By Vuyi Mpofu
A new chapter in South Africa’s automotive story began in April 2018 when BMW Group South Africa started production of the popular BMW X3 at its Rosslyn plant. Later that month, the first proudly South African manufactured BMW X3s left Rosslyn by train, bound for export markets.
Fast-forward to 2021 and the latest iteration of the locally manufactured BMW X3 continues to follow in its predecessors’ tyre tracks by combining sleek athletic looks with a sense of rugged off-road presence.
Arriving at BMW xDrive Park on launch day, I was greeted by a row of glistening X3s standing to attention and seemingly ready for action. As I scrutinized the exterior design of the executive SUVs, it dawned on me that the X3 has replaced the 3 Series as the most important model in BMW South Africa’s model range.
That said, the revised BMW X3 has big rims to fill given that it rolls in an extremely competitive field; challenging rivals such as the Mercedes GLC, Porsche Macan, Volvo XC60 and Jaguar F-Pace. Each of these contenders offers compelling motoring propositions but to me, the X3 most closely presents a car-like driving experience because although you sit in a more elevated position than you would in a car, the X3 rides smoothly through corners with an exceptional degree of measured body control not commonly found in SUVs.
Significantly revised exterior
The incoming X3 is more strikingly shaped than ever before, boasting a redesigned and larger kidney grille, slimmer LED headlights and black bar in which the iCam is positioned, (if fitted) thus ensuring visual separation of the grille. To the rear, eye-catching redesigned tail-light clusters differentiate the X3 from other BMW SUVs. All in all, one could be forgiven for thinking the refreshed X3 is an entirely new vehicle altogether.
Significantly revised interior
Inside, the new BMW X3 is urbane and sizeable, featuring first-class trims, glossy finishes, soft-touch materials and the same centre console employed in the current BMW 4 Series. The free-standing, central Control Display with touch function now offers a 12.3″ screen as standard in all vehicles. A 12.3″ version of the touch display is also available as an option.
All seats are supportive and comfortable, holding you in place even through sharp bends thanks to its supportive side bolsters. Sportier seats now come standard which look and feel more at home in the M40i than any other model, but in my view, these contradict the principle of a family SUV!
The X3 M40i – Significantly fun to drive
I was so eager to get into the driver’s seat of the first model I would drive, that I snuck out of the reception area and selected the brawny X3 M40i. Visually distinct from other X3s, the X3 M40i, shows its affiliation to the BMW M GmbH portfolio with a specific BMW M kidney.
Bearing the typical M double grille bars in high-gloss black and with an M logo, the X3 M40i has aerodynamically optimised M exterior mirrors in high-gloss black, free-form tailpipe trims in black chrome and the striking “Two Teeth” design to ensure a distinctive look.
Standing on 21” heels as standard, the X3 M40i looks like a guy who never skips leg day. Proportionately balanced, the stance of the performance SUV provides a grin-inducing drive no matter how foul your mood might be. Even without revving the engine, the growl, crackle and pop of the exhaust reminds you why M Powered vehicles are affectionally known as the bullies of the road. Sitting behind wheel, I felt like the mere mortal-in-charge of the intimidator I was about to drive.
Keeping the speedometer within the legal limit was my biggest challenge when driving the M40i. With oodles of elastic force, theX3 M40i features an eight-speed Steptronic Sport transmission, including paddle shifts and Launch Control as standard; all of which I needed to explore and test to the fullest – of course! Combined with its 285 kW, 500Nm single, twin-scroll turbocharged 3.0-litre engine and precise electronic control, the X3 M40i is, at best, a brute in the truest sense of the word.
As much as I didn’t want to, reason prevailed and I surrendered to the sensibility of engaging the cruise control function; but only after I had orientated myself with the dynamic cornering made possible by the power of the rear-wheeled M40i. To be honest, I’ve received ‘love letters’ from the ‘boys in blue’ before, whilst at a launch so believe me when I say that I will never put myself in the unenvieable position of making the “call of shame”, i.e., contacting the logistics team of a manufacturer for assistance to keep one out of metallic bracelets. The feeling of shame, coupled with a dollop of guilt, is the worst feeling ever!
