My first drive with an X3 was about 5 years ago. That particular model was a 3.0 (petrol) version which was well specified, had plenty of power and was quite an enjoyable drive. The next X3 was around two years later. It was a turbodiesel with manual transmission. That car struggled with the local diesel fuel which had high sulphur content. There were times we had to keep the revs at high levels otherwise it would stall at 1st gear when you release the clutch!
Since then, the quality of diesel fuel in Malaysia has improved (now at Euro 2M). It is still a long way from Euro 4 or 5 but at least there is some progress. So it was a timely opportunity to try out the latest X3 20d which is facelifted version of the earlier models. Even in its latest guise, the X3 looks a bit out of place next to a futuristic X6. However, the current design is an improvement over the original with updated rear lights and a more aggressive front profile.
This sample model is the entry level diesel X3 for the Malaysian market. There is no iDrive and no GPS but the car has all the usual safety features from BMW. Additional safety features come in the form of DSC (Dynamic Stability Control) and DTC (Dynamic Traction Control). As a plus point the car is equipped with the xDrive. The xDrive is BMW’s version of an all wheel drive system. The xDrive variably distributes the drive torque to the front and rear axles depending on driving situations and prevailing conditions.
The torque distribution is generally biased towards the rear but depending on the situation, can vary from 50/50 or 0% to the front and rest to the rear or vice versa. The xDrive works in conjunction with the DSC via brake intervention at the slipping wheel/s and power distribution to the wheel/s which has traction. Another unique feature is the HDC (Hill Descent Control), which is a system which automatically reduces the speed on steep downward inclines to enable better control under such conditions.
The moment I entered into the car, my first impression was that the internals especially the dashboard and instrument panel looked dated. The design appeared to be a generation behind the current BMW models. Even the ignition is performed the conventional way (with a special key) and there is no “Start/Stop” button. I also missed not having the automatic rain sensor wipers. Strangely there is no remote boot release from the driver’s side. The doors also do not lock automatically once you drive off.
The seats are a mix of leather and fabric which gave good support and is electronically adjustable with memory functions. The seating position is high and there is good visibility at the front. However, reversing is a challenge. I had to rely heavily on the Park Distance Control (PDC) with audible warnings. The cruise control buttons are located on the steering wheel. It was not as user friendly as current BMW models. There is no digital indicator to show what speed you have ‘locked’ into and you have to rely on the analogue speed dial for reference. It gave an impression that this is an older generation cruise control model.
Legroom is more than adequate for the driver and passengers. Boot space is plentiful and can be increased by folding down all the rear seats (up to 1,560 litres). Even without folding down the rear seat, boot space should be more than adequate for the average sized family. There is also a load area cover (works like a flexible shutter) for added privacy on your stowed luggage/goods.
The sampled car is powered by the N47 4-cylinder in-line turbodiesel, common rail technology engine with 4 valve technology. Max power is 177hp @ 4,000 rpm and Max torque is 350nm @ 1,750-3,000 rpm. Transmission is 6-speed automatic with Steptronic. Typically for a diesel engine, clatter is audible from outside, but it is satisfactorily insulated inside. Although the engine is not the best in refinement, its performance was well above expectations. There was hardly any turbo lag.
Power was plentiful and one aspect which would please many is that there is an immediate boost of ‘extra’ power you can call upon at around 2,000 rpm – 3,000 rpm range (peak torque kicks in) when you step a bit more on the accelerator. The automatic transmission performed adequately but lacks the refinement of the sedan models. For normal acceleration, gearchanges were relatively smooth but for hard acceleration I felt the jerkiness in the cabin as it pushed towards higher gears.
Based on the specs, the average fuel consumption is around 7 litres per 100km. So far having driven the sampled model for a few weeks, the average consumption is around 8 litres per 100km which is not bad for a new 2.0 diesel car. With more breaking in we should see improved fuel consumption levels. The sampled car comes with Sports Leather steering wheel with multifunction buttons. The steering is precise and easy to steer. The feedback/weight is well balanced and for an entry level model, this is again well above expectations.
BMW has placed anti-roll bars on the front and rear to minimize body roll. The suspension set up is quite firm even though the tyres are not of the low profile type. The ride is slightly on the harder side but bearable. Uncommon for a current BMW model, the X3 comes with a spare wheel (located at the bottom of the trunk) which is a welcome ‘accessory’. The tyres are 17 inch Pirelli Scorpion STR 235/55 R17.
For Entertainment, the car is equipped with BMW Business Radio with CD. Generally the sound quality is adequate. Bass and treble are clearly audible but the midrange tends to be drowned by the bass heavy sound. Radio tracking and reception is good. The interior lights are a tad dimmer than preferred although you’ll get the usual package of interior and exterior lights. The Xenon headlights are bright and illuminate a good distance upfront to aid driving at night.
I suspect that this particular X3 model is not conceived to be an all out offroad vehicle. Hence, the xDrive system here is an automated one and there is no provision to change the torque distributions manually on the wheels.
It is near the tail end of the monsoon season here in Malaysia and there are not many opportunities to try out the system in challenging road conditions. It is difficult to tell when the system kicks in. In some ways it is good as it allows you to focus solely on ‘driving’. For everyday driving in Malaysia on urban and semi-urban roads, it is highly unlikely we would need to rely heavily on the xDrive system. Even when there is a tropical storm, the roads are generally not slippery and there is usually enough traction to keep most vehicles in check.
The xDrive would probably serve its purpose better for those who live in colder climates where there is possibility of snowfall and icy road conditions. In such conditions, having an automated all wheel drive system like the xDrive could mean a difference between keeping yourself on the road or slipping and sliding.
Initially I thought that the HDC is automated. However, a few times while descending, the system did not engage automatically and I had to manually switch the system on (button at centre console below the CD/Radio). A variant of the X3 is the X3 CC (Cross Country) which is also a turbo diesel. That car’s performance in the toughest racing conditions was proven in the recently concluded Dakar Rally where it performed admirably including achieving Stage wins for Team X-raid.
In all, the X3 20d was an enjoyable drive and was one car which I don’t mind keeping a bit longer. The diesel engine was top notch and it had good balance and handling. There is room for improvement to refine the transmission. The downside was that the interior design and its overall exterior design should have been updated. There were also missing features which you would normally find in other BMW cars. Perhaps a total makeover (except for the engine) is due?
|Engine:||4-cylinder in-line diesel engine with 4 valve technology|
|Max Output:||177hp/4,000 rpm|
|Max Torque:||350nm/1,750-3,000 rpm|
Source: BMW Brochure
Note: Please reconfirm the above specifications with an authorized BMW dealer
Click on these to sample sounds from the car!