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JOHANNESBURG, Gauteng – We've experienced our fair share of diesel-powered versions of BMW's latest-generation, locally built X3. The xDrive20d variant took part in our 2019 SUV Shootout while the xDrive30d scored an impressive 81/100 in our April 2018 road test. During a recent visit to Gauteng, though, we were finally able to spent a couple of days with the flagship turbodiesel variant, the M40d.

What is it?

Employing the same basic block as the 30d, the M40d’s uprated 3,0-litre, six-cylinder engine develops 240 kW at 4 400 r/min and 680 N.m at 1 750 r/min. BMW claims a brisk 0-100 km/h acceleration time of 4,9 seconds and a top speed of 250 km/h.

Although the starting price is R1 083 184, our Carbon Black Metallic (no-cost option) unit was fitted with a long list of options that boosted the total to more than R1 220 000. Notable options included double-spoke Style 718 M wheels (R21 300), the driving assist plus system (R33 500), adaptive M suspension (R10 300) and tyre pressure monitoring (R4 500). Of course, we could quite happily have done without a few of options, including BMW’s gesture control (R3 650) and the panoramic sunroof (R21 100).

Behind the wheel

During our time with X3 M40d, there were always between three and five adults on board. And it's in such situations that performance SUVs become properly useful, since all that extra oomph means even a full complement of passengers hardly impacts real-world shove.

The torque available from low in the rev range makes acceleration from low speeds and from mere tickover exceedingly punchy. As has been the case with BMW's oil-burners for many years, this engine is very smooth with hardly any clatter making its way into the cabin. Once on the open road, the M40d virtually idles along at 1 500 r/min at an indicated 120 km/h; at these speeds, it's easy to forget you're driving a diesel as engine noise is really limited.

Although the M40d is no full-fat M Performance SUV, it still ticks several of the boxes one would expect from a sporty SUV. Grip is one of them. With 275/35 R21 tyres at the rear and a 245/40 R21 items up front, there's more than sufficient grip on offer. And despite these big wheels and low-profile tyres, the ride quality is quite impressive.

In addition, sitting on the rear bench behind my ideal driving position, I was left impressed with the available space (both leg- and headroom).

Summary

There's something quite satisfying about driving a product as competent as the X3 M40d and then considering the fact it's manufactured right here in South Africa. I’ve said it before but if your budget can’t quite stretch to an X5, the X3 is a great option. It's only marginally behind the X5 in terms of comfort and technology ... and once you climb behind the wheel, you'll likely be impressed on so many levels.

JOHANNESBURG – To celebrate BMW South Africa's switch from producing the 3 Series sedan to building the X3 SUV at its Rosslyn Plant in Pretoria, we had the chance to drive several X3 models for more than 1 000 km through Gauteng, Mpumalanga and Limpopo. What better way to learn about a vehicle than spend a three full days behind the wheel?

Plant Rosslyn

The motor manufacturing industry is an exceptionally important one here in South Africa and, frankly, every automaker building locally should be congratulated for its contribution to the economy, especially during these challenging times.

BMW invested billions of rands at its plant in Rosslyn to switch from the manufacture of the 3 Series to that of the X3. Perhaps most impressive, though, is the fact that production of the 3 Series continued unabated while the extensive building work and upgrades were going on in and around the factory.

The X3 produced at Rosslyn is for local consumption as well as the export market. The local range currently comprises the xDrive20d, xDrive30i, xDrive30d and flagship M40i (before the inevitable X3 M arrives, anyway). We have already driven the X3 xDrive 30d Steptronic and the X3 M40i, so during this trip, I decided to spend some time with what is currently the "entry-level" model in the line-up: the xDrive20d.

Behind the wheel

I expected to be a little disappointed as I climbed into the xDrive20d after a long stint behind the wheel of the xDrive30d, with the latter impressing thanks to the high perceived quality of its cabin, a smooth engine (which offers an abundance of torque) and a chassis that offers a good ride quality.

