It’s tempting, when you sit behind the wheel of a new BMW, cocooned in luxury and technology, and topnotch quality, not to see a rosy vision of the future.
And I’m not talking about the future of the automobile, much as there has been of a lot of chatter of late about “autonomous driving”, “electric vehicles” and even some prattle about the demise of the car as we know it.
I am talking about the fact that sitting in the plush leather driver’s seat in a Phytonic Blue Metallic-coloured X3, you absolutely cannot believe that this car – the epitome of European elegance, design and craftsmanship – has been put together in a factory outside Pretoria.
As you ponder this, with the metal in the exhaust quietly pinging as it cools, you have to wonder if we, as South Africans (with a little help from our European friends) can do this so well, why are large parts of our country a mess?
This new X3 model – or Sports Activity Vehicle (SAV) as BMW calls it – is the result of a decision that a large chunk of X3 production, both for left and right-handdrive markets globally – will be done at the Rosslyn plant.
And BMW customers around the globe would not be buying the brand if they were the sort of people who would settle for second best. BMW has invested more than R6 billion in the plant, which is some kind of statement about this country.
And they’re not the only ones: Volkswagen builds Polos for the world at its plant in Uitenhage, Mercedes puts together the C Class in East London, Nissan puts together some models in Rosslyn, Ford churns out Rangers from its Pretoria plant and Toyota, the biggest of them all, runs its lines around the clock in Durbs, producing Hiluxes and Corollas.
Given that the X3 on test is built to those very exacting – in the way only Germans can be exacting – standards, I refused to cut it any slack either.
And, to be honest, that was a change. Previously, I didn’t really pay much attention to the X3, or its bigger sibling, the X5, or its sexier all-wheel-drive cousins, the X4 and X6.
To me, the X3 was just a Three Series on stilts … not a bad car but not as good as the sedan on which it is based (and the turbo-six Three models are still my favourite Beemers).
I’ve driven the previous model X3s, but have often passed them on to my colleagues. Which all means I didn’t really give the X3 a chance.
Spending a week with the new version brings me around to a simple thing: I am sorry.
Sorry that I didn’t pay more attention. The X3 is really a great car.
From the word go, I felt some sort of magnetic attraction – but then maybe I am going through a phase of loving blue cars after a surfeit of silver ones in our family for years.
Getting inside, the experience just got better.
The Germans are the world leaders in designing car interiors. To my mind it’s always been, however. Audi top, BMW second, Mercedes-Benz third.
Now, I am not so sure.
The X3’s “virtual” instrumentation – which means you can change what you see in front of you – is now the equal of Audi’s.
The tactile experience of the leather, the aluminium and even the top quality plastics reminds you of the rarified league you are in.
Everything falls perfectly to hand – from sound system and aircon controls, to the chunky, leather steering wheel.
On the move, it gets even better still as the 3.0 litre turbodiesel, with its 195kW of power and 620 Nm of torque combine seamlessly with the eight-speed auto gearbox.
Put foot and the two-ton machine will give many a hot hatch a good go indeed … although the X3 is more about quick, efficient and cossetted progress, rather than loud and flashy.
It also gets around corners with a nimbleness at odds with its size … and it stops quickly and safely, too.
Because the X3 has grown increasingly with each new generation, there’s plenty of room for back-seat passengers and a large boot.
This is a car which will swallow people, bags – and the road to the coast – with disdainful ease.
All that torque low down means that cruising at highway speeds, you’ll get fuel consumption down into the low 7 litres per 100km bracket, while in the city if you don’t use the power too much you easily see low 9s.
Unfortunately I don’t have the thick end of a million to buy this car (the range starts at just under R900 000 without extras) but, if I did, I would consider it my patriotic duty to do so and help show the world we don’t have to step aside for anyone.
Now, I wonder, BMW, if you couldn’t second a few of your people to the Union Buildings?