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New-generation BMW X3 to get M flagship

X factor: The BMW X3 is set to land on Australian shores in November, with more variants to follow in 2018.

BMW finally set to give its mid-sized X3 some muscle to take on hi-po Euro rivals

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BMW logo27 Jun 2017

By RON HAMMERTON

BMW’S new third-generation X3 mid-sized luxury SUV will gain an M Performance-enhanced flagship to take up the cudgels against similarly brisk high-riding wagons from Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Jaguar for the first time.

Powered by a 265kW/500Nm version of BMW’s twin-turbo inline six-cylinder petrol engine, the X3 M40i will be the headline act of an expanded X3 range that is set for a staggered roll-out starting in Europe in the third quarter of this year and in Australia from about November.

BMW today released images and some details of the new range, revealing an evolutionary styling makeover and five engine choices – two diesel and three petrol. No hybrid variant will be available, at least at launch.

The new model has similar external dimensions to the outgoing X3, but BMW says the new car’s wheelbase is 50mm longer and the front overhang shorter, indicating major changes under the skin.

European reports suggest the latest X3 sits on the same lightweight rear-wheel-drive platform as the new 5 Series and the upcoming 3 Series due next year, although there is no confirmation of this in the media release from Munich.

BMW says the bonnet is longer than before, perhaps indicating an engine placement further behind the front axle to contribute to what the German company claims is a 50:50 weight distribution with a “roll moment distributed a long way to the rear”.

BMW Australia says it too early to disclose the line-up and pricing for this market, saying only that, like Europe, some variants will come later than others.

The current X3 range has three variants – 2.0-litre petrol xDrive20i, 2.0-litre diesel xDrive20d and 3.0-litre diesel xDrive30d – ranging in price from $63,800 to $81,000 plus on-road costs.

BMW buyers who want a six-cylinder petrol engine in a mid-sized SUV currently have to move over to the coupe-styled X4 with its 3.0-litre 225kW/400Nm powerplant, priced at $91,200.

Assuming BMW ticks the box for the X3 M40i for Australia, it will go up against the Audi’s freshly minted SQ5 that lands next month, along with Mercedes-AMG’s GLC 43 and Jaguar F-Pace S, all of which are armed with blown 3.0-litre six-cylinder petrol engines and priced around the $100k mark.

With 265kW, the M40i has 5kW more power than Audi’s 260kW SQ5 which is making the switch from diesel to petrol in the new generation.

The Beemer will have less power than the 270kW GLC 43 and 280kW F-Pace S, but BMW still promises a 4.8-second 0-100km/h dash time, putting it right up there with rivals in terms of straight-line performance. Fuel consumption is also competitive, at 8.2 litres per 100km, in line with BMW’s claim that all new X3 variants are more efficient than before.

In Europe, the M40i will be available in the initial launch wave, about September, along with the two diesel variants, the 195kW/620Nm six-cylinder xDrive30d, and 140kW/400Nm four-cylinder xDrive20d.

The petrol four-cylinder 185kW/350Nm xDrive30i – potentially the most popular variant – will come on board in December in Europe, probably meaning a first quarter launch here.

Two four-cylinder 135kW/290Nm 2.0-litre petrol variants, the all-wheel-drive xDrive20i and rear-wheel-drive sDrive20i, bring up the rear in the second quarter of 2018.

The two-wheel-drive version will be available in only a handful of markets as a price leader, and it remains to be seen if BMW Australia will bother with it here.

All of the new X3s will come with a ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic transmission that, on the six-cylinder variants, comes with four driving modes – Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport+.

The xDrive all-wheel-drive system gets a greater bias to the rear axle for sportier driving.

BMW has employed some new lightweight suspension components to reduce unsprung weight, but the overall suspension design remains the same – double-joint spring strut at the front and five-link at the rear.

Alloy wheels go up a size to 18-inches, on base models, while 21-inch wheels are optional, as are chassis enhancement packages such as M Sport suspension, Dynamic Damper Control, M Sport brakes and variable sport steering.

Although few X3s will venture off road, BMW claims the new model is more than capable, with a 204mm ground clearance and 500mm water wading depth.

The new front fascia of the X3 gains hexagonal fog lamps introduced on other BMW lines in recent times.

Three specification levels will be available – xLine, Luxury Line and M Sport.

The xLine gets a satin metallic finish on items such as the grille, while the Luxury gets a chrome look with two-tone underbody protection. The M Sport gets an aero kit and sports brakes with blue-painted callipers.

Inside, BMW promises more storage than before, along with 40:20:40 split-fold seats. Luggage space is 550 litres with the rear seats up and 1600L with them folded.

So far this year, X3 sales are lagging 15.7 per cent on the same period of last year, although X4 sales are up 15.2 per cent.

The class leader is Land Rover’s Discovery Sport (1997 sales), ahead of the Mercedes GLC (1467), Range Rover Evoque (1407) and BMW X3 (1349).

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