BMW X3 - AN OFF-ROADER WITHOUT COMPROMISE
Buoyed by its tremendous success with the big X5 SUV BMW moved into a new market when it added the X3.
Billed as a rival to the Land Rover Discovery, the X3 majors on sporty driving dynamics and as you would expect of a car with BMW's pedigree in chassis tuning behind it, it is absolutely superb.
One accepts there will always be a degree of compromise, but never have I driven a vehicle of this sort where that compromise is so minor. An owner of one of the so-called lifestyle estates, such as a BMW 3 Series Touring, or Alfa Romeo 159 Sportwagon, who enjoys sports performance, quick and agile handling and a high degree of driver involvement with the car, would love the X3.
There is a choice of petrol or diesel engines with the latter being the more popular but I have to say that driving the petrol versions is no great hardship because they are both super units. The 3.0 only comes with an automatic gearbox with the 2.5 being bolted to an excellent six-speed manual.
Being a BMW it is typically well built and uses quality materials inside the cabin where I was delighted to see no sign of the hated iDrive cabin command system, yet everything fell logically and easily to hand. Is there a lesson to be learnt there, BMW?
It is also surprisingly roomy inside, especially for the rear passengers and in the boot space. Being quite low it doesn't look that big but I would guess that it is as big as a 5 Series inside. The driving position is just about perfect and one immediately feels at home in it. And while I know this is a much over-used clichÃ I can't escape the fact that on the road it really does not feel its size or bulk. Given that it tips the scales at not far shy of two tons and has a highish centre of gravity it feels more like a sporting saloon than 4x4. Roll and pitch, those two handling defects which are so magnified in most 4x4s, are kept to a minimum which is better for stability, for the driver and most certainly for the passengers.
In addition to the amazing composure, the X3 also has an exceptionally advanced automatic four-wheel drive system called xDrive. I will gloss over its technical details here save to say that it is claimed to be the most advanced, and therefore the safest, system in production today. Given that customers cite enhanced grip and control in slippery conditions as a prime reason for buying a 4x4 this is a significant achievement. Certainly it demonstrated its ability on an off-road test course I used earlier this week where the X3 tackled with contemptuous ease terrain that no owner will ever ask their car to cross.
It has wonderful engines, solid engineering, bags of room and the prestige of the BMW badge - but above all it has that high class scintillating driving experience.