dates : 11th July 2004
15th July 2004
on-off-roader with sports sedan levels of on-road
road-holding. That pretty much describes the essence of the
BMW calls this car a Sports Activity Vehicle, a variation what
is commonly known as a Sports Utility Vehicle or SUV. The
distinction is made by the Munich manufacturer to define the
emphasis on sportiness with the X3.
This is no common refuse hauler with plush trim and electric
do-dads added on. It has its roots firmly planted in the BMW
3-Series sedan, a car noted for its razor sharp handling.
On tar roads some may complain that the ride is a little firm,
choppy even, over small bumps and ripples. But the fantastic
solidity of the body-shell inspires confidence, as does the
distinct lack of body-roll when cornering hard in this tall
vehicle. The styling of the X3 earned full marks form the Car
Torque team. It combines some of the aggression of the
3-Series sedan with a chunkiness that will appeal to hard-core
The bodywork features short overhangs, useful for accessing
steep slopes, and there is a reasonable degree of ground
clearance. Sporty apparel includes the shark-fin roof-mounted
aerial and the rear roof spoiler.
On the front and rear ends, the tough plastic bumpers finished
in black will appeal to those who want to indulge in a bit of
bush-driving, as will the black, scuff-resistant wheel arches.
Interesting optional items on the test vehicle included
adaptive headlights, which follow the direction of the
steering wheel to illuminate the edge of the road. And the
headlights also featured lens washing, handy after some muddy
off-road adventure or when driving in heavy downpours.
The wheels are sporty in size and styling, as are the tyre
profiles. These have more of an on-road orientation than
serious off-road rubber.
Our test model was the 2,5-litre version of the X3, with
six-speed manual transmission.
The engine produces 141kW @ 6 500 rpm and 245 Nm of torque at
This power train provides a good mix of economy and long
But when it comes to off-road driving of a more serious nature
it does have its limitations.
The BMW full-time four-wheel-drive system is known as xDrive.
This features an electronically-linked multi-plate clutch
system between the axles, to transfer torque to the wheels
with most traction.
This limits wheel spin and it is a very effective system for
both on-road driving in slipper conditions and off-road.
The X3 is ideally suited to holiday travel. And its elevated
seating position makes it an ideal game-viewing vehicle. The
interior carries through all the modern BMW styling themes and
the build-quality is superb. These vehicles are built in
Germany and fully imported to South Africa.
There are numerous storage compartments, cup-holders, map
pockets and armrests for both front and rear passengers.
ISOFIX child seat mounts are standard and up to eight airbags
are offered, depending on the model ordered.
The luggage compartment offers four hundred and eighty litres
of conventional stowage space and over fifteen hundred of
stowage space with the rear seats folded flat.
In keeping with its active image for this vehicle, BMW claims
that three mountain bikes can be transported in the luggage
The BMW X3 can be ordered with a navigation system. Another
option is the panoramic sunroof, a massive glass area that can
be opened for holiday fun.
Our venue for our X3 day-drive was the Krugersdorp Game
Reserve, just 30 minutes away from Johannesburg.
At the reserve, the Protea Off Road Experience offers 4X4
trails in sight of fantastic game viewing, such as Rhino,
Lion, and a multitude of buck and antelope species.
Itís possible to get really close-up viewing of lions in a
special enclosure. There are 21 lions at the reserve, but
because the enclosure is one hundred hectares in size, the
experience is one straight Out of Africa.
With game viewing consigned to a series of wonderful memories,
Jannie Rykaart, the man behind the Protea Off-Road Experience
on the West Rand, put the X3 put its paces over a medium-level
For descending steep slopes, the X3 comes with a hill-descent
control, which automatically brakes the wheels which have
traction and releases those which have already lost grip.
But there are limits to the system, and when all grip is lost
the driver can apply the brake pedal and lock up all wheels.
On slippery surfaces and on climbs, Jannie reported that he
could feel the X-Drive transferring torque to wheels with
traction as he climbed the rocky ledge above the river bank.
But the lack of low-down torque and the absence of a low-ratio
gearbox put the X3 at the very limit of its performance.
To get the engine in its torque band, the climb should have
been approached at higher speed in first gear.
But the presence of rocks and sharp ridges meant that under
body damage would have been a certainty if he had rushed the
slope any faster.
Consequently, Jannie made lots of use of the clutch to ease
the X3 to the top of the ridge.
And using the clutch like that would cause serious slippage if
such obstacles were attempted more than once.
Soft-roaders like the X3 are more suited to conventional dirt
roads than trails. But it is nice to know that they can handle
the occasional drift or wash-away if the need arises.
All in all, a very impressive family holiday vehicle, with
plenty of boulevard cruiser appeal.
We predict the X3 will be a runaway sales success for BMW. But
like other vehicles in this market, drivers should be aware
that they are not real off-roaders.
For that, a double-cab pick-up or a pucker Land Rover, Jeep or
Land Cruiser is what you are after.
The BMW X3 costs R385 000 for the six-speed manual version. An
automatic version of the 2,5-litre model costs R398 000 while
the three-litre automatic, the third model in the range, costs
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