But the interior of the xDrive20d isn't really a letdown. Sure, you notice that the infotainment screen is smaller than that in the more expensive model, but it's more than sufficient for most needs.

Our test unit was fitted with 19-inch wheels (18- and 20-inch items are also available). During the trip, we negotiated some 150 km of gravel roads, and it was over these surfaces that we were thankful for the 19-inch wheels. As expected, some bumps filter into the cabin, but at constant speeds and taking the changing surface conditions into account, the road tyres and suspension coped well.

Back on tarmac, the 19-inch wheels offered both sufficient damping and high levels of grip. Still, if you plan on traveling often on gravel roads, I would recommend opting for the fatter 18-inch tyres.

The 2,0-litre turbodiesel engine in this derivative delivers 140 kW and 400 N.m, with the latter on tap from as low as 1 750 r/min. And this unit performed admirably, both over the mountain passes of Mpumalanga and on the highways. The low-down torque helps with overtaking, and even renders the X3 mildly amusing in the twisties. As with the 3,0-litre model, the cabin is quiet and the overall experience relaxing when you want it to be, despite the SUV's obvious dynamic abilities.

Summary

BMW's X models have long been positioned as more dynamically adept than the majority of their competitors, and that remains the case here. However, depending on your chosen specification, the new X3 can also be one of the more comfortable and luxurious SUVs in its segment. Indeed, if you're considering “downgrading” from an older X5 to a new X3, you'll likely find that the new vehicle ticks more than enough boxes.

And that powertrain? Well, the xDrive30d might offer the sort of performance associated with the Bavarian brand's in-line six-cylinder turbodiesel engine, but there's no denying that the more affordable xDrive20d will get the job done for the vast majority of buyers, too.

KNYSNA – BMW's B57 3,0-litre straight-six turbodiesel has been a CAR favourite since our initial encounter with it. And it’s the latest iteration of this oil-burner that powers the German manufacturer's new, box-fresh X3 xDrive30d.

While this derivative isn't quite the flagship of the new third-generation range – that honour goes to the 265 kW X3 M40i – it’s certainly an able performer. And it needs to be, considering that this latest X3 is facing some tough new (and upcoming) competition from the likes of Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar and Volvo.

With 195 kW and 620 N.m directed to all four wheels via the tried-and-tested ZF eight-speed torque converter, the xDrive30d version of the X3 supplies exactly what we've come to expect from this configuration: plenty of refinement along with smooth, prompt power delivery and more than enough low-down torque to perform swift overtaking manoeuvres.

The X3's well-insulated cabin means little turbodiesel clatter finds its way to the occupants’ ears, even at higher revs. Similarly, road- and wind-noise are well suppressed. The high perceived quality of the interior, which draws much of its tech from the 5 and 7 Series, adds further to the premium feeling.

The front double-joint spring strut axle and rear multilink suspension combine to offer a well-sprung ride both on- and off-road. In true BMW fashion, this thing’s not too shabby around corners either, while steering feel is pleasant enough.

The Bridgestone Alenza rubber, however, seemed to struggle somewhat on gravel. Although this is a tyre designed for both tarmac and gravel driving, it displayed some evidence of slipping mid-way through corners at low speeds, before the vehicle’s traction control system intervened.

On the road, though, this compound worked well with the xDrive30d's suspension to offer both strong grip and impressive comfort. Still, those who are unlikely to take their X3s off the beaten track may want to opt for tarmac-biased rubber instead.

While the entry-level xDrive20d (before new base models arrive next year) is likely to be big seller in the range, at R873 088 the xDrive30d may turn out to be the sweet spot, balancing performance and comfort ... not unlike its similarly accomplished 330d and 530d siblings.

