Wednesday, 20 October, 2021

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Tested: BMW X3 M-Sport 20d xDrive

We spent some time with the X3 M-Sport, BMW’s mid-sized SAV (Sport Activity Vehicle) and we were impressed. Very impressed.

BMW changed the SUV landscape when they launched the X5 in 1998. It clearly was not a hardcore off-roader and BMW called it an SAV, a sport activity vehicle, and not an SUV – sport utility vehicle.

The X5 was also the first SUV to use a unibody design (like a car), as opposed to the older body-on-frame design other manufacturers used.

It was only natural that the X5 would get a smaller brother and the X3 broke cover in 2003. The third-generation version was introduced in 2017 and that is the subject of these impressions.

Dylan Peterson, dealer principal of BMW Mbombela in Nelspruit (formerly known as Eastview BMW), offered me one of their demonstration units to drive for a week. It was a beautiful blue X3 M-Sport 20d X-Drive. That means it has a 2-litre turbodiesel engine and it has all-wheel drive. It also means it is a sportier version with wider rubber for better roadholding and sports seats to keep you where you should be.

I had to do a quick trip to OR Tambo International Airport and then have my daughter at a driver’s licence testing centre to make a booking the next morning. This sounded like the kind of trip the X3 would be ideal for. And it was.

The X3 has ample room for four adults plus luggage. The climate-control system works like a charm, despite the car having a panoramic glass sunroof. Parking is a dawdle with a rear-view camera and park-distance control sensors to avoid any obstacles.

We left Johannesburg at 4:30 in the morning, heading for Barberton. The headlights turned the road in front of us into day and we set off on the N12, speed control set to a speed that would not raise the attention of traffic police, and some good rock playing on the excellent sound system via my iPhone and the car’s Apple Carplay interface.

Google Maps advised that we turn off the N4 at Machadodorp and head to the R38 over Skurweberg. And it was quite “skurf”…

Things got a little “skurf” on Skurweberg.

Portions of the tar surface have disappeared into what look like sinkholes and as can be seen in one of the photos, in places the surface had lifted up. The X3’s ABS brakes and other electronics made the semi-emergency braking manoeuvre easy. Driving down the other side of the hump, the car’s towbar scraped on the surface – it was that bad. Apparently, this road has since been fixed.

The sport suspension and wheels and tyres become noticeable on some of the roads off the beaten track. Although the low-profile tyres stick to the road like glue, potholes become a bigger threat and you have to adapt your driving style accordingly.

The X3 ate up the rest of the road like it was pudding. One of my favourite local roads is the pass from Barberton to Hilltop and the road was quiet enough to drive up that at a very enthusiastic pace.

Then the weekend was upon us. We had not been to the deserted Msauli Village, probably better known as Diepgezet. The town belonged to Msauli and African Chrysotile Asbestos Limited and before it was abandoned in 2002 due to the expected closure of the mine as the result of a proposed ban on the use of asbestos – which became a law in 2008.

The X3 on the geotrail outside Barberton, heading for Diepgezet

We decided to go and have a look and then have a picnic in the Barberton Nature Reserve. The X3 is no tough off-roader, but the all-wheel drive makes it very sure-footed off the tarmac. The experience was marred by off-road bikes and side-by-sides riding all over the dirt road. I am also an adventure motorcyclist, but I was disappointed with how these off-roaders expected cars to just give way and felt it was their right to go through corners on the wrong side of the road.

The modern X3 on the outskirts of the abandoned mining town of Diepgezet

Diepgezet makes quite the background for some nice photos – as can be seen from the gallery. But the buildings are slowly being stripped of roofs, windows, and frames. Soon there will be very little to show that there had once been a town with a community living there.

The Barberton Nature Reserve offers good picnic facilities and ablutions and it only cost us R50 per person to enjoy a relaxed braai (bring your own charcoal). The X3’s boot has more than enough enough room for a braai grid, charcoal, two camping chairs and more than one cooler box. We only packed one though, because we only had two beers and two chops each. Being responsible, of course.

The rest of the week I used the X3 in my daily drives and got quite attached to it. It is really comfortable and has enough power to get you out of the way in a hurry. As a matter of fact, driving it gently (and more economically) was quite the challenge. But it is a pleasant car to drive, even when you do it decently. The seats offer great support, and the climate control works very well, even by Lowveld standards.

I did not get to do a tow test on the open road, but I did fetch a motorcycle with the X3 towing my trailer and it hardly noticed it around town.

It was difficult to return this car. I tried to think up excuses for why I would rather take it back a day late, but sanity prevailed.

The good news is that this car is now available for sale. It has done just about 16 000 km, so it is barely run in. This specific model has been superseded by the M Competition model with the latest facelift, but new it cost around R920 000. This demonstration unit can now be bought for R799 000.

Compared to its own replacement, this is already a saving of around R120 000 and well worth serious consideration. Contact Dylan Peterson at BMW Mbombela on 013 757 6600 for a quote.

Technically speaking – BMW X3 20d X-Drive
Engine: 1 995cc, 4-cylinder, turbodiesel with intercooler
Output: 140kW @ 4 000 rpm / 400Nm @ 1 750 – 2 500 rpm
Gearbox: 8-speed Steptronic
Fuel tank capacity: 68 litres
Tyres: 255/45/20 (front), 275/40/20 (rear)
0 – 100 km/h: 8,0 seconds
Top speed: 213 km/h
Price: R799 000 (as tested; new about R920 000)

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