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Car Reviews / 12-11-18

The All-New 2018 BMW X3-Series (G01)

Intelligent High-Performance Engineering with the Aesthetics to back it up


By Kevin C. Limjoco Photos by by Author & Daniel Kalisz

 

We have had some fantastic memories over the years with every generation and variant of the premium crossover BMW X3-series beginning back in 2004 when I drove the only 231 bhp BMW X3 3.0i (E83) unit in Italy from Rome to our first Top Marques autoshow in Monaco where I also met Horacio Pagani for the very first time. I would then drive the same swift black X3 to Modena to the old Pagani factory where I truly began my passion with the brand and the epic Zonda C12S. With its full packaging, strong but choppy handling, excellent visibility, and all-wheel-drive all-weather driver confidence, I was able to speedily get to all my destinations on that month-long Euro trip with genuine BMW driving characteristics combined with new abilities thanks to the first generation xDrive system.

I excitedly picked up the then all-new X3 from the BMW dealership off Via Salaria, Rome, Italy. From there, I then drove it to the South of France where I would eventually spend a few days in the legendary Principality of Monte Carlo. I racked up over 2,000 kilometers in a week’s time during that period. However, I was ultimately a bit disappointed with the X3 (E83). There was so much promise whether it was supposed to be a baby X5 or a better 3-series on stilts, the first generation X3 fell short on both goals. The X3 was hardly a more affordable and smaller X5, it was never that modestly priced unless you were willing to sacrifice practically every luxury and performance, and it was way too cramped; it was not a compelling product as I had hoped. Unlike the X5 which was flawless in every way from the start, the X3 was not a looker and the 3-series Touring (sports wagon) was superior to it. Even the 330xi sedan had better dynamic ability for both on and off-road. So, what was it, then? Yes, it drove with similar characteristics and space of the E46 3-series but it lacked refinement, had more limited performance dynamics, and it was only mildly effective off road.

Moreover, I have to say it again, the overall external design was compromised, in my opinion. A stark contrast to the very elegantly handsome X5. It is difficult to covet a vehicle, a premium one at that, that has uninspiring looks unless its performance was exceptional and far outweighing its form. The old X3 was still a solid compact crossover to be sure with handling and speed that did best lesser vehicles, but when compared to its own stablemates and direct competition however, that is where it loses out. It was still a commercial success and the model did stand out in our domestic territory primarily because of the lack of direct competition in our market.

In 2007, the BMW X3 did get significant upgrades across the board, from a chassis upgrade and facelift to new engines and updated equipment. Unfortunately, the car was still not good enough to beat its rivals. In fact, the E46 3-series Touring, which also received the same updated xDrive system before it was eventually replaced by the new body E91 in 2005, had the additional ride height that accompanied it as well. It also had the full trunk bay and consequently further distanced itself from the X3, making it still the better option for car buyers looking for a wagon with all-wheel-drive and a bit more ground clearance. The only advantage the X3 had over the wagon was the further additional ride height, which gave it a smidgen better commanding view. I am a huge BMW fan and a customer, but I admit that the 1st generation X3 and E36 3-series are the only two models EVER that I do not like and would never buy under any circumstance.

So, you can imagine my anxiousness to thoroughly test the all-new 2nd generation BMW X3 (F25) over yet another long-haul experience, this time in the US. I admit there was a lot of pressure for the new BMW SAV to more than redeem itself; it had to be a revelation. James Deakin did drive the new overachieving 2.0d X3 variant for the exclusive local launch and shared with one and all that the 2nd generation had indeed met expectations. It had to at least be better than the then new X1 too, right?! It was only fitting that our test unit in the US was an ultra-loaded top-of-the-line X3 just like the situation over 7 years ago. But this time we had the xDrive35i boasting the new 8-speed transmission, a twin turbo inline-6 with 300 bhp and active suspension, with every conceivable option installed! Talk about covering all bases!

Our journey would take us from San Francisco to Los Angeles via Highway I-5, which was our usual route, then on the way back drive through the dramatic scenic route via the coastline, Highway 1 or better known as PCH1 (Pacific Coast Highway 1) which would take significantly longer but would also allow us to explore every possible ability that the new BMW X3 had. In my excitement, I had not accounted for natural interventions though, i.e. weather and landslides. If anyone still has any doubts about climate change, our experiences on that trip to the US combined with the recent tragedy in Japan (which has not let up since) are yet further concrete evidence that we all have to do our part to reverse the damages we have inflicted to our planet.

