This week, BMW invited Drive Life to the New Zealand launch of the next generation X3. We were to meet in Auckland at BMW HQ, and then drive on backroads to Kinloch for the night, and then head to Poronui the next day to do some off-roading.

First up was the normal briefing on statistics on the SUV segment and the X3’s history and model breakdown by sales.

State of the Nation

Apparently the premium SUV segment is up 16% overall from last year. BMW then went on to tell us that diesels ‘only’ make up 34% of volume for their sales, and so the focus for the X3 is more on petrol engines. Electric vehicle sales make up 5% of their total sales, in case you wanted to know.

For the current generation of X model BMWs for the year to date, the X5 makes up 50% of sales, the X1 24 percent and the X3 17%. The other X models make up the difference. To date since the X model came out, they have sold 5.4 million. Not too shabby!

The all-new Generation 3 X3 has been designed by Australian Calvin Luk, and certainly makes the model far more modern looking than the outgoing one.

There’s a 2” longer wheelbase (but overall length is the same), bigger 21” wheels on the M40i, and a new unique squarer wheel arch shape. There’s also a larger kidney grille, new adaptive LED headlights that contain BMW’s new design of hexagonal headlights.  “The front is about power and presence,” says Calvin. “And we have reached best in class aerodynamics.”

New hexagonal headlights

The new X3 is now larger than the original X5 – and in the flesh, it feels a lot bigger than the outgoing model, although it is not that much bigger physically.

On the inside, there is the Professional version of SatNav as standard, the 10” display is touchscreen now and gesture control capable. You can also customise the display, and can move the ‘tiles’ around how you want them.

A heads-up display (HUD) is standard on all but base xDrive20d model, and the size is increased by 70% (!). There is also much more colour and detail within the HUD.

Still on the inside, there are now ‘Galvanic’ buttons used, instead of your everyday plastic buttons; these Galvanic buttons feel more like metal than plastic, apparently. Also, the panoramic glass sunroof (where fitted) is enlarged. Front legroom and shoulder room is up slightly, and headroom is increased by 12mm.

Three-zone AC is standard across the whole range, as well as wireless phone charging. The wireless charger also charges the display key, if you have one. Leather is also standard in every model.

In fact, the standard levels of equipment across the range is pretty high. In saying that, there are bundled packages that are extremely well priced. For example, if you have the base model xDrive20d and want the Innovations Package, which includes the HUD, adaptive LED headlights, Parking Assistant Plus and the Comfort Access Pack, this is only going to set you back $4,000 in total. That seems like a bargain.

For the New Zealand official launch on November 11, we will have access to three models; the base xDrive20d ($92,850); the xDrive30i ($99,850) and the high-performance xDriveM40i ($119,850). BMW are expecting the xDrive 30i to be the biggest selling model.

The 2.0-litre 20d (diesel) puts out 140Kw of power and 400Nm of torque, the 2.0-litre 30i (petrol) 185Kw and 350Nm and the full-on 3.0-litre twin-turbo straight six M40i, 265Kw and 500Nm.

This means the 20d gets to 100km/h in 8.0 seconds, the 30i in 6.3 seconds and the M40i in a superb 4.8 seconds. The 20d comes with 19” alloys, the 30i has 20s and the M40i some very large 21” rims.

Day One: Intro and Drive Programme

Enough of the intro, time to get behind the wheel. My co-driver and I grabbed an xDrive30i first up – BMW didn’t receive any xDrive20d cars in time for this day, so we are stuck with having to make do with two xDrive30is and three xDriveM40is. Tough times.

Our car is finished Phytonic Blue, the new X3 icon colour. Three cars of the 5 are this colour and it really suits the car. To be honest, I was just happy only one of the cars was grey – that was a win for me.

I drove first, on our way to a lunch stop in Te Kauwhata. Waypoints had already been set in the SatNav, taking us on some great back roads – metal roads, narrow sealed roads and highways – a good mix to test out the new X3.

First impressions were good – plenty of performance, comfort and great visibility out. Also, all the cars on the launch had the new enlarged panoramic sunroof, which made it fantastically light inside the cabin. I did notice some tyre noise, but the car we were in had the optional 21” rims and 275 low profile tyres, so I’m pretty sure this had some negative impact on the tyre noise. Still, it wasn’t bad, just noticeable.

The rest of the car was quiet – some wind noise to be heard, but in general a very quiet cabin.

The new touchscreen display is excellent – nice clarity and of course simple to use. The new tile system is good, and it’s a breeze to move the tiles around on the screen so you can have your three favorites always on the home screen.

