By Kelly Taylor
Luxury begins when something is built well and adorned tastefully.
It’s a thought that strikes me whenever I drive a vehicle such as the BMW X3. To me, the X3 strikes a chord not because of the fancy blue impeller logo, the heated seats or premium sound system. No, it goes deeper than that.
To really reach the luxury buyer, a vehicle must address the core values of driving — excellent handling, effortless power, top-notch braking and passenger safety — first. The rest is window dressing.
After all, you’re buying a motor vehicle, not a living room.
In this case, I’m driving the X3 xDrive 2.8i. What I appreciate about this model in particular is it takes those core values and adds another – fuel efficiency. It uses a four-cylinder motor for fuel efficiency and a pair of turbochargers for power when needed.
The result is a respectable kick in the pants and an equally respectable interval between fills. The fuel economy is rated at 9.7 litres per 100 km city, 7.0 l/100km highway and 8.4 l/100km combined. My average in the city worked out to real-world figure of 12.2 and on the highway, I got close to the 7.0 by engaging the ECO PRO setting of the Drive Experience Control, which tempers acceleration, remaps transmission shifting and reduces the energy used by air conditioning.
For sprightly performance, you can also set the vehicle to SPORT, which provides more aggressive acceleration, tighter steering response and firmer suspension settings.
On the road, the X3 is sure-footed and stable, and reacts well to sudden steering inputs — which is how the best-handling cars help you avoid collisions. It handles the best in the ‘sport’ setting, but ‘comfort’ and ‘ECO PRO’ make for the easiest highway driving, when you don’t necessarily want the steering to be so razor-sharp you have to constantly correct.
Some very handy touches for parking and manouevring the X3 include the rearview camera with top view (or God-view, as some scribes call it), which provides not only a wide-angle view out the back, but also provides a view that simulates having a camera about 10 metres above the car. Very handy if you have to back out of or into a confined area.
There’s also a sonar-based park distance control that provides a visual representation of items you might be approaching.
If you’ve ever had a flat tire and thought, “Gee, this isn’t the best part of town to be out changing a tire,” the X3 has your back, with run-flat tires that can operate, at reduced speeds, long enough to get to a tire shop, a safe place to swap tires or to your dealer.
For cargo, the X3’s rear seat has a 40/20/40 split, allowing you to fold the middle of the seat back down for longer items without having to sacrifice either of the rear seating positions. If those longer items are skis, your rear passengers will appreciate the rear heated seats (part of the $3,000 executive package). Heated seats in front, and a heated steering wheel, are standard equipment.
If there’s something that all luxury brands must get right or all is lost, it’s feel. How does the car feel when your hand hits the touch points? How solid do the doors close? Do you get a solid, vault-like sound, or a cheap tin-can feel? Fortunately, the X3 and other BMWs hit this mark. The understated but techno look inside combines with soft-touch vinyl and leather where it counts and a variety of trim pieces, from piano black to tasteful woodgrain to a seemingly hand-scraped wood trim give you lots of options to customize your Bimmer.
What I appreciate most about BMW is that it builds cars first, luxury playthings second.
They have all the right bling available when you need it, but underneath is a capable, efficient, excellent-handling vehicle. Like with a house, if you don’t get that foundation right, it doesn’t matter how much you spend on the leather.
The X3 starts at $42,800. As tested, my X3 xDrive 2.8i was $55,414.