Although driving on tarmac is proof that the sporty M40i is raucous by nature, it does offer a better tempered and relaxing cruise. With just one switch of a button, one can change the driving mode from hooligan to Miss Daisy. Once on gravel, I employed Miss Daisy mode, mindful that the M40i’s 21” heels – those rather large and glistening alloys – may not be practical on uneven, stony surfaces. Fortunately, the BMW xDrive function allows for both driving stability and traction over rough terrain, making for a supple and comfortable ride irrespective of how rough the going on dirt proved to be.
Road and wind noise are well suppressed regardless of the type of surface the M40i was driven on. However, those 21” heels create a bit of whine on dirt roads. At this point, you can bet that I am not a fan of the 21’s.
Arriving incident-free at our accommodation for the night in Pilensberg, we parked the test cars and were whisked away in safari vehicles for a cheese and wine tasting in the middle of the bush. What an exhilarating experience!
The BMW X3 xDrive20d – Significantly frugal to drive
Waking up at the crack of dawn the following day – 4:30am to be exact – I opted to go on a game drive. Wrapped as tightly as possible in a blanket and sitting high in the open game viewing vehicle I questioned the validity of my choice versus the comfort of the warm bed I had vacated. Returning to the Lodge I made a beeline for the coffee station so I could thaw. Feeling sufficiently human enough and have had my fill of fun in the M40i the previous day, I opted to drive the X3 version I felt would be most appealing to the wider South African market – the BMW X3 xDrive20d. I think that this is the ‘sensible’ buy because it allows the owner to look monied and flashy even though she is quite penny-wise.
Similar to other X3 models, the xDrive20d is skillfully paired to an eight-speed auto transmission and is poised for action no matter how much you give it horns. Its silky engine offers a fluency that I don’t remember detecting in the previous generation 20d – and I would recall because I am a devotee of diesel engines. Driving the 20d on both tar and dirt, I concluded that the 195kW engine is well calibrated to make short work of any distance and terrain. The 19” heels it rolls on are much better suited to devouring both tar and gravel than the 21’s on its more flashy sibling, offering an articulate ride without destabilizing neither the vehicle nor its occupants.
Although the X3 20d doesn’t offer as much driving excitement as the M40i, it is better ‘sound-proofed’ internally – probably as a result of its smaller, more all-terrain-friendly 19” heels.
While I am biased towards the X3 20d over other X3 models, I was disappointed that it didn’t give me the performance I feel a wheel-set of R900k should. Its competitors in this price range may give the 20d a good challenge on this front and I for one, would want to get more bang for my R900k bucks. Perhaps this is what separates the X3 20d from the xDrive30d M Sport, but I can’t offer a judgment on that as I didn’t drive the 30d.
What it does have going for it though is an extremely smooth engine and of course the all-important fuel efficiency. Offering 140kW and 400 Nm and a 0-100 sprint time of 8.0 seconds, the X3 xDrive20d is no slouch but you’ll have to plan your overtaking well because it does tend to slump now and then.
Remote Software Upgrade updates “over-the-air”
The BMW X3 range offers a lively driving experience but apart from that, the updated model line-up includes a value-for-money feature that its competitors will be hard-pressed to follow; being an over-the-air subscription service with options. Standard across the range, the subscription service allows BMW owners to keep their vehicles constantly up to date with the latest software status using Remote Software Upgrade.
In the BMW X3, upgrades can include different content from new services to improved vehicle features and can be loaded “over-the-air”. The options that can be retrofitted digitally include the high beam assistant and BMW Drive Recorder.
The beauty of BMW’s subscription service offering is that it allows you to spec up your vehicle without the risk of ‘losing your money’ when it comes to selling or trading in your car. The best thing is, if you don’t enjoy any of the features, you can simply cancel the service.
Note however that this service applies to vehicles with a mechanical base that is already spec’ed to the point of compatibility for the on-air service installations or updates.
|Model||Recommended retail price, incl. VAT and CO2 tax|
|BMW sDrive18d M Sport||R935,658|
|BMW sDrive20i M Sport||R979,798|
|BMW xDrive20d M Sport||R1,037,176|
|BMW xDrive30d M Sport||R1,210,764|