Do you remember a time when BMW were the undisputed kings of driving dynamics? The era when nothing else came close to how a car accelerated, braked, and cornered - yet maintained to be plush, comfortable, and luxurious.
Today, the argument for BMW may not be as strong. Mercedes-Benz have left the business of building living rooms on wheels, Lexus have stopped making cars quieter and smoother than a Rolls-Royce, and Porsche build cars other than a 911. This means that every single competitor of BMW, are now building luxurious cars that, at the switch of a button, turn into performance cars.
So now a Mercedes-Benz E-Class can go around bends, a Lexus GS has a throaty exhaust note, and Porsche have managed to build SUVs that can be thrown around like their flagship sports car. The gap that BMW used to solely fill in the world of luxury cars is now shared with its rivals from Europe, so how does it fare today? I'm secretly crossing my fingers that BMW still has it.
"It had a “pass your papers finished or not finished” thing going on."
Well, let’s take a BMW X3 xDrive20d xLine. The X3 is the second SUV to roll out of the German company’s illustrious history. Allow me to correct myself, they call their SUV range, Sports Activity Vehicles. They argue that there is absolutely nothing utilitarian about their SUVs and crossovers.
It’s a valid point, so we shall refer to it as an SAV. When the X3 was launched in 2003, it wasn’t very impressive. The ride was too harsh, it was far too small, the materials used were garbage, and it wasn’t much of a looker. Its saving grace was its driving dynamics - how very BMW.
Leave your mark.
Nothing in its class drove the way it did, and it paved the way for crossovers. While it was far from perfect, what BMW had was a great template to start from. Unlike its bigger sibling, the X5, the X3 had some work to do. Seven years after, BMW released the second generation X3, which was a significant leap in size, quality, design, and overall desirability. It came with a selection of fantastic engines, both gasoline and diesel - and everyone was happy.
From my perspective, I thought it was a much better automobile than the model it replaced, but somehow, it had lost its soul. It didn’t quite have that BMW-ness about it. The smell of the leather was gone, the hydraulic steering resigned, and none of the engines made a particularly great noise. Also, the overall design, especially from the front, seemed to have lacked some inspiration. It had a “pass your papers finished or not finished” thing going on.
And then came the LCI model. This is BMW’s version of a “facelift”. The German automaker pride themselves in not getting in the way of the original design, and so a Life Cycle Impulse is a more apt term for a mid-life improvement on the car. It’s funny though, because the X3’s face has been almost completely redesigned. It went from a faceless little pup, to a very, very angry bird. No, really. Look at it. That's not a bad thing at all. I rather like it this way.
In this xLine trim, I think it looks the absolute business.From the wheels to the exterior accents, it reeks of expensive taste. And it should be, because when you are spending north of 4 million pesos on a car, the last thing you want is for it to go unnoticed. This particular X3 is a looker. Wherever I went, most people that graced it with their eyes, gave it a second look - a telling sign that BMW have significantly improved this SAV’s presence.
"The iDrive system is so easy to operate, you could teach your dog in 30 minutes."
Inside, it’s the same ergonomic cockpit that we’ve enjoyed from BMW. Sure, it’s sitting a bit long in the tooth. After all, it’s ending its production sometime this year. Yet, it still manages to remain very plush inside. There are more modern interiors from its rivals, but they’re filled with plastic and cheap materials. We don’t like that. The interior spec on this particular X3 wasn’t the highest option, but it reeked of expensive soft touch materials, giving it an air of old rich glamour. The wood grain was beautiful, the sport steering wheel fit perfectly in my hands, the seats had adjustable bolsters, and the driving position was commanding.
There are some things that BMW just get perfectly right off the bat, and the X3’s interior is no exception. I’ve always said that there are two things that matter most inside the cockpit of a car - the way the steering wheels fits in your hands and the seat that supports your arse. If you get those two major contact points right, it’s more than half the battle won. There’s enough space to carry five adults comfortably for long journeys. The HiFi Loudspeaker system is decent as well and the iDrive system is still the industry standard for on-board computer systems. It is so easy to operate, you could teach your dog in 30 minutes.
"If it’s a toss up between the Mercedes-Benz GLC and Audi Q5, they will not come close to the Bimmer as far as driving is concerned."
I’m sure that the biggest question in mind is how it is to drive. Let’s just put it this way, if you’re asking if this is still the benchmark for driving dynamics in the segment, that is disputable. The Porsche Macan is sharper, sportier, and even more plush, but that crossover is closer in essence to the X4 than it is to the X3. So maybe it still is. If it’s a toss up between the Mercedes-Benz GLC and Audi Q5, they will not come close to the Bimmer as far as driving is concerned.
For starters, the steering is dialed in. Even with an electric power steering system, it manages to communicate what the tires are doing and what species of bugs it just ran over. It is also fitted with a sophisticated xDrive system, which gave me all the confidence I needed when the sky decided to rain cats, dogs, giraffes, and monkeys. Point it in a bend, put your foot down, and the SAV will just grip until your organs start to hurt with only the slightest hint of body roll.
Torque of the town.
The engine is a masterpiece. The 2-liter TwinPower Turbo diesel engine gave me all the power I ever needed with 188 horsepower and 400 Newton Meters of torque. It was enough to pull me out of every single sticky situation and it allowed me to pass people so effortlessly, I could’ve done it while sleeping. The Driving Experience Control offers various modes depending on what you’re in the mood for, but since it’s not the biggest engine in the world, and because it didn’t have the optional sport automatic transmission with paddle shifters, I never needed to put it in sport mode. I left it in drive the whole time, and I let the transmission do its job - which did quite excellently.
Even more useful was the X3’s ECO PRO mode, which had a coasting feature. As soon as I lifted completely off the pedal, the revs just dropped and the car coasted along as if it were in neutral. It worked like a charm and I managed to save a lot of fuel. As if I needed to save more. I wish the coasting feature was available even on its standard comfort setting though. I used to think that no luxury car should ever come without a dual clutch transmission, and I was wrong. This ZF 8-speed automatic was a smooth operator, and it knew exactly when to shift. In fact, I’ve heard that BMW are even dropping the M Dual Clutch system for the upcoming M5 - but that’s another story.
Ready for any journey.
Do I have some criticisms with the X3? Yes, I do. It didn't bug me so much, but it seemed like my passengers weren’t having as much of a good time as I was. They said that the ride was a bit stiff, and at the back, they wanted to vomit. I swear, I wasn’t even speeding. There is an optional variably damping control for the X3, and maybe that option should be ticked. The Adaptive LED headlights look cool, but I don’t think they are significantly more effective than BMW’s Xenon technology. As far as LED technology goes, BMW isn’t the best at it yet. They look great, no doubt, but they aren’t as effective as the ones from the likes of Volvo or Audi.
Overall, the BMW X3 to me doesn’t do anything spectacularly great. There isn’t anything to write home about, except maybe the fact that it sips fuel like it was California on water conservation mode. I struggled to finish the fuel, and that is a fantastic thing. Let’s just put it this way, the X3 isn’t a Top 1 Billboard chart track that will unite people and make mothers sing along with their children. It isn’t Pharell, Taylor Swift, or Justin Bieber. It is more like a greatest hits album of Dave Matthews Band. It is versatile, confident, and it comes with timeless values that are no longer so common in today’s world.
Joy wants you to have it all.