Vol. 3 No.1  

Little bit of action

Looking for a bad boy of the motor world – but in a compact size? The X3 is the option, finds Mihai Alexandrescu

     Men who may not be blessed with the looks of Colin Farrell and do not want to spend the Friday night alone with Google Images and an over-active imagination, often buy a BMW and then hit the clubs.
     The beauty and class of the brand can push a man's confidence to the limit and act as a magnet for ladies or gentlemen, as well as a substitute for good conversation skills. Beamers are considered the bad boys of the auto world. They are the Tommy Lee of the highways, cruising for their perfect Pammy – or a bunch of average ones.
     The recipe for a great BMW is just as simple as the brand name itself: real wheel drive, perfect weight distribution, tyre-smoking power and sleek-looking design.
     But there is also a drawback.
     Because there are plenty of James Dean-wannabes out there, BMW drivers do not always inspire envy. Many of them do not appreciate the precise qualities of the best Teutonic engineering and buy the machine just for its reputation. Especially because now there are Audis, Mercs or Japanese sports cars out there which can go head-to-head with the German classic.

American freund

     Since hiring a new American chief designer, Chris Bangle, BMW has entered a different era. This has faced criticism from the core BMW aficionados.
     Fans accused him of transforming the entire BMW range into a freak show and with some good reasons: the new 7 series has grown into the dimensions of a beached whale and,  while the new 3 series is shy and retiring, the 5 series has all the charm of an axe murderer.
     However, Beamers still have a cool edge because they are more brash than any other cars on the market. Thus, BMW may have lost some devoted fans, but it has also won some new ones. Apparently this was a good move - because it is selling more vehicles than ever before.
     One of the latest products from BMW is the X3, which is supposed to be a smaller X5. The X5 is one of the most-appreciated SUVs out there because it managed to be the first driver-oriented utility vehicle.
     The X3 did not favour so well. Forget Chris Bangle's bizarre makeover, the monster looked as though it were designed from the pen of Stephen King.
     It seemed as though the marketers from BMW wanted to occupy this segment in such a short time that they launched a car which was unfinished: for example, unpainted plastic bumpers made the car look cheap.
     Despite less than encouraging feedback from many car magazines and fans, the X3 is popular. And in Romania this is the best-seller from the BMW range.
     Now the X3 has witnessed a facelift.
     The new vehicle has received some aesthetic improvements on the body and interior, but it is no Prince Charming. The model we tested had a more aggressive look and included  the optional M Sport body kit. It is a good improvement - but you have to pay 2,500 Euro extra.

Fraternal envy

     The biggest problem with the X3 is its big brother - the X5. In comparison, the X3 seems fragile and humble. Place the smaller model next next to an X5, or an Audi Q7 at traffic lights and the driver will definitely feel insubstantial in size.
     BMW knows about this problem. So it has found a way to give the X3 a little more muscle.
     The car owners have fitted on it one of the most powerful diesels on the market.
     The new 3 litre sd twin turbo develops a staggering 286 BHP and 580 Nm of torque and is derived from the 3.5 litre diesel you find on the 5 series. This engine makes a huge difference because it does zero to 100 km/h in just 6.6 seconds, making it faster than the 3 litre petrol version.
     Having so much power under your right foot in the automotive Guantanamo of Bucharest is like water torture to car enthusiasts.
     But the six speed automatic gearbox manages to put the power down in a smooth way in traffic and, if you want some action, when you put it in manual and push the pedal to the floor, it can be rude.
     The acceleration is close to an aircraft launching and it is like that in all gears at all speeds at whatever the rpm is. Maximum power and torque is obtained at 1,750 rpm and the red line starts at 5,000 rpm, which is high for a diesel. In automatic or manual this creature gallops off like a rabbit at a greyhound track.
     What I really liked about the engine is that it lets you feel the power without spoiling the driving fun. The suspension is comfortable, but in a sporty way. It takes away the effect of the bumps in the roads, yet, at the same time, you can sidle into corners and feel safe even at high speeds.
     Inside, the X3 looks like a 3 series on stilts. It has the same dashboard, leather, wood and aluminium interior, lots of gadgets, packed in a premium look - but not as pretty as you would find in an Audi or Lexus.
Having that said, BMW has managed to produce a good car, but not for this money. The full option X3 we tested, costs 65,000 Euro without VAT in Romania and that's a lot of cash for what looks like an X5 with size issues. So if you want to spend this kind of money on a Beamer, I suggest the 5 series.
     This BMW won't make you look cool in the same way wearing a kilt will not make you cool in Romania – but fashion has an annoying way of changing whenever you think you have it licked.

Vital statistics

Engine: 3 litre diesel, 286 BHP, 520 Nm
Transmission: six speeds automatic
Mixed fuel consumption on test: 13 litres
Acceleration 0 to 60 mph: 6.6 seconds
Top speed: 240 km/h
Price: starting from 28,480 to 65,886 Euro without VAT
Suitable for: People in apartment blocks with tiny parking spaces, those who love BMW, but only wish they were smaller