Just four days before our epic trip on the 2nd generation BMW X3, Isabel and I had got caught in a freak snowstorm up in Mt. Shasta, almost 500 kilometers North of San Francisco in a 2011 Mercedes Benz R350 BlueTEC, in the season of spring! Now here we were blasting through heavy rain toward the link to the interstate heading south and already the xDrive system was getting a healthy workout cycling torque throughout our set of mixed 19” optional sport wheels shod with meaty runflat tires. The X3 (F25) was almost the size of the 1st generation X5; its dimensions have swollen in nearly every direction, with 3.4” of additional length. Now the car had real presence on the road. But the front end seemed to still bother me.

That X3 was now a true younger X5, note that I did not call it baby because it is hardly small now and it is really an athlete. It accelerated quicker than an E90 BMW 330i sedan and as quick as the 335i sedan with a 6-speed automatic! The new 8-speed adaptive Steptronic gearbox worked phenomenally using every single ounce of power to its maximum potential while still yielding fantastic fuel economy! When the opportunity presented itself on the open road, we would routinely try to get past the speed governed 210 km/h top speed without alarming California’s finest. Even at 130 km/h cruising speeds we got an average of 24 mpg. The handling too bested many sports sedans especially with the gargantuan rolling stock!

That X3 xDrive35i’s acceleration, handling, and braking numbers were now best in class. It may have taken them seven long years but it was worth the wait. With an ever-fluctuating weather pattern driving along Highway I-5, our biggest surprise occurred about 120 kilometers north of Los Angeles on the Ridge Route also known as the Grapevine through the Tejon Pass in the Tehachapi Mountains at the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley. I was fully aware that during harsh winters, the pass could close due to heavy snow, but this was spring. I should have learned from our Shasta experience that the weather around the world is all messed up. As we started to ascend up the road, the BMW X3 displayed an urgent message on the instrument panel which I hadn’t seen in a BMW since I drove an M6 through the Alps in 2006 warning me that the temperature outside was freezing and to be extremely cautious as the roads could be very slippery. The X3 was correct. The temperature in fact was below freezing; it was snowing as if we were in the dead of winter in Nova Scotia, and dangerously huge icicle daggers rained on us for the next 32 kilometers!

The situation continued to escalate to the point that you could barely see a car length ahead. Fueled by my comical bravado and total confidence with the X3’s deep abilities, I pressed on ahead of everyone and maintained a technically legal 120 km/h speed throughout the pass while almost every other vehicle had slowed to almost a crawl and were in fact being guided by highway patrol with full lights ablaze as a beacon for cars to follow. For a second my heart sank when I saw the dreaded blue and red lights split the gray haze through my rearview mirror thinking that the patrol car was out to slow me down or even ticket me for my exploits earlier. Thankfully, it was there to guide the cars left in my wake. Even when the roads were at their worse, the X3 just kept literally plowing ahead relentlessly with the occasional course correction when I would lose grip. I was a bit nervous, though, about the massive icicles which were hitting the car so hard that I thought they could compromise the windshield or the full panoramic roof!

Except for a few minutes of off-road mudslinging near Black Mountain off CA46, the rest of the trip back to San Francisco was fairly uneventful. In fact, it felt like a real dreary commute. We drove a total of 1,872 kilometers in that BMW X3 xDrive35i. Unlike the 1st generation X3, I really bonded with this vehicle. To be perfectly honest, it is one of the most complete vehicles I had driven at the time, certainly the very best in its premium segment. Yet it had only one glaring flaw: The face was still monumentally dull. For a BMW that drives with so much spirit and capability, it is a huge letdown that the 2nd generation X3 had to look this boring from the front. It is like having the greatest athletic and masculine specimen of a man with the most uncharacteristic, soulless, and forgettable face of a bespectacled museum custodian.

The all-new 3rd generation BMW X3-series (G01) changes everything. It has been finally released and it delivers way more than we expected. Whether you’re exploring new, exciting locations or simply escaping the mundane, the all-new X3 establishes its new well-earned sovereignty in the premium compact crossover class. With new standards of realistically explorable dynamic high-performance set by the Teutonic masters of mechanical alchemy, the completely redesigned X3 is now the very best-looking model in the X-family. Since the release of the all-new X1, I had insisted that the old X3 would greatly benefit from inheriting its key design cues which was always a sore spot in the past two generations, in my opinion. So, I was elated to discover that the responsibility of redesigning the all-new X3 was given to non-other than the same brilliant and hard-working Australian designer Calvin Luk who revolutionized the said X1 (F48) and the face-lifted LCI 1-series (F20).

