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BMW’s X3 Xplored!

Made in South Africa BMW X3 models have been endowed with the kind of ability and class that helps to make them contenders for almost anyone who can afford to shop in the premium, mid-sized, family adventure wagon segment. Wynter Murdoch reports

 

 

 

In officially introducing last month its locally produced X3 to South Africa, BMW initiated an ambitious Xplore tour for media representatives that took in not only the plant at which the vehicle is manufactured, but also an eco-friendly power station which generates some of the electricity needed for the model’s assembly.

 

Included in the itinerary was a test route which covered more than 1 000km on a variety of road surfaces, as well as an off-road experience at the company’s soon-to-be opened Lifestyle Park in Midrand, during which the bundu-bashing potential of the model came under scrutiny.

 

“We want to highlight as many aspects of the new X3’s competence as we can – and we also want to demonstrate just how proud we are to build the car in South Africa in a plant that has substantial green credentials,” said Edward Makwana, the company’s communications manager, in explaining the reason behind the tour.

 

 

 

 

BMW has spent about R6,1-billion over the past three years to prepare Plant Rosslyn, near Pretoria, for X3 production. The new body shop features a high degree of automation – about 300 robots are used in the vehicle’s assembly – while the paint shop has been enlarged and equipped with state of the art technologies. 

 

 

Also, the production line has been modified to accommodate the X3’s body, which is larger than that of the 3-Series model which was previously built at the plant. 

 

Foremost among the alterations are a new roof for the assembly hall – which is set higher than the original – and a new storage area for vehicle bodies. 

 

According to Makwana, upgrades to the infrastructure have helped to raise maximum production capacity to 76 000 units annually, representing an increase of about 10%.

 

What’s more, the plant receives the equivalent of about 30% of its electricity from a biogas station which it has helped to establish on a cattle feedlot at Bronkhorstspruit, where 40 000 tons of cattle dung and 20 000 tons of mixed organic waste annually are converted into methane, which is then used to run generators which produce electricity for distribution via the national grid.

 

 


By the end of the year, Makwana says that 100% of Plant Rosslyn’s electricity will be obtained from eco-friendly sources – in line with BMW’s deadline for all group production locations to convert to fully renewable electricity supplies by 2020.

 

With more than 30% of the brand’s global sales made up of X derivatives, the X3 – of which about 1,5-million units have been sold since its launch in 2003 – is perceived to play a significant role in South Africa’s vehicle export programme. Most of the derivatives manufactured at Rosslyn are sold in Europe, with the remainder marketed domestically and in Sub-Saharan Africa.

 

So, how impressive is the Made in South Africa X3? The model is longer, wider, taller and lighter than the vehicle it has replaced – and has been crafted with off-road competency in mind. Ground clearance measures 200mm, while approach and departure angles are rated at 25° and 22° respectively. Wading depth tops 500mm.

 

Though considered by many critics to be a soft-roader in terms of its perceived ability in the bush, the X3 acquitted itself surprising well in a series of off-road tests at BMW’s Lifestyle Park, a facility which is due to open to the public next month. 

 

 

 

 

 

Located in the shadow of the Mall of Africa shopping complex, the park is made up of a 1,3km course that comprises 12 obstacles – among them deep axle twisters; dry, boulder strewn rock beds; steep inclines, descents and side angles; water and mud splashes; as well as a sand trap designed to emulate desert conditions.

 

 

 

 

 

Though the X3 lacks a low-range gearbox, xDrive – a permanent all-wheel drive system with fully variable torque distribution between front and rear axles – is a standard feature on all derivatives built here, the drivetrain incorporating hill descent control and hill-hold among its features.

 

 

Derivatives in the line-up included diesel-powered 20d and 30d models, as well as the petrol-fuelled 30i. The selection of vehicles overcame each of the obstacles on the course without difficulty, their electronic systems reacting smoothly to demands made on them. Though shod with road-biased tyres pumped for highway travel, traction levels remained good.

