The third-generation of BMW's X3 SUV might not look radically different to its predecessor, but the latest redesign does bring the Sports Utility Vehicle, or Sports Activity Vehicle as the salesman will insist on calling it, bang up to date on the technological front and there's also an M40i performance variant to entice propellerheads.

The newcomer is of special significance to South Africa as it will be produced at BMW’s local plant in Rosslyn, for both local consumption and export, while the 3 Series sedan range will in future be imported. Expect the new X3 to go on sale here in November this year.

Although appearing to be similar in size to its predecessor, the new X3 is up to 55kg lighter, thanks to the more liberal use of aluminium, and BMW claims to have achieved class-leading aerodynamics. 

This X3 also enters the world of semi-automated driving, with optional gadgets including the latest-generation Active Cruise Control that can bring the car to a halt and pull off automatically in dense traffic, and the Driving Assistant Plus pack with steering assistance and cross-traffic warning.

Furthermore, BMW claims that the new X3 will “seamlessly integrate into the owner’s digital life” with a cloud-based system that can, for instance, pick up addresses from your smartphone’s calendar entries and integrate them into the navigation system and then, well ahead of time, it’ll even calculate your ideal time of departure.

Buyers will be able to order new gadgets hand-me-downed from the 5 and 7 Series, including BMW’s digital Display Key, an upgraded infotainment system with gesture control and a new Head-Up Display system that’s said to be unrivalled in terms of graphics and resolution.

The X3 also ups the ante on the performance front with the M40i flagship. Fitted with a version of BMW’s 3-liter, six-cylinder turbopetrol engine that’s good 265kW and 500Nm, the M40i will allegedly sprint from 0-100km/h in just 4.8 seconds.

The other petrol variants are fitted with a 2-litre turbopetrol tuned to 185kW and 350Nm in the xDrive30i and 135kW/290Nm in xDrive20i and sDrive20i models. 

Your diesel selection will be between a 195kW/620Nm 3-litre, six-cylinder unit and a 140kW/400Nm 2-litre four-pot.

All engines are mated to eight-speed automatic transmissions and BMW’s xDrive all-wheel drive system features in all but the sDrive20i petrol variant, which is rear-wheel driven. Buyers seeking a sportier experience can opt for Dynamic Damper Control as well as M Sport suspension and brakes, and variable sport steering.

BMW will offer the X3 with xLine, Luxury Line and M Sport trim grades, along with a vast range of BMW Individual features that can be selected separately. The standard wheel size moves up a notch from 17 to 18 inches in diameter, but buyers have a wide selection of rims, up to 21 inches, to choose from.

As mentioned, the exterior design (and the cabin for that matter) represents a conservative evolution, but thankfully BMW provided some comparative illustrations to show us what’s actually changed.

IOL Motoring