We tested out the new gesture control capability, I didn’t have much luck with it but my co-driver did. I’ll need to practice that one more.

The new HUD is simply excellent – large (huge!) with lots of colour and lots of information.

What time is it? M40i time

Lunch in Te Kauwhata come up quickly, and after we switched to an M40i, also in Phytonic Blue with a Cognac (saddle brownish) interior. This was the one I had been salivating over since hearing of it. 0-100km/h in 4.8 seconds – I wanted to drive this car so bad. First up, my co-driver got behind the wheel. Starting the engine brought some deliciously loud noises from the exhaust. Oh yes, this was going to be good.

Cognac interior

There was some tyre noise on certain surfaces in the M40i, which has the 21” rims as standard. The ride with M Sport suspension was a bit harder, but still acceptable.

My turn to drive. The sound this car makes…grin worthy. In Sport+ mode, full-throttle acceleration will bring nice little barks on the up-change, and manually changing down for corners will snap and crackle too. Nice. Full throttle acceleration will also push your body back into the seats, as you would expect with a 4.8 second 0-100 time.

The grip from those 245/40 front and 275/40 rear tyres was excellent, although there was more body roll than I expected, even in Sport+ mode. Still, this is a relatively high SUV, not a sports car. I ended up doing the drive from Kihikihi to Mangakino. Those who know this road will remember it has some very tight bends, as well as longish sweeping corners and short straights. A great road to test out the M40i. So I did.

It did excellently. The grip was superb, and the engine noise so addictive. Handling overall was also excellent, and I felt confident chucking this car around on the tight bends, using the paddle shifters to give me some engine braking coming into the tighter corners.

Over that short test, I give the M40i a thumbs up for fun and sound, and grip.

The stop for today was at Kinloch Lodge – a 5-star lodge very near the town of Kinloch, on the shores of Lake Taupo.

Day Two: Off Roading?

Grey skies sat overhead, a lot darker today than yesterday. Still it wasn’t raining, so hopefully we wouldn’t get stuck.

Luckily we had another M40i for today – and we wouldn’t be switching cars. That meant we would be testing out the extremely sporty M40i in off-road conditions, as well as having the most powerful model to get to the airport in.

We drove west for twenty minutes, and first up was an acceleration test on a closed road. Not timed, but fun all the same. That M40i can really move.

The convoy made its way to Poronui Lodge, on the edge of the Kaimanawas. After a drivers’ briefing, it was time to go off-roading. We started off fairly sedately, at one point using Hill Descent Control where we didn’t need to, but to make sure everyone was comfortable with going down a slippery hill without touching any pedals. We were told what speed to use for the Hill Descent Control, and adjusted this via the cruise control speed toggle on the steering wheel. Easy stuff.

Using Hill Descent Control – steeper than it looks in the photo

While we didn’t find any real mud, the X3 – even the M40I – was a capable car going through ruts and tracks. We were on high-performance road tyres of course, and while this really showed some times with lots of wheel spin in certain places, we still get through all the obstacles and large undulations and ruts we were faced with.

Getting some air

After nearly two hours of off-roading in differing conditions, we headed back to the lodge. Lunch over (and it was good!) we headed out again in the same cars, this time to go over different sorts of tracks. These ones were more open ground and farm tracks, going through forests of gum trees and general up and down hill stuff. All good fun, although it didn’t test too much of the car’s off-road capability.

All of a sudden, the day was over and it was time to drive to Taupo airport. I drove, using the adaptive cruise control and steering assist. This car is a doddle to drive, but at the touch of the gas pedal, can fly.

First impressions for the new X3 are good; it looks better, goes better and has some great advances over the outgoing model – I love the massive HUD and enormous panoramic sunroof. Can’t wait to get one for a full week-long test.



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Fred Alvrez
How on earth to start this? I've been car/bike/truck crazy since I was a teen. Like John, I had the obligatory Countach poster on the wall. I guess I'm more officially into classic and muscle cars than anything else - I currently have a '65 Sunbeam Tiger that left the factory the same day as I left the hospital as a newborn with my mother. How could I not buy that car? In 2016 my wife and I drove across the USA in a brand-new Dodge Challenger, and then shipped it home. You can read more on We did this again in 2019 in a 1990 Chev Corvette - you can read about that trip on DriveLife. I'm a driving instructor and an Observer for the Institute of Advanced Motorists - trying to do my bit to make our roads safer.


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