THINGS have never been better for people shopping for a mid-sized prestige SUV in Australia.
We've had the new Audi Q5 and Volvo XC60 this year, as well as a mild tweak to the Lexus NX, and now BMW is bringing out a new X3 with big improvements that make it more like the original X5 than a mid-sized car.
Prices are up all around, from $1100 to $68,900 on the basic xDrive 20d, but BMW Australia promises improved content and a car with extra cabin space from a longer-and-wider body and improved driving enjoyment.
The X3 is predicted to be the best-seller for BMW here, assuming a role once filled by the 3 Series sedan.
"This will definitely become our bestseller. One of every three sales was an SUV, and now one of every second car is an SUV,” BMW Australia managing director Mark Werner says of the new X3.
This X3 is the spearhead of a product attack that over the next two years will renew nearly all BMWs , most of which will get new performance halo variants as the maker pushes back harder against the success of Mercedes-AMG models in Australia.
The X3 becomes the X-car pivot point with a new mechanical platform that makes it stronger and stiffer. There is more space in a bigger body, extra technology, more comfort and more active safety systems.
Most of the technology comes in a trickle-down bonus from the new 5 Series that arrived this year, also inspiring a lift in materials, design and finishing work inside the cabin.
There are three all-wheel drive models for the arrival of the X3, the xDrive 20d diesel, xDrive 30i petrol and xDrive 30d diesel. The line-up will grow quickly next year with an sDrive 20i and sports models - including a promised full-scale M car further down the road.
ON THE ROAD
It's taken three attempts but BMW has the X3 right this time.
The previous models looked and felt a bit cheap, wobbled and bounced on Australian roads and were overshadowed by their German rivals. They relied more on a BMW badge than real appeal.
This time the extra room in the cabin is conspicuous, as is the improved seating. Improved technology is obvious from the bigger infotainment screen and standard colour head-up display - and the car drives like a real BMW.
Starting with the 20d, the car is impressively quiet and planted on the roads of far north Queensland. The suspension is sweetly compliant, although there is still some initial thump thanks to the run-flat tyres.
It moves along briskly but the emissions improvement to Euro6 level requires AdBlue liquid, added in a special tank.
The 30i really moves, with a brisk sprint from the lights and great overtaking punch. Most impressive, though, is the way it turns through corners and absorbs bad road surprises. There is slightly more road noise than the 20d, but the 30i is a driver's car that feels like it - biting into the road and not, as in the early X3, sitting on top and taking its chances.
But - and it's a big one - launch cars come from Europe with optional Dynamic Damper Control so we will have to wait to try the X3 at its core. In its defence, BMW Australia says the vast majority of X3s are ordered with this.
PRICE The xDrive 20d entry point of $68,900 is an $1100 increase but BMW claims $4000 in extra value with a full-colour head-up display, lane-departure warning and speed limit information. The xDrive 30i rises to $75,900 and the xDrive 30d is up by $2900 to $83,900, claiming $7000 of extra value in full adaptive LED headlights, semi-autonomous "personal co-pilot” and 20-inch alloys.
TECHNOLOGY The updated infotainment set-up has a 10-inch touchscreen. Wireless charging is available for suitable phones and the head-up display is bigger and brighter. Safety is improved with LED headlamps, lane departure and real-time traffic information. Higher-spec models get a 360-degree camera, adaptive headlights and paddle-shifters for the eight-speed auto.
PERFORMANCE Engine outputs are the same as the previous X3 but the 2.0 diesel is now Euro6 emissions compliant and claims 5.7L/100km and the 3.0-litre comes from the 5 Series.
DRIVING More sporty, more enjoyable and more relaxing. Those are the keys for the new X3, which finally drives as a BMW should.
DESIGN Australian Calvin Luk penned the exterior, which gets a 55mm stretch in the body and a more aggressive look in all areas. It's now similar in size to the original X5.
AT A GLANCE
BMW X3 x20d
PRICE From $68,900 (not cheap)
SERVICING AND WARRANTY 3 years/u'ltd km; condition-based, 3 years for $1384 (reasonable)
ENGINE 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo diesel, 140kW/400Nm (punchy)
SAFETY 7 airbags, lane departure and lane-change warning, active cruise (good)
THIRST 5.7L/100km (frugal)
SPARE Run-flats (not good)
BOOT 550L/1600L (good size)