The new mid-size BMW X3 is now about as big as the original X5.
The new mid-size BMW X3 is now about as big as the original X5.

BMW X3 is back, bigger and better

GANGLY and gawky, the original X3 was a perplexing piece of gear.

It struggled in all areas where BMW traditionally excelled.

Looking like a pup yet to grow into its sizable legs, and with powertrains that rarely lived up to the Bavarian carmaker's trademarks, it opened the door to the European rivals.

Now the X3 is back. It's bigger, about the same size as the original X5. It has the same entry-level price as its predecessor and the models are actually cheaper as you step up the range when compared to the previous iterations.

Since the original X3 was launched BMW has introduced the compact X1, and grown the X5, which has enabled the X3 to slot nicely in the middle.

And the proof is in the pudding. During July, the X3 outsold its Beemer SUV siblings to steal about 10% of the total market. While August was not as strong, the X3 has doubled its share compared to the same time last year.

You get even more options too with the new X3, like the ability to surf the net, get a top view of the car for parking and the head-up display…but all come at an extra cost.

Comfort

Wide and spacious, things have not only improved on the outside, but also dramatically on the inside.

Finding fault with the quality of materials or the set-up is a challenge. We're really nitpicking when complaining about the plastics on the base of the doors, plastics with netting on the back of the front pews and seats which are flat around the rump.

It's a classy interior, with wood-look trim across centre console, dashboard and door-trims. That trim is available in two tones, or buyers can opt for a brushed-metal without a price premium.

The layout is typical BMW and similar to just about everything with a propeller badge nowadays. Cruise control is engaged at the whim of your left thumb on the steering wheel, while volume, stereo modes and Bluetooth controls are at your fingertips on the right.

The iDrive system, which controls all the sat nav, stereo and car setup menus, still takes the uninitiated some time to cohesively operate. Once you have the hang of the centre dial it is simple stuff.

Adults find comfort in the back with excellent leg and elbow room, but those about 185cm and above might find headroom limited.

On the road

While the X3 won off-roader accolades overseas, it's difficult to see many of these babies stepping onto the dirt.

Ground clearance isn't huge by four-wheel drive standards, even if the technology under the shapely skin can handle the tough stuff. And the Beemer has run-flats on each corner with no spare.

The X3 is really at home in urban surrounds. It's a pleasure to drive under all conditions, the straight six is responsive and works well in tandem with the long-legged eight-speed automatic box. Cornering is mostly flat, unless you get a little willing in the bends when you feel the body roll, although our test car was aided by Dynamic Damper Control. The electronically controlled dampers adapt to road surface conditions and the driver's style of driving.

Using that function you can select between "normal", "sport" and "sport+", which not only alters the dampers but also the acceleration, steering feel and sharpens the gear changes.

Not that the xDrive28i struggles in the athletic department.

Its sprint time of under seven seconds for the 0-100kmh sprint is testament to its meaty power delivery. Exercising your right foot is accompanied by a sporty exhaust tune and together with an ability to quickly change direction makes for an engaged experience behind the wheel.

What do you get?

BMW trumps the competition by having a reversing camera as standard, along with the normal premium trinkets such as USB and Bluetooth connectivity, climate-controlled air-con , push-button start, Nevada leather trim, trip computer, five-star safety suite and multi-function steering wheel as standard.

Tick a few boxes, 19-inch alloys ($1900), sat nav ($3500), panoramic sunroof ($3000), head-up display ($2300), bi-Xenon head

lights ($1450), and you can quickly make a big dent in the bank balance.

Other options

The company is pretty good in this genre, including the Audi Q5 3.2 FSI ($73,500), Volvo XC60 T6 ($66,450), Mercedes-Benz ML350 ($89,365), and also watch for the Range Rover Evoque (range-topper to cost about $77,000) to present serious competition when it arrives from November.

Practicality

Families love SUVs, and there's good reason the X3 has already started selling in good numbers. The boot space is not deep but provides a useful 550 litres, which can be expanded to 1600 litres and it's also aided by rear seats that have a useful 40/20/40 fold ability.

Running costs

The official average fuel consumption figures are about nine litres for every 100km, but our test proved slightly higher.

The X3 is a big car and the six-cylinder is no more thirsty than the units you'd find in a Commodore or Falcon.

Anyone looking for frugal usage would best opt for the diesel. Those run-flat tyres can also be expensive if they puncture.

Funky factor

Sensibly stylish, the X3 doesn't cause offence nor will it polarise opinion like its bigger X6 brother.

The lowdown

This is a remarkably better car than the one it replaces.

BMW had to do something with its European competitors gaining big ground in recent years.

With a purposeful stance and greater proportions the X3 is likely to lead the mid-size premium crowd with a compelling blend of drivability and functionality.

Vital statistics

Model: BMW X3 xDrive28i.

Details: Five-door mid-size all-wheel drive premium sports utility vehicle.

Engine: Six-cylinder in-line petrol generating maximum power of 190 kW @ 6600rpm and peak torque of 310 Nm @ 2600-3000rpm.

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic.

Consumption: 9.0 litres/100km.

CO2: 210g/km.

Performance: 0-100kmh in 6.9 seconds.

Bottom line: $71,900.


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