This article was written by Hannah Elliott for Bloomberg
Call it a rebuilding year at BMW.
As of last month, the Bavarian carmaker trailed arch-rival Mercedes-Benz in sales growth by more than half, with numbers climbing 2.8 per cent compared to a 6 per cent gain at Mercedes. This comes after the company lost its top-selling spot in the luxury auto sector in 2016.
Since then, the brand has publicly doubled down on production to regain its lead, announcing it will debut 12 all-electric cars by 2025, among other new models. Last year, China accounted for almost 90 per cent of sales growth at leading luxury carmakers in 2017, according to The Nikkei.
BMW will begin making its first all-electric sport utility vehicle, the iX3, in China in 2020. This is notable because it will make BMW the first luxury carmaker to export something so hi-tech from the country and because China represents immense growth opportunity for all luxury brands over the next few years.
To save money, the iX3 will be based on the X3 BMW currently sells.
If the US$54,500 crossover is any indication, consumers will have nothing to worry about with its electric counterpart. With high-quality and functional interior fix-ins, well-grounded handling, and a capable eight-speed automatic drive, the X3 M40i is a stable, practical treat from behind the wheel and from the back seat.
Solid value, Solid handling
It speaks to how insane the SUV/crossover market is today that at less than US$60,000, the X3 M40i is also relatively affordable. After all, Lamborghini just gave us a US$200,000 crossover, and even Porsche’s smaller Macan can easily crest US$100,000 if you pump it full of upgrades. Not to mention that Aston Martin, Ferrari, and Rolls-Royce are all soon to launch SUVs that will soar above six figures.
But when Lamborghini’s Urus has seven drive modes, and the Macan comes with spoilers and a “performance package”, the X3 is actually sensible and well-equipped, if not exactly flashy.
On the exterior, the front adaptive, full-LED headlights shine like cuff links; the strong lines hint at capable athleticism underneath the bonnet. Even upgrades like 20-inch wheels and an M40i-specific body kit (badging and chrome accents) add handsome but modest overtones.
As for engineering, the X3 I drove came with a 355-hp turbo 3.0-litre inline-six from BMW’s new excellent engine family. Note that it’s not technically an “M” model – and this is where it gets complicated. While the M in the 40i’s name signals some input from the company’s M Performance sub-brand, the X3 M40i is not an actual M Performance car like an M3 or M5. Those have super-high-revved engines, laser-tuned handling, and specialised suspension engineered to evoke race tracks the world over. The X3 M40i has firmed-up M Adaptive suspension, M Sport brakes, and a variable-ratio steering system that lends exceptional body control and excellent steering on par with things that cost twice as much. But it’s no M car.
Still, X3 is one of the tighter, punchier of BMW SUVs I’ve had in recent months: If you hit the gas you’ll get this 4,230-pound rig to 60mph in a decent 4.6 seconds. (This is just as fast as the US$77,200 Macan Turbo.) Top speed is 155mph.
Those people considering this car, I expect, are as interested, if not more, in the space and practicality it offers than in its sprint times. The X3 falls in the middle of BMW’s line-up of SUVs, right after the smaller X1 and X2, and right before the bigger X4, X5 and X6. Head- and legroom are ample; the large sunroof and wide door positioning give all the room we’ve come to expect in car-like SUVs. X3 has 62.7 cubic feet of storage room with the seats down in the back, big enough to fit golf bags and dog pens, sure, and bigger than the (cheaper) Mercedes-Benz GLC300 – but far smaller than the 80-plus cubic feet in the US$52,200 Mercedes GLE350. If you drive the X3 be sure to drive the correlating options from Mercedes, too. You may find they serve you better, all things considered.
Sundry items like cup holders, USB outlets, headroom, hooks and storage cut-outs abound. I’d also splurge on the US$300 Apple CarPlay, US$350 heated front and rear seats, and US$$2,950 Premium package (navigation, heads-up display, heated steering wheel). You’re getting great value by buying the X3; you might as well use the money you’ll save on getting the most out of it.
Either that, or save up for the electric one from China. If the X3 is any indication, it’ll be worth the wait.