In an age when car manufacture is trending towards electric power, I still get a thrill from finding a vehicle which has an internal combustion engine that stands out amongst all others.
That happened just recently when I evaluated BMW’s X3 sport utility vehicle. I’m not surprised that the X3’s turbocharged 2-litre, four-cylinder unit is high quality, if you look back at most BMWs of eras gone by, each generation engine has had its own qualities.
In the X3’s case, there are actually four engines to choose from, two petrol and two diesel. The engine in the xDrive30i which really stood out for me is a four-cylinder unit which BMW rates at 185kW. It also gets 350Nm of torque all of the way from 1450rpm to 4800rpm, if you take into account that peak power registers at just 5500rpm, the figures speak for themselves, there is a solid flow of energy from launch to red-line.
Another reason I’m so smitten with the engine is its ability to just sip fuel. BMW rates it with a 7.4l/100km (38mpg) combined cycle average, which were figures close to what I achieved – 8.1/100km (35mpg). A 6l/100km (47mpg) figure is also showing during a 100km/h cruise, the engine turning over slowly at 1500rpm. These figures are also assisted by stop-start technology.
The engine drives through an eight-speed automatic transmission. As a consequence, there is no trouble filling the gaps between gears, and with the low and close ratios it works tirelessly and with substantial energy.
In fact, the X3 in this form is downright fast, according to BMW it will reach 100km/h from a standstill in 6.3sec. The engine is constantly willing and never seems to fall off boost, and it is whisper quiet and smooth in its delivery. Sure, it isn’t one of those sultry six-cylinder units from the past, but its capability is enormous.
The gearbox, too, is sweet in terms of shift quality, really it’s only the position shift of the tachometer needle that reminds the driver a gearchange is in process.
It must be mentioned that the X3 has drive mode options. All self-explanatory really, comfort mode for day-to-day driving, sport mode for the quick trip over the Alps and eco for when maximum fuel saving takes priority over everything.
Why I like the engine so much is its honesty in the default standard setting, you can hasten engine urgency without the need for sport mode simply by just flicking the paddle gearbox shifters attached to the steering wheel.
The X3 sits on a fully independent suspension. BMW has done well to offer occupants a firm but smooth ride, comfort levels are well balanced with the type of firming needed to provide sensible cross-country travel.
As its nomenclature suggest, xDrive indicates the inclusion of four-wheel-drive, it’s a mechanism that will get you in and out of low grip off-road situations.
With 204mm of ground clearance, you can be reasonably confident off-road but, for my money I’d see the four-wheel-drive system more as a safety feature, providing that little bit of extra sealed surface grip that comes with the all-corner drive set-up.
On that subject, the X3 sits on huge 20in Bridgestone tyres; they are quiet and have a solid tenure with the road and that feel is transmitted through the cabin, surety and directional stability are key features with the X3. With the ski season looming I strongly suspect there will be a cluster of X3s in the Mt Hutt car park, and I know it would be a perfect vehicle to tackle that access road.
The X3 is a capable handler, it has balance and performance which seem almost uncharacteristic for an SUV, but makes the driver feel part of the mechanical elements, such is the information gleaned from behind the wheel.
That is also the feeling for all of those onboard. BMW has a lot of experience in the SUV market and it has built the X3 with an emphasis on quality. It also comes with a high list of specification features, many manipulated by a centre console-mounted dial switch.
For many years I’ve related to BMW’s X5 series. It’s a larger SUV against the X3, but not by much. However, the X3 has grown in stature to be a competitor, easily catering for five adults, rear seat room is generous and there’s also a large load space.
At $99,850 in test car form, the indication is that it is a high class, quality car. I’m hoping to have a drive in other models, especially the diesel variants. I’ve got fingers crossed for that.
Price – BMW X3 x-Drive30i, $99,850
Dimensions – Length, 4708mm; width, 1891mm; height, 1676mm
Configuration – Four-cylinder, four-wheel-drive, 1998cc, 185kW, 350Nm, eight-speed automatic.
Fuel usage – 7.4l/100km