Low key but capable

When BMW launched the X3 in India in 2007, the sports utility vehicle never really managed to win the hearts of the people or create serious traction in the market. Indeed, it was criticised for being an odd-looking compact version of the burly X5. Critics said the hard plastics of the interiors were disappointing and its harsh ride took a toll on the body. Though it was the pioneer of this segment, it was the company's Bavarian rival, Audi, that managed to take the chequered flag with the Q5. Easily enough, the Audi car became the leader in the luxury line of compact yet spacious SUVs.

That's history now. The second generation X3 looked more majestic, capable and oozed uber class. It not only grew in size, but also received additional equipment that upped the ante in this segment. After receiving acceptance from its customers, BMW has quickly taken out an upgraded X3 version to make sure the success did not stagnate.

Apart from the exterior and interior tweaks, the major change in the X3 is the new 1,995 cc diesel engine. This can be a bit confusing as the previous powerplant too had an identical displacement. However, the output now is 7 bhp more, which on paper may hardly look like something to boast about, but there is more than meets the eye. Press the ignition and you will know almost instantly that there is an improvement. The engine is a lot quieter than the older one. Being a diesel motor, a slight rattle is inevitable, but unlike the previous four-cylinder set-up, it doesn't emit an unpolished grunt, which was quite annoying. The new unit is more in line with what one expects from an SUV at this level. The noise, vibration and harshness levels (NVH) are significantly less and this is more evident when the car is standing still in idle mode at a traffic light.

The all-aluminium engine is mated with an eight-speed ZF gearbox, which is very responsive as it shifts quickly to minimise any power lag. Opting to drive in the automatic mode on city roads makes it a sensible choice as it easily adapts to the slow-moving traffic. The engine too remains fairly quiet at under 2000 rpm. Though a slight lag can be felt in the automatic driving option, in the manual mode the X3 is responsive from the word go. It is always happier at high revs. A sore point in that it does not come with steering-mounted paddle shift. This is certainly a disappointment for a vehicle of this class. BMW has also focused on improving the X3's economy and the car maker claims that it returns as high as 18 kmpl, which is quite impressive.

When it comes to the driving feel and dynamics, BMW vehicles have always been in a league of their own - and the X3 follows suit. The 50:50 weight distribution makes the X3 a phenomenal handler as it takes on sharp turns without lilting like a badly loaded ship. Body roll can be felt, but it does not let it meander from the tuning line. Neither does it make you lose confidence about the car. BMW has not tinkered with the steering wheel because it is precise and provides great feedback. It does not weigh in on you while driving in start-stop traffic. Parking too is stress free. The ride quality is suited for Indian roads; the X3 imperiously counters the numerous potholes. It does not jar your bones or your nerves when it goes over undulations on the road.

At a glance you might not notice the facelift that the X3 has got. You can be forgiven for this because the change is subtle. The most evident change is the extended headlamps, which now stretch all the way to the kidney grilles. The headlights now come with projector lighting, while the LED fog lamps have been repositioned and are now more effective in providing better light. The front bumper is completely redesigned and resembles that of the X5, thereby giving it a more premium look. The interiors, too, have got minimum changes, with just a high gloss black panel finish and chrome inserts plus a bigger 6.5-display screen to talk about.

The X3 is available in two variants - Expedition and xLine. The former comes with bi-Xenon headlights, iDrive system and has most of the necessary comfort and safety features. It is priced at Rs 44.9 lakh (ex-showroom). The xLine, though, goes a step further and is equipped with a panoramic sunroof, leather upholstery, 18-inch wheels and an extra Sport+ driving mode. It is priced at Rs 49.9 lakh (ex-showroom).

The new X3 is definitely better than the previous version, feels more premium and is more efficient and powerful. As a total package, it surely is a value-for-money purchase. For those who feel BMW made a grave error in discontinuing with the 3-litre diesel engine, just wait and watch. The German car maker may soon surprise you and fulfill your wish of an engine with a bigger displacement.

Engine: 1,995cc
Power: 188bhp @ 4000rpm
Torque: 400Nm @ 1750-5750rpm
0-100 kmph: 8.1 seconds
Fuel economy: 18.56 kmpl (ARAI)
Price: Rs 44.9-49.9 lakh (Ex-showroom, India)

  Arup Das is Features Editor at AutoX