Tackling the new BMW X3
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BMW's Australia-born designer, Calvin Luk, has an easy analogy when it comes to describing his newly launched X3 SUV; it's like a rugby player in a suit.
The third-generation medium SUV had its global launch in Sintra, Portugal, last week and the vehicle will be on sale in New Zealand next month.
The X3 will start at $92,850 for the xDrive20d, $99,850 for the xDrive30i and $119,850 for the M40i.
BMW has introduced an M Performance model for the first time in the X3 line-up, with the M40i producing 265kW of power 500Nm of torque from the 3-litre six-cylinder in-line petrol engine.
The new X3 has grown over the previous generation and is almost as big as the original X5. Like the current X5, the X3 will be built in the company's US plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
Dimension-wise, it is 10mm wider than gen-2 X3, with the wheelbase 50mm longer, although the overhangs are the same. The New Zealand-bound X3 M40i will sit on 21-inch tyres.
There is 55kg cut out over the previous X3, due to the use of higher grade steel and aluminium.
Inside, the X3 gains the 5 Series fascia, and our test model had a 10-inch infotainment screen with iDrive 6, which can be operated via the rotary dial, gesture control, voice control or touchscreen.
Outside, the X3 is the making of Luk, who explained to Driven his X3/rugby analogy.
"I came up with that because the whole impression of this car is that it's really sort of a muscular physique. It's quite puffed up with an upright posture. It's got this immense power curve, but then at the same time, it's contrasted with these very sophisticated surfaces," he said.
"When you see the car, what strikes you first is the front, which is super-powerful with these big kidneys. That's essentially where the 'rugby player in a suit' comes from.
"The rugby player's got this big puffed up chest and yet when he's wrapped in this suit at an event, there's a refined sort of cut to him.
"I think that's a real cool little analogy to help you get inside my head a bit."
Luk is also the creator of the latest X1, the facelift 1 Series and the concept Z4, which was shown at this year's Frankfurt motor show. That's impressive for the 30-year-old design genius who has been inspired by famous BMW designer Chris Bangle (see Driven.co.nz for more on Luk's career).
Despite having designed the X3, Luk had never driven it so we invited him, first as rear passenger during the off-road exercise at the nearby Sintra national park in the 30d (see driven.co.nz), then riding shotgun with me in the M40i for a 130km loop down the coast of south Portugal, inland north of Lisbon, driving country roads and 120km/h on the motorway .
The M40i has eco, comfort, sport and Sport+ driving modes. Slap the X3 into sport mode and you get the raucous exhaust noise through the twin pipes. Despite the acoustic glass in the cabin, you can hear the "pop" and "burp" at the down change -- and it's enticing. If I owned an X3 M40i I'd have it permanently in sport mode -- no matter what my neighbours or pedestrians thought.
But Luk and our minder, BMW NZ's Paul Sherley, delighted in the sound from the rear of the M40i.
Though it may be set up for rear-wheel preference, the M40i uses the xDrive's variable torque split between the axles giving greater stability, as we found when cornering at speed on the motorway.
The X3 range also gains technology from the 5 Series, including BMW's CoPilot system, which includes active lane keep and cruise control based on radar and camera, providing semi-autonomous driving. It works best at up to 100km/h and doesn't like long bends, giving back control to the driver that you can detect only when the green symbol on the dash is extinguished.
This is more than a niggle, and I've voiced my concern about lack of audible warning in the 5 Series.
The X3 has its New Zealand launch in early November, so we'll be able to see how the range copes with our tough bitumen instead of Portugal's smooth roads.
BMW's Calvin Luk talks exclusively to Liz Dobson about how he created the all-new X3
BMW's Australian designer Calvin Luk next to his X3 at the Portugal launch last week; inset Luk's sketch of the front of the X3. Picture / Liz Dobson
" The overall impression of this X3 is a much grander feeling than the previous model. It's much more direct and impactful, especially the charge forward. It's got that lifted kidney sticking out of the bonnet, three-dimensionally sculpted, protruding outward. It's got this charge ... extremely confident, eyes clearly focused.
As with many X-range cars, we're also trying to bring in the power into the air intake. It's also an efficiency thing, getting in more air, because these new engines, they need a lot of air to run at maximum efficiency. Then, when you don't need it, we close off the air intake.
Then, when you go to the side, you sort of see the new proportion, with that 50mm wider wheel base. Once again, it's about power as the first read and then second read is that sophistication coming through. And we have the power coming through from the wheels and you know it's an X car.
It's about the four wheels conquering the road or, rather, the off-road.
We've reduced the number of lines so you can focus more on the surfaces. In the previous generation, we had what we called in design "the fender line"; a crease above the front wheel and a crease going through the body side, and then another crease above the rear wheel.
There's a large bold surface on the front wheel, just above it on the front fender, and then similarly on the rear wheel. So you have these big, bulging wheel arches and then between you have these sculptural surfaces and light and shadow.
Light meaning the surfaces facing up, and shadow the surfaces facing downward. That starts to sculpt the body between the muscular wheels and gives it the athleticism and a feeling of sophistication, almost like the drape of fabric.
Then, if I just go back to the wheel arches, that's a unique shape for BMW and for X cars. It's derived from a rectangular wheel arch, which we know from cars like X1 or previous generation X5.
I've given it a forward leaning chamber so it's got a stable feeling coming from this rectangular shape and then tilted forward so it's directional.
We've simplified the window graphic, the daylight opening and the Hofmeister kink [rear side window design], which is a typical BMW feature.
We've referenced a bit of the first-gen X3 ... this also highlights the extension in the cabin.
We've stretched that window glass and that's going to give it sleekness. When we stretched the window, it sort of stretched the proportions horizontally. That gives it the sleeker character on the upper.
Like with most BMWs, we try to play up the width of the car, so we'll use horizontal line work to stretch from corner to corner. On the lower area of the top model M40i, you'll have the rectangular exhaust, which is similar to that wheel-arch shape, but it looks robust and powerful. And I think that completes the story to the kidney again nicely on the exit of the car."