it also performs well in the city, even though this ain't its natural habitat. The car is covered in safety features and sensors, which work unobtrusively, and really help you gage your environment, whether you're crawling in a traffic jam or blasting down an autobahn. Everything is precise, accurate, just as it should be.
With 1,200 km covered in just two days, you get a good sense of what the car does. My co-pilot and myself didn't feel exhausted, even after long hours of driving, thanks to the smartly designed cockpit and those marvelous sculpted sport seats. The car works with you, helps you keep sharp and in focus. It will even suggest you take a break once in a while. Furthermore, the infotainment offers just the right amount of data to keep you engaged, without making you lose your attention at any point. There are no distractions, no nonsense.
At the end of this haul, the fuel consumption stood at about 7 liters/100 km. We're talking constant use of aircon/heating, really cold temperature outside (round zero), two adults plus suitcases, and fairly aggressive driving, with good use of speed and the fabulous SPORT mode. This means if you're relaxed, and you keep in the 130 km/h range or less, you can probably manage 6 liters/100 km, which is pretty nifty for a 2-ton vehicle.
Nothing came up in the course of this test.
I have never been a fan of big or tall cars. But the roadtrip in the X3 changed my mind a little. I am much more appreciative of what a well-designed SUV can do, even though I'll probably never go for one myself. I also think the new X3 is better than the older version in pretty much every aspect. With the 30d tested the last time, my main focus was on the engine. Here, the engine is good but not the main focus of the review, and there's so much other cool stuff in the equation.
The BMW X3 xDrive30d xLINE exceeded my expectations. It was a thoroughly enjoyable car, with a wickedly proportionate balance of style, speed and functionality. When you cram so much electronics into a vehicle, there's always risk of ending up with a silly computer game, but that didn't happen. The two-liter diesel also did better than I thought. All in all, this is a good all-rounder, with something for everyone. Of course, heed my gushy words with discretion, but if you're after a number, then 9/10 ought to do it. There.
P.S. Full disclosure, I do own a couple of BMW shares, so feel free to ignore anything I wrote here.