 

On the open road, the models appeared to have retained the performance attributes which have helped to make them such popular sellers in the mid-sized SUV segment. The Xplore route took in the Long Tom and Magoebaskloof passes – fine test beds for dynamic prowess. Overall, the cars acquitted themselves well, impressing for their levels of athleticism, agility and comfort. 

 

Inside, the ambiance tends towards the plush, the interiors incorporating a rich mix of colours, materials and shapes. Digital hardware and switchgear emulates that of more expensive BMW models, with plenty of options available to suit individual needs. 

 

 

 

A wheelbase that’s been stretched by 50mm adds more legroom for backseat passengers and, on the open road, helps to bolster ride smoothness. The windscreen incorporates standard-fitted acoustic glazing to help to reduce interior noise. Whatever the type of road surface being traversed – tar, gravel or dirt tracks –  none of the models I drove were afflicted by squeaks or rattles, indicating a high degree of build integrity.

 

 

At the front, dials are large and easy to read, cupped by chrome crescents. Much of the switchgear is electroplated, while the central console is dominated by a 10-inch infotainment screen that BMW claims is the largest in the segment. 

 

Depending on options specified, control can be via touch, gesture, voice or the company’s standard iDrive system. Evidence of attention to detail in the cabin includes an embossed X in electroplated accents in the front and rear doors, and another on the B-pillars. 

 

Overall, refinement is generally excellent and the vehicle’s lighter, rigid upper structure translates into perceptible gains in terms of vehicle agility. Body control remains good, whether on- or off-road.

 

Rounding off the X3 as a practical, family proposition is a load bay that can swallow 550 litres of cargo – or 1 600 litres with the rear seats folded down – and three-zone climate control, which caters for back seat passengers as well as differentiating between  driver and front passenger.

 

Engine and transmission line-ups in the range are familiar. All power units are turbocharged, and all derivatives are equipped with mode-selectable eight-speed Steptronic gearboxes. Be warned, though. While prices of the vehicles in standard form appear reasonable, the options list for each derivative is extensive, so expect to pay more the further up the trim lines you go. 

 

 

 

The derivative BMW rates as most popular among local buyers is the xDrive20d, which is powered by a 2,0-litre, four-cylinder diesel engine that produces 140kW and 400Nm. Fuel consumption is measured at 5,5 litres/100km with CO2 emissions topping out at 146g/km. The car is said to complete the 0 to 100km/h sprint in 8,0 seconds and posts a top speed of 213 km/h. In standard trim it sells for R690 200, excluding carbon tax. 

 

 

The other diesel-powered model in the line-up is the xDrive30d, powered by a 3,0-litre, straight-six engine that produces 195kW and 620Nm. Fuel consumption in the combined cycle is said to average 6,1 litres/100km, with CO2 emissions measured at 162g/km. The model accelerates from zero to 100km/h in 5,8 seconds with top speed a claimed 240km/h. In standard trim it is priced at R875 900, excluding carbon tax.

 

The petrol-fuelled derivative, the xDrive30i, is equipped with a four-cylinder engine that displaces 1 998cc. Power output is rated at 185kW, with torque peaking at the 350Nm mark. According to BMW’s figures, the model has a zero to 100km/h time of 6,3 secs, while top speed is said to be 240km/h. The engine returns a claimed 7,6 litres/100km in the combined cycle, emitting 174g/km of CO2. In standard trim the model sells for R746 300, excluding carbon tax.

 

Plant Rosslyn has also begun producing the line-up’s entry level derivative – the xDrive20i – which is set to join the X3 range from this month. Its 2,0-litre engine is said to develop 135kW and 290Nm for a 0 to 100km/h time of 8,3 secs and a top speed of 215km/h. Fuel consumption in the combined cycle is a claimed 7,3 litres/100km while CO2 emissions are rated at 167g/km. 

 

Reflecting on the Xplore tour, my overall impression is that BMW has managed to provide the X3 with the kind of ability and class that helps to make it a contender for almost anyone who can afford to shop in the premium, mid-sized, family adventure wagon segment. What’s more, the model bears testimony to the fact that Plant Rosslyn has become part of the global success story of BMW X.

 

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