LISBON, PortugalNot always a fan of car designer speak, especially when delving into topics such as “sculpted crease lines” and “emotive surfacing”, I really like head designer, Calvin Luk’s summed-up description of his latest creation, the all-new BMW X3. Standing alongside him at the international launch of the third-generation of one of the most important models in BMW’s current portfolio, Australian Luk says he views the new (G01) X3 as a rugby player dressed in a fitted suit. And, while it helps that it’s the sportiest version of the new range, the X3 M40i, that we’re staring at at the time, I do tend to agree with his observation.

Within what is shaping up to be one of the most fiercely contested segment battles of recent times, the new BMW X3 is, alongside the likes of the Jaguar F-Pace, setting its stall out to be one of the most dynamic-looking options available. Built on BMW’s new larger but lighter CLAR platform, the third-generation X3 is only marginally longer and wider (though lower) than the model it replaces, yet viewed in the metal you immediately get the sense that the brief was to make the vehicle look bolder and more athletic that before. As such, the company's signature grille is that much more pronounced, the roof line is that much more swept and the bonnet creases are that much more appreciable. In the first ever M Performance X3, it’s a package granted even more presence by bespoke bumper treatments (front and rear), neat Cerium Grey highlighting (including side mirrors), tailpipe dimension upgrade and 20-inch alloy wheels.

Serving as a constant reminder of that bold exterior styling, the aforementioned bonnet creases (similar to those on the larger X5) are a prominent sight from behind the steering wheel of the new X3. While the M40i’s cabin is lifted with appropriate touches such as sports seats and chrome accenting, like the exterior package, the new X3’s cabin as a whole feels far more svelte and leaner in its application than before. Certainly the adoption of a new platform (and, accordingly, a 50 mm longer wheelbase) has freed up valuable interior space, but you do also get the sense of a greater emphasis placed on ergonomics in the new car. More sculpted than in the previous model, the fact that the centre console is fashioned to face the driver’s seat is immediately obvious. A welcome inclusion in the new interior package is the presence of a more front-and-centre (10,2-inch) infotainment display that now offers touchscreen (yes, as well as gesture control) functionality. To this end, build quality and the use of materials also appears to have been a key focus of attention when designing the new car – a standard that the workforce at Rosslyn will be looking forward to replicating once production of the new X3 begins in South Africa in 2018.

As aggressive as the new X3 M40i looks, its exhaust note (even in default mode) is arranged to do those looks justice. Powered by a (B58) turbocharged inline six-cylinder engine, the M40i fires to life with all the verve and purpose of a modern hyper-hatch. And it’s a feeling that never really leaves. Boasting 265 kW and a sturdy 500 N.m from just 1 400 r/min, the newest member of the M Performance portfolio always feels tightly wound up and ready for action. It’s this fact that perhaps most distinguishes the fastest X3 to date from the likes of the new Audi SQ5, the Ingolstadt model offering a somewhat more convincing dual personality.

That said, I have a feeling the SQ5 would have a tough time keeping pace with the X3 M40i over a mountain pass, such is the dynamic ability (highlighted by excellent body control and hot hatch-like turn-in precision) offered by the BMW. While an adaptive suspension setup is optional, the M40i comes standard with M Sport brakes and suspension arrangements as well as an xDrive all-wheel-drive setup tuned for a more pronounced rearwards bias. Tune all the systems, including the excellent eight-speed automatic transmission, to Sport mode and a bonus feature is a smile-inducing cacophony of exhaust pipe pops and crackles on the overrun; not something obviously associated with a school-run SUV.

Indeed, as a family friendly SUV with the heart of a hot hatch, the new BMW X3 M40i may be the most unapologetically brash contender in this segment. But it is afforded this attitude by the fact that the vehicle it's based on appears to be very well sorted in terms of overall balance, poise and precision. While its bolder styling, compared with the likes of, say, the forthcoming Volvo XC60, will arguably narrow its broad appeal, based on first impressions the new BMW X3, with its sharp new interior packaging and the kind of built-in dynamics that has won BMW so many fans to date, it looks destined to hit the ground running in its latest tussle for segment dominance.

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