Calvin Luk is a local vehicle designer. Ok, he’s an Australian, but (in true Aussie style), since he’s doing well on the world stage we’ll extend him some Kiwi ownership. He is one of BMW group’s youngest bodywork designers and already has a near decade of experience under his belt. Apparently gaining his inspiration from his parents 3 series E36 and Evanescence (the rock band rather than the Latin word meaning to disappear), Calvin has applied his signature styling to the BMW 1 Series LCI, the X1 and now he’s turned his hand to the new X3.
Outwardly, BMW’s trademark kidney grilles have been raised up, and are bigger and bolder than ever before. It gives the nose a more masculine/sportier feel without appearing too dominant. The larger air intakes look ready to gulp down lung full’s of oxygen while the instantly recognisable adaptive hexagonal LED headlamps will pierce through the darkest of nights. The new X3 sports a freshly designed wheel arch, with a ‘leaning forward’ shape and depending on the model or spec you go for, the happily shroud its 21” alloys. The revised activity continues around the back too. 3D LED tail lamps, a sporty exhaust and even a spoiler - which if you go for the M40i option you’ll need - I’ll get to that soon.
It would appear that like many of us, the 15 years or so years since its first inception have taken its toll and the new X3 has bulked up somewhat. It is larger than the original X5 (50mm longer x 25mm wider) however, despite it taking up more space (which is utilised inside), the SUV is lighter and boasts ‘best in class’ aerodynamics with a cd of 0.29
The large panoramic roof option bathes the interior in sunlight (or depending on the time of the year, just light), and what an interior it is. Vernasca leather with contrast stitching adorns the furniture and the cabin design adopts the new and modern BMW direction. iDrive 6 comes to you via a 10” touchscreen, with tablet-like menus’ and it has gesture control (no this isn’t a gimmick). Galvanic buttons, wireless charging, multi-function digital instrument display, the list of improvements goes on. The HUD (Head Up Display) is clearer and 70% bigger than before and the doors pockets will now handle 1L drink bottles - told you they’d put the increased size to good use.
To top this all off, the new X3 comes with 3 powerful hearts, xDrive 20d (140kW/400Nm), xDrive 30i (185kW/350Nm) and my favourite, the M40i (265kW/500Nm) with a 0-100kph time of 4.8s!
Enough of all that, what’s it like to drive? BMW NZ took us to Taupo to find out. First up was an overnight stay at the lodge at Kinloch. This place is outstanding, set in the same 254ha grounds that house the Jack Nicklaus signature golf course, it has a series of suites and villas that lavish its occupants in peace and tranquility. However, since we arrived in a procession of sporty exhaust X3’s we may have off balanced this serenity somewhat - still. The food, service, and care were outstanding and well worth checking out even if you’re not into hitting golf balls into holes.
The next morning we headed off to Poronui Station, about an hour to the south-east of Kinloch. The station is huge, it’s both a working facility (honey and meat) and caters to the tourists as an attraction - but we were there to tackle its trails and test out the new X3’s capabilities. Mike Eady’s team at Tracktime had planned out a route that would put this SUV through its paces, and even more so for me since my chariot was on 21” Alloys with road tyres. The trek took us through muddy streams and rutted terrain, passing by woodlands and wild roaming deer. We xDrive’d up to the highest peaks and used hill descent to, well; descend. The X3 handled it all with relative ease. I’m not saying that this was an ‘out in the wilderness’ experience (the SUV’s ground clearance does have its limitations) but with ‘one wheel off the ground’ displays and wet/slippery surfaces, the X3 proved it had a strong chassis and a more than capable determination to succeed.
A few weeks later and with the Taupo experience becoming a fading memory, BMW NZ had arranged for a follow-up week for me. A chance to see how the SUV handled life in its more ‘natural’ environment. With an urban backdrop, the new look design is definitely more in keeping with BMW’s new vehicle line up. It’s both luxurious and sporty. Once again, I had been given the M40i and couldn’t be happier, mind you, since it’s top of the range I guess I should be. However, as always, it’s the little things that put a smile on my face. On switch on the six-cylinder engine growls deeply before settling, yes it’s an attention seeking sound but rest assured this SUV can back up the bark. The seats are comfortable but could do with a little more upper lumbar support, especially if you are driving it enthusiastically - which with this model you’ll want to.
Both inside and out, the new X3 is very upmarket. The M40i comes with the M aerodynamic pack and chunky leather steering wheel. Harman Kardon supply the sounds and the driving tech/experience is increased with active M suspension and Sports brakes. Sport mode selection keeps the 8-speed box changing sharply and the exhaust note rawkus, giving you a more involved drive and urging you to test out its 50/50 weight distribution. It handles the tarmac with vigour and a fulfilling zest, however, with the family onboard, ‘comfort’ will dial back the exuberance but thankfully not the style. The X3 will stand proudly on virtually anyone's driveway.
Taking the new X3 out to the wilds that surround Taupo and then getting the chance to follow up with the family integration in Auckland allowed me to truly review this impressive SUV. Having an accomplished designer take care of the appearance is one thing but, with its latest tech and innovation and authentic ‘X’ ness, I can now say that the new X3 is way more than simply good Luk.