What am I wittering on about? Well, I have just been to the Austrian Alps to drive BMW’s newest ‘sports activity vehicle’. Bigger, better finished inside and with sensible engines, the X3 has become an alternative to the X5 rather than an inferior addition to the range.
I would not be surprised to hear of X5 owners changing down. With a 184bhp, two-litre turbo diesel engine, the new X3 cannot be called a Chelsea tractor. Far from it, with 50mpg on the Combined Cycle and emissions of 149g/km it claims to be the cleanest of the premium four-wheel drives. That will appeal to tax vulnerable business buyers.
These creditable returns are down to the sheer efficiency of the engine, together with the now common BMW green features such as engine stop-start, regenerative braking and gear change indicator.
Last time I drove a 2.0-litre X3, it seemed short of puff. Not so this time around for the engine produces as much power as the original 3.0-litre fitted to the first X5. There is a decent kick of power when you need it though the sound levels are a bit gravelly when you push hard.
I was surprised to find the eight-speed automatic version was a sweeter drive. The standard six-speed manual is okay but can be a bit noisy at times. Somehow the auto keeps the car in the right gear and makes for more pleasant progress. And, here’s a surprise, its acceleration, speed, economy and emissions are exactly the same figures as the manual car.
On the road, the X3 seems more biddable than it ought to be. A 4wd that wants to go around corners? Yes, and it rides better than I expected. BMW has restored its dynamic reputation with this machine.
Off road, over a snow-covered track, it also impressed. Electronics, controlled by sensors, work their magic by diverting power to the wheels that have more grip. You can still get into trouble but you have to try a lot harder to do so. This car seems to have a mind of its own and counteracts the driver’s on slippery surfaces.
The X3 can control itself automatically at slow speeds down a steep, icy hill with virtually no action by the driver. This is an almost uncanny experience as the car applies its brake in jabs to keep things under control. Without this wizardry, the car would undoubtedly slide sideways and might even topple if you braked on this surface.
Hill Descent Control is the name of this clever stuff and it is a standard fitting on the X3. All the driver has to do is switch it on. Heard that name before – well HDC first appeared on Land Rovers some years ago, and guess who used to own Land Rover?
BMW is also promoting the use of winter tyres for temperatures under 7 degrees. These have softer rubber and can reduce stopping distances in icy conditions by up to 20%. BMW tells me that they have sold nearly 4,000 wheel and tyre packages and there still is high demand.
Priced from £30,490, the new X3 is better value than the old model with a higher spec including leather and climate control and a marginally lower tag. But you could easily add another ten grand with options such as panoramic sun, multi media packages, head-up display, adaptive headlights and the rest.
ENGINE – 2.0-litre turbo diesel developing 184bhp
PERFORMANCE – 0-62mph in 8.5 seconds, 130mph max speed
ECONOMY – 50mpg combined
EMISSIONS – 149g/km
PRICE – from £30,490