Superbly capable of driving like a fast sports car with the ability to negotiate bad roads

BMW cars always make heads turn but heads turned like BMW's propeller when it launched the X5 in 1999 to step up from being only a maker of luxurious and sporty saloons. To distance itself from a number of competing SUVs it labeled the car as a SAV (Sports Activity Vehicle) to proclaim that it was not just a ‘macho' looking all purpose vehicle but a superbly comfortable capable of driving like a fast sports car with the ability to negotiate bad roads. It proved to be such a success that BMW added a slightly smaller and less expensive X3 model in 2003. It underwent several styling changes and upgrades to keep ahead of stiff competition. A second generation model was launched in 2011 and the third generation model has now been launched for global markets.

The X3 carries the typical X series look with a stylish but chunky bonnet with the distinctive big BMW chromed ‘double kidney' grille. There is also a neat spoiler on the roof and chrome tips for the twin exhausts. It is not a small car and has plenty of inner space for four passengers and their luggage. The 19-inch light alloy wheels look good and are capable of any road. The slinky headlight cluster contains projector lamps and attractive hexagon shaped LED fog lamps. These are fully adaptive and adjust according to the headlights of oncoming vehicles. An electronic sensing system enables it to spot people or animals in dim light even from 300 mt away. A soft light from the sides makes entry and exits from the car safe and easy and the car can also park in your garage or in a tight spot all by itself.

The X3 is powered by a small but very powerful 1995-cc, 4-cylinder, 16-valve twin –turbo diesel engine that generates a huge 190 HP with a torque of 400 Nm at low revs enabling it to accelerate from 0–100 Kmph in just 8 seconds. A similar petrol engine will be added soon. The X series DNA also includes the X-drive that electronically coordinates the power delivery to all four wheels according to the traction each wheel requires. The new X3 has a 8-speed automatic transmission unlike the earlier 6-speed unit to make a seamless jerk-free transition through the gears. The car's micro brain can smoothly deliver power to each of the wheels regardless of whether it is on a smooth tarmac or on a rough jungle track. To add to a driver's pleasure there are features like automatic Start-Stop, Electronic power steering, 50:50 weight distribution between the front and rear wheels, Brake energy regeneration, comfort or sporty driving modes, et cetera.

As most SUV customers are trendy young people who seldom go hunting or fishing on rough roads, the X3 comes in two models - the performance oriented Expedition model and a more expensive Luxury line model - loaded with many style and comfort features including the ability to slightly recline the rear seats. Both models have a big 30 cm multifunction display screen for access to a host of internet and entertainment devices that sporty young buyers must have. Many of these can be controlled with buttons on the steering wheel. The screen allows access to the rear view camera and to navigation maps as and when needed. The elegant beige upholstery contrasts well with the dark dashboard and steering wheel enhanced by chrome highlights. It is a great car for those who want to rough it the soft way.

The author is the region's most celebrated automobile columnist.