Gone are the days when a BMW was (just) about the precision of mechanical bits and pieces working in perfect harmony behind the engine firewall. My last X3 test drive prior was of the previous-generation model, which still had analog gauges and the classic Bimmer dash with straight-edged A/C vents and tiny LCDs for multimedia and climate controls. That all seems rather quaint now compared with this new beast—a slick, shiny, all-digital machine that would perfectly be at home in the next Mission: Impossible techno-fest. I love BMWs old and new, but the technological onslaught of the new-generation X3 takes some getting used to.
For example, do I really need to be able to access the stereo, navigation, and car settings on this big tablet that sits on the dashboard like an afterthought? I understand smartphones and tablets are essentials in this day and age, but must we really have yet another of these devices ever-present even in our cockpit? Does the instrument panel really have to be an LCD now? I happened to love the old-school IP of before, but the new one seems rather gimmicky and more of a technology demonstration rather than a particularly essential piece of kit. Okay, okay, it’s really cool once you warm up to it.
Then there are the multiple settings for the drivetrain to suit your mood from ‘just chilling’ to ‘damn sporty’ (the exact wording might be quite different, though). Your first 10 minutes in an X3 will be all about figuring out how everything works, given that there’s a multitude of buttons and screen panels to swipe through. Once you do get rolling, everything works perfectly, as you would expect in a Bimmer. Even the relatively modest 2.0-liter engine pulls the X3 along with impressive verve; there’s lots of torque down low and not much noise, either. It’s quiet and smooth to the point that you might have to remind your chauffeur—if you have one—that the thing takes diesel and not gasoline on your next fill-up, which may be a while since it’s quite thrifty and consumes just around 9-11km/L in the city.
Driving and riding an X3 is as luxurious as you might expect from one of the premier marques in the country, and as is the tradition with new models, there’s a little more cabin space than in the preceding generation. Backseat passengers will appreciate the enhanced head- and legroom as well as the richer appointments. You shouldn’t bother with a chauffeur if you’re getting an X3, though. BMW has always prided itself on its driving dynamics, and the X3, despite all the electronic doodads (droids?) working on the steering, drivetrain, and suspension, is a pleasure to drive at a brisk pace. The steering has a nice heft, the suspension’s adaptive damping system manages to feel taut but not overly harsh, and the powertrain is responsive and more than adequate for most people’s needs. With nearly 187hp and 400Nm on tap, channeled through an eight-speed transmission, this sport-ute feels equally at home cruising at 50% over the speed limit as it does winding its way up to your mountain retreat house.
The truth of the matter is, if you’re in the market for a mid-seven-figure luxury vehicle, there’s very little to dissuade you from choosing this over its smaller sibling, the 3-Series sedan, with which it shares quite a few parts. You get nearly the same athletic responsiveness as the sedan, but with a higher seating position and more utility.
This latest generation has shed quite a few pounds, too (around 45-55kg depending on the spec), and you can feel it in the way the car hustles. Heck, you can even see it in the muscular, ripped aesthetic that should inspire prospective owners to sign up for CrossFit.
Now, if you do your fair share of Internet browsing, you may come across one or two surveys that conclude that BMW drivers are some of the top douchebags in the world. This isn’t really a cause-and-effect kind of thing, but probably more like a coincidence where many social climbers and pricks treat the marque (along with some others) as a status symbol that must be flaunted. Don’t let this image prevent you from snapping up one of the best luxury crossovers you can buy today, because it’s a justifiable reward for all the hard work you must put in on a day-to-day basis. The new X3 lacks the simple, beefy charm of its analog predecessors, but all the tech now baked into the skin still can’t conceal an eminently satisfying driving experience.
Note: This article first appeared in Top Gear Philippines' May 2018 issue.