Updated: May 18, 2020
Travel we must. In a nice car, to be more precise. 'Tis a Eurotrip! This time, the adventure takes us to crazy, wondrous places – France and Germany. Some 1,200 kilometers of roads, from urban alleys to unrestricted highways in the land of the free (cars). And since it's THE autobahn we're talking about it, then we need a vehicle with a bit of oomph, plus German heritage. You got the answer right: BMW X3.
I've already reviewed this car several years ago, but it was in the xDrive guise, with the mighty twin-turbo 3.0-liter inline-six diesel, similar to the BMW 330d experience. Now though, we will have to make do with only a two-liter engine. But it ought to be interesting. So begin, let's.
The journey started in Lyon, France, veiled in thin mist and drizzle the likes of afflicts Europe in autumn months. The BMW X3 at my disposal was an xLINE model, which sits just below the lovely jubbly M Sport edition. Less aggressive bodywork lines and no sporty steering wheel, but then you still get a whole bunch of goodies, including Y-spoke 19-inch alloys, twin exhausts, sport seats, chrome finish everywhere, and 190 HP under the hood, packed inside two liters of diesel thermodynamics.
This is the same engine we had in the 218d Cabriolet – but with uprated tuning, giving it more teeth to bite the tarmac. The extra juice might be needed, because the X3 is a much bigger and heavier car, and let's not forget the unrestricted motorway ahead of us. Because I have a need, a need for speed!
The X3 is indeed a big car, but like all BMWs, it's precise, elegant, and when you get down to it, it doesn't lag or fret or wobble. The chassis comes with the lovely Dynamic Driving Control – switch from Comfort to Sport, and everything becomes so much nicer.
The first leg of the roadtrip was a 550 km drive to Karlsruhe in Germany. My co-pilot and I navigated the cityspace, getting (very quickly) used to the car's predictably predictable behavior, and then we eased up onto France's toll highways, which are restricted to 130 km/h, like in most of Europe. In a way, this was a good start, because it gave us enough time to familiarize ourselves with its impressive array of digital controls present in the X3, and develop a gentle but persistent craving for the country border crossing.
The X3 is a smooth rider. The car soaks up deformities with ease – you never notice them. There's very little body roll, but you can sometimes feel the side wind, especially at higher speed. The noise ingress into the cabin is minimal, and in combination with excellent seats, good climate control and sonorous media system, the kilometers just melt away. And you're never bored. Part of it is the clever infotainment setup, part of it safety.
The X3 is covered with sensors. Everywhere. Most of these are designed to aid the driver, improving your odds in the long run. Indeed, the ultimate test to any "helper" utility is how self-explanatory and unobtrusive it really is, otherwise it misses the very purpose it's meant to fulfill. On this front, the X3 does extremely well. You get lane departure warning, blind spot warning – complete with yellow light triangles in the outer part of the side mirrors, as well as front collision warning system. Sounds like a lot, but then, I was surprised how elegant these aids are. Not once did I feel annoyed or confused or distracted.
When you're driving normally – or overtaking, the light triangles will flash if there's a car in what would be your blind spot (most people don't position their mirrors correctly). Then, once, someone merged too closely in front of me, and the front sensors woke up. The parking sensors will also activate in slow driving, if there are cars snuggling too close to you – you can also turn them on manually. Coupled with the reversing camera (with guide lines), you're all set for maneuvering the sizable SUV without fear. The adaptive LED lights will dip or sweep as needed, providing excellent visibility. And then, the car will also suggest that you rest if you drive for a long stretch, and can even search for the nearest stop – very handy for the quintessential GT experience.
I was impressed with the setup. It's never too much or too little, and you instinctively know what to do. Technically, you should be fine within five minutes of driving the X3, and you will feel at home after a few hours. The high seating position also yields excellent visibility – as well as the sense of superiority over peasants – and with the scalpel-sharp steering and the throttly engine response, the roadtrip is a fun, pleasant experience.
Le approaching the border
I tried driving in both Comfort and Sport modes (Eco is boring) – and the differences are vast and important. Comfort is good for most occasions, but if you want to enjoy everything the car can do, then you will press the Sport button. This turns the X3 into a fun box. The dials change, the throttle is sharper, and the automatic box drops a cog or two (it has lots of them, so why not). If you need to overtake (or just accelerate), the torquey diesel does the job. On paper, it's just a two-liter engine, but it's a world away from the 150 HP unit. The delta is more than just 40 HP. Of course, you don't get that insane spaceship feel like you do with the three-liter engine, but it's still got an impressive four-wheel grunt. You only notice that it could do more when you keep accelerating for long periods of time – it's surprisingly agile in both the low and high ranges.
At 130 km/h, the RPM needle stands at 2,000 revolutions, and if you keep pressing – which you can't in France, ha ha, got you – well, we shall see what happens when we get to Germany, right. Indeed, five or six hours later plus a few peepee stops, the HUD navigation was showing the end of road. But this meant the end of France's motorway system and the start of Germany's supersonic network.
I was thinking of actually shouting FREEDOM as we crossed the border, but then I saw the 80 km/h sign, and I decided to withhold my enthusiasm for a while. It was a justified decision, because the end of the day rush hour thingie that we suddenly found ourselves surrounded in prevented me from exploring the X3's capabilities. With the roads clogged with cars, the night setting in, and the roadworks intruding on my desire to have fun, the first etape of the roadtrip ended with a slow chug into Karlsruhe. On the bright side, I was feeling fresh, probably more than any other car I've ever driven before.