A bigger X factor

The xDrive30i offers plenty of grip on winding roads.
The xDrive30i offers plenty of grip on winding roads.PHOTO: LIONEL SEAH

The BMW X3 has grown in size and stature to take on the competition

If size matters, BMW's third-generation X3 certainly makes the cut with a footprint that is even bigger than the original X5.

Designed with the stance of a hunky rugby player, the compact SUV boasts a chunkier kidney grille flanked by the marque's latest hexagonal LED headlamps and matching foglamps.

If the rump resembles that of an enlarged X1, with its 3D LED tail-lamps and sloping roof spoiler, it is because both cars share the same designer.

More akin to the outgoing X3 is a side profile refreshed with straighter crease lines and BMW's new signature front fender vents. The latter are dummies for aesthetic effect in the new car.

Looks can be deceiving. Although appearing bulkier than the preceding X3, the car manages a class-leading drag coefficient of 0.29. The more slippery shape contributes to a higher top speed of 240kmh (plus 10kmh) for the two-litre turbo xDrive30i.

Otherwise, the 30i's power rise to 248bhp (plus 7bhp) and unchanged torque value of 350Nm do not improve real-world acceleration much. Not even with 55kg trimmed off the car's weight. A 0-100kmh sprint time of 6.3 seconds (0.2 seconds quicker) reaffirms this.

More noticeable is the improved stability and composure from its 5-and 7-series-derived platform and a longer 2,864mm (plus 54mm) wheelbase.

  • SPECS / BMW X3 XDRIVE30I

  • Price: To be announced

    Engine: 1,998cc 16-valve inline-4 turbocharged

    Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with paddle shift

    Power: 248bhp at 5,200rpm

    Torque: 350Nm at 1,450-4,800rpm

    0-100kmh: 6.3 seconds

    Top speed: 240kmh

    Fuel consumption: 7.4 litres/100km

    Agent: Performance Motors

It is still tractable for a fairly large crossover. On winding mountain and coastal stretches, all-wheel-drive provides plenty of grip while a nicely weighted steering makes for confident turn-ins. Paddle-shifting through BMW's slick eight-speed automatic is also good fun and pretty fluid when the road gets twisty. It still feels very much like a BMW.

The test route includes some gravel and dirt track stretches for a slip-sliding off-road experience. Here, the X3 is still in its element.

Back on smooth tarmac, all is calm and hushed. The X3 now gets an acoustic-glazed windscreen for better noise insulation. Despite that, wind noise around the wing mirrors above 100kmh is detectable.

Cabin design elements from the latest 5-and 7-series have carried over to the new car, allowing it to exude a more premium feel. There is more aluminium trim, better materials and improved ambient lighting.

Wireless smartphone charging is now a standard feature. Other tech upgrades are a digital analogue-style instrumentation display and a closer to eye-level dash-mounted 10.25-inch infotainment touchscreen. But I am not a fan of BMW's gimmicky gesture controls. And navigation through the layers of menus on the iDrive still requires familiarisation.

A bigger exterior equates to a correspondingly roomier interior. Luggage capacity, however, remains unchanged at 550 litres - already best in class. The boot cover can now be tucked underneath the floorboard when not in use.

BMW's X3 distinguishes itself from the other premium SUVs by remaining true to its cause as a versatile crossover. In the upsizing process, agility may have been blunted slightly. But the upside is a more planted ride.

The car is all grown up, with a refreshed look and classier finishing. It is a top contender in its segment. For the first time, a sportier M40i will join the xDrive30i during the X3's Singapore debut early next year.

The variant is BMW's answer to the Audi SQ5 and Mercedes-AMG GLC. An entry-level sDrive20i will follow later in the year.

• The writer contributes to Torque, a motoring monthly published by SPH Magazines.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 11, 2017, with the headline 'A bigger X factor'. Print Edition | Subscribe