We met up with Calvin at BMW’s regional launch appropriately in lovely tropical Port Douglas, Cairns, Australia. Calvin graciously acknowledges that the culminated results were a strong team effort. I assure you all that it was all worth it. After testing three initial engine variants for the region, the xDrive20d, xDrive30i, and the xDrive30d (my personal favorite), in xLine, Luxury Line, and M Sport packages, there is a particular variant available to each of you to quench your desire for such a versatile and thorough premium mobility machine. Still considered a 3-series sedan on stilts, which is certainly a great place to start, the all-new X3 is actually larger than the 1st generation X5 (E53) while being considerably more comfortable and bursting with kit.

The new X3 will also adopt plug-in hybrid technology very soon. The X3 rolls on BMW’s new and highly flexible KLAR architecture, which also underpins the 5 and 7 Series. A whole slew of smart technology from the all-new 5-series has also found their way to the X3 like gesture control, LED exterior and interior lighting, 12.0-inch digital instrument display, iDrive 6.0 with a crisp 10.2-inch widescreen touch-screen monitor, acoustic glass, active front grille flaps, a host of Driving Assistant Plus measures that include BMW CoPilot, active cruise control, semi-autonomous adaptive steering, Head-Up Display, big alloys wrapped with tenacious rubber, Dynamic Damper Control, Bird’s-Eye view cameras, optional 600-watt 16-speaker Harman/Kardon audio, and so much more.

On several spirited sections driving from the Cairns Airport to our halfway point at the Mt. Uncle Distillery, I combined the adaptive cruise control with the CoPilot adaptive steering and it worked erringly well until the pace would get too aggressive. Before hitting our lunch destination, we got to drive our convoy through over 30 kilometers of high-speed dirt fit for Australian rally and racing car driver Cody Crocker who is now an instructor for the same company that handled our group of Asian journalists. It was the very best component of the test as I really got to explore the new levels of handling (on mixed 21-inch alloys wrapped with excellent Bridgestone Alenza 245/40 100Y front and 275/35 103Y rear tires), braking (13.7-inch rotors up front with four piston calipers and 13.5-inch units at the rear with single sliders versus 13.0-inch rotors and single piston calipers all round on the lower variants), and power delivery of my potent Alpine White BMW X3 xDrive30d M Sport test unit. The only worry I had as I sliced through the lengthy un-asphalted road channel was to avoid an incident with a wild Cassowary which live in the thick jungle and are known to get violently defensive when provoked. A battery of wanton car nuts is definitely provocation.

The new X3’s cabin shares the classy sense and high-quality materials first experienced with the 5-series even with the base model xDrive20d in standard trim. Compared to the outgoing X3, the new model has a 2.2-inch longer wheelbase, is 2.3 inches longer, .2 inches wider, but with a lower roofline by 1.4 inches which helps give it a class-leading .29 Cd drag coefficient. It also has an excellent Hill Descent Control, 25 and 22-degree approach and departure angles. It still has a generous 8 inches of ground clearance with a fording depth of 500mm (19.6 inches). It also has an optimal 50/50 weight distribution while losing over 120 pounds despite being exponentially more opulent and more spacious. The engines have also been revised for even more power and better fuel efficiency while producing less carbon emissions.

The old generations were always dynamic high-performers that set the standard in their class but they weren’t lookers. Now the X3 is very handsome combined with a very long list of standard equipment and neat innovations like the ability to tuck away the tonneau cover and bar underneath the trunk floor in its own dedicated receptacle when it is not needed. It’s a huge masterstroke for customers who really maximize their wagon trunks and would get annoyed with where to store the bar when they fill the trunk. The X3 now also has reclining rear bench seats for even better rear passenger comfort. Oh yes, and all variants are faster, quieter, better damped, more efficient, and better handlers compared to their direct model predecessors. BMW Philippines will be selling these fantastic premium crossovers very soon in their showrooms and they are worth every cent of your hard-earned money. I honestly think that the all-new BMW X3 has convincingly set the new standard in its class in every way. I want one so bad!

 

Specifications

Engine

Engine V6
Displacement 2993 cc
Cylinder Head DOHC 24V
Fuel Injector Valvetronic, Direct Injection Intercooled Turbodiesel
Max Power (bhp @ rpm) 262 bhp
Max Torque (lb/ft @ rpm) 457 lb ft @ 2000-2500 rpm
Transmission 8-speed AT

Performance

Top Speed 240 km/h (150 mph) Governed
0-100 km/h | 0-62 mph 5.8 sec

Fuel consumption and CO2 emissions

Fuel Milage (km/l) 6 l/100km Overall

Ratings

What's Great The most fulfilling choice of the test range is also the most usable and practical, effortless performance.
What's Not So Will certainly have a challenging price tag once it is sold domestically, but worth it.
C! Editors Rating 10/10