THE rationale behind sports SUVs is an elusive one, as a high centre of gravity and a powerful engine in principle make an alliance about as comfortable as that between the Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters.
If you want a fast, corner-hugging car with oodles of cabin and boot space – especially if you never intend going off-road – then a high-performance station wagon will do the trick much better than an SUV.
But such cars, though popular in Europe, are for some reason almost extinct in our SUV-worshipping market where a couple of centimetres of extra ride height is revered.
That said, many modern sports SUVs, despite their inherent physical limitations, are doing a decent job of blending pace with handling grace. The new BMW X3 M Performance M40i xDrive is one of them.
Selling for R1 000 676, it’s the most powerful version of the new four-model X3 range that recently went on sale in South Africa, and which will be built at BMW’s Rosslyn factory near Pretoria.
It has outstanding road-holding for an SUV. Though somewhat top-heavy as all vehicles of this ilk are, it’s still a machine you can chuck around the bends without it feeling especially soggy or prone to toppling over. The new X3 is up to 55kg lighter than its predecessor but the M Sport suspension and rear-biased xDrive all-wheel drive system also play big factors in these dynamics, giving this powerful X3 the ability to tuck into sharp curves without running into early understeer.
The steering is nicely weighted as per longstanding BMW tradition, especially when the vehicle’s set to Sport or Sport + mode. There are also Comfort and Eco Pro modes which adjust the engine, steering and gearshift characteristics and regulate the sound of the exhaust. For extra money, customers can order Dynamic Damper Control which adjusts the suspension to the road surface and driving situation.
On the tar the ride quality’s pretty good as long as you avoid potholes, and the sports suspension is firm without being uncomfortable. But the low-profile 21-inch tyres weren’t entirely happy churning through off-road trails, where bumps and ripples are jarringly transmitted to the human occupants.
The X3 is a surprisingly effective off-roader, with the 204mm ground clearance and the traction to tackle tougher obstacles than the customary shopping-mall pavement. Where some vehicles, including 4x4s without diff locks, might get stuck on obstacles where two diagonally opposite wheels lose touch with the ground (known in the parlance as an axle-twister), the intelligent xDrive system combined with Stability Control ensures the wheels that are still touching the ground always have drive.
But we shan’t linger on that point because this particular Beemer is likely to spend most of its time on tar. Here, along with its already-mentioned cornering skills, it also displays some entertaining forward thrust courtesy of its 3-litre straight-six twin scroll turbo engine which generates 265kW and 500Nm. It’s a gem of an engine with a very lively nature and gratifyingly gruff note from the sports exhaust. In our Gauteng performance test the big vehicle scooted to 100km/h in a hot-hatch-like 5.1 seconds (the factory claims 4.8 seconds at sea level), and keeping your foot buried swiftly ushers this big BMW to its governed 250km/h top speed. It’s an all-round effortless, lag-free performance that’s complemented by a smooth eight-speed Steptronic auto box.
M version in the works which will presumably use the 3-litre turbo engine from the M4, and should arrive sometime in 2018.
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015