I remember going to the first-generation BMW X3 launch a good number of years back.
The vehicle was viewed with a bit of scepticism because then compact SUVs (Sports Utility Vehicles) or SAVs (Sports Activity Vehicles), as BMW likes to call their X3, were not that popular yet.
And hardly state-of-the-art yet either – the first X3 came with good old industrial-type black bumpers. A few things have happened since then.
The compact SUV market has become the medium SUV market, and it has boomed. In fact, most people are entering premium brands these days through the SUV segment and not the sedan or hatch route.
And the vehicles themselves have become jammed full of technology and performance. And then, from a business point of view, BMW Group South Africa has invested R6bn for the preparation of BMW Plant Rosslyn to produce the new BMW X3, and recently announced that it has pumped an additional R160 million into the plant to enhance production line speed.
The enhancement raises the maximum production capacity by almost 10%, from 71 000 units to 76 000 units, leaving the plant with excellent potential in the future to produce the highest volume in its 44-year history.
Production will start in the first half of 2018.
The proudly South African BMW X3 will be produced for the local market and in addition will be exported to Europe, but the first ones we got to drive in Portugal this past week are being produced in Spartanburg, USA, and will be available at dealers in South Africa from November this year.
But back to the all-new third generation X3 that we got to throw around some very twisty roads in the mountains just outside Lisbon.
The perfect start was with the M40i, and here you get an SUV that really felt very car-like on the road.
The new X3 is even sportier than its predecessor thanks to the likes of M Sport suspension, Dynamic Damper Control, M Sport brakes and variable sport steering, while still being comfortable enough when you hit the Comfort button.
It is also the first M Performance vehicle in the X3 range, and that means the one thing that it is also not lacking is urge.
The M40i produces 265kW of power, and it made for rather brisk progress on the launch drive.
I didn’t go crazy, even though the open, traffic-free roads begged for more, mostly because my prison Portuguese is not all that good.
We will be getting a xDrive30i that produces 185kW at launch, with the xDrive20i following next year.
The two diesel engines that will also be available at launch will be the 140kW xDrive20d and 195kW xDrive30d.
All the engine variants will team up as standard with an optimised version of the eight-speed Steptronic transmission, with a sports eight-speed being an option on the performance models, as will the choice of allwheel drive or rear-wheel drive.
We did do a very basic off-road drive in the xDrive30d, and while it was hardly a test for the X3, it was impressive.
What is normally considered a “soft roader” handled a few rather serious axle twisters that might have had bakkie owners looking for the diff-lock button.
That said, not many X3s are ever going to tackle more than the very pretty dirt stuff we encountered.
As is the norm, you can opt for an xLine, M Sport and Luxury Line trim variant, and the full range of BMW Individual items to enable your X3 to be adapted even more so to your personal taste.
As well as making various exterior tweaks, the three trim variants also adapt the ambience inside the car to their particular themes.
The interior of the new X3 displays unbeatable fit and finish and material quality, and is classier and more luxurious than its predecessor.
And just like the exterior, your interior comfort levels can be further elevated by a host of new equipment options like threezone automatic climate control, the Ambient Air package, active seat ventilation, the cargo function of the standard 40:20:40 split / folding rear seat backrests and the panoramic glass roof, to name some.
On the tech side, BMW will offer BMW Personal CoPilot as an option, and this feature focuses on driver assistance and (semi) automated driving, by using the latest generation of Active Cruise Control and the Driving Assistant Plus safety package.
The BMW X3 was the car that launched the mid-size SAV or SUV segment, in normal motoring speak, back in 2003.
Since then, BMW has recorded more than 1.5 million sales of the previous two models so far.
And I can see no reason why this successful trend won’t continue with the all-new, more striking and dynamic X3.
- Std X3 xDrive20d R684 200
- Std X3 xDrive30i R739 800
- Std X3 xDrive30d R868 300
- Std X3 M40i R991 100
- xLine X3 xDrive20d R716 400
- xLine X3 xDrive30i R772 000
- xLine X3 xDrive30d R892 900
- Luxury Line X3 xDrive20d R722 300
- Luxury Line X3 xDrive30i R777 900
- Luxury Line X3 xDrive30d R892 900
- M Sport package X3 xDrive20d R735 300
- M Sport package X3 xDrive30i R798 100
- M Sport package X3 xDrive30d R918 100