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First look: X3 expands BMW soft-road family

Styling cues: The X3 combines traditional BMW design elements with some new features.

BMW reveals the look and some details of its new compact all-wheel drive wagon

BMW logo19 Jun 2003

BMW has released the first official pictures of its X3 compact soft-roader, the little brother to the German company's popular X5.

To be revealed in the metal for the first time at the Frankfurt motor show in September, the X3 will then go on sale in Europe and North America from the beginning of 2004, and in Australia from mid-2004.

Price and final specification for the X3 in Australia is yet to be determined, however it is likely that initially two inline six-cylinder petrol engine variants will be offered with 2.5-litre and 3.0-litre displacement.

The X3 is the first of what is expected to be a rush of compact soft-roaders from prestige manufacturers, with Volvo also due to get into the act in 2004 with the XC50.

Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Saab and Volkswagen are expected to join in by mid-decade. Alfa Romeo has also shown a concept off-roader called Kamal that isn't due until 2007. It could be powered by a HFV6 engine built in Melbourne by Holden.

The look of the X3 is no surprise, sticking pretty close to the xActivity concept revealed at the Detroit motor show last January, albeit with the addition of a B and C-pillar.

As per BMW's controversial styling policy, there's interacting concave and convex surfaces as well as a newly interpreted "Hofmeister Kink" in the rear side windows and a newly designed double kidney grille.

Inside, the drivers' cockpit features the classic BMW instrument binnacle, with dials grouped together. But there's no sign of the controversial iDrive controller system.

BMW has stuck to the X5 philosophy for the X3, labelling it a Sports Activity Vehicle (SAV) rather than the traditional SUV (Sports Utility Vehicle) moniker. In other words, the emphasis is on bitumen performance and chassis behaviour rather than mountain goat ability.

It's no surprise therefore that performance will be strong.

Developing a maximum output of 170 kW, the X3 3.0i is specified with a top speed of up to 210 km/h in standard trim, and can reach up to 224 km/h with its optionally available high-speed set up.

In Europe, the standard transmission will be a six speed manual, while a five-speed automatic transmission will be made available as an option.

BMW hasn't ignore the off-road altogether, introducing an "intelligent" all-wheel drive system called xDrive with X3. It allows infinitely adjustable and fully variable distribution of torque front to rear, the system redistributing power as it sense wheels losing grip.

BMW claims the system also improves on-road behaviour as well.

xDrive is allied to the DSC stability control system and automatic HDC Hill Descent Control, which is for driving downhill on loose or slippery surfaces, and has already been seen on the X5 and Land Rover models.

There's also a trailer stability control system offered for safer towing of boat and other trailers.

BMW also claims its all-wheel drive design, which extends the front driveshaft through the oil sump gives the X3 a low centre of gravity and reduces bodyroll in the process.

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