In Malaysia, your choice for a premium, sort-of-mid-size SUV (or SAV, as BMW insists) invariably lands you between the Mercedes-Benz GLC and one of these, the BMW X3, which recently received some spec shuffling and a visual restyle. But is it more of the same?
Prior to this, prospective X3 owners looking for a fewer-frills variant were pointed to the sDrive20i xLine, which kicked off the range at around RM270k, but with invariable price increases and the re-introduction of SST after a 2 year lax period, this newer entry-X3 is being lobbed for a hair under RM316k.
This is one of BMW’s more subdued facelift treatments too, or LCI (Life Cycle Impulse) as they call it, with much of the alterations being cosmetic. There are new additions to the equipment list, including some interesting choices of powertrain, but none of that applies to this sDrive20i.
The Volvo XC60, due to it being offered as PHEV-only, manages to price itself just out of direct contention but makes up for that with a very generous feature set and standard equipment. However, some will insist on German-only and can be loyal to a fault to a certain brand, which does leave us to wonder how much Audi, with the Q5, is letting its rivals run away with the market. Ours, specifically.
That face up front is the biggest differentiator here at least in terms of pure surface area as there’s no mistaking those enlarged kidney grilles - BMW just can’t help but scale it up. Thankfully they're joined by the M Sport package’s little touches to spruce up the visual.
Especially against this Alpine White body colour, the gloss black Shadowline trim accents really stand out. Paired with the more aggressive side skirting, bicolour 19-inch Style 887M wheels, trapezoidal exhaust finishers, smoked-out effect headlight and tail light housings, new headlight projector units and daytime running lights, this 2022 revision does not give off the impression that it sits at the bottom of the range.
With less equipment to lug around and rear-wheel drive, there’s potentially a more rewarding drive to be enjoyed too - but we’ll get to that later.
You’ll definitely recognise it as a ‘newer’ X3, but should quickly comprehend it as the G01 we’ve known since its international debut in 2017, albeit tweaked here and there. Next to the similarly priced (X253) GLC 200 AMG-Line, we’d cede the overall design nod to the Merc, but for sheer distinctiveness on the road, the X3 has more ‘look at me’ value.
Even stepping inside, you’ll again need a keen eye to spot the differences between the older X3 and this 2022 revision. While the general layout and ergonomics remain consistent, individual elements such as the air conditioning vents and centre console controls are obviously new.
There’s generally a narrowing between the older model and the more current interior pieces from the 4 Series and newer 3 Series. With the M Sport pack, the sDrive20i also gains a chunkier steering wheel, more supportive ‘sport’ front seats and alloy pedals, but the most refreshing option fitted to the test unit we sampled was the Mocha-dyed Vernasca leather upholstery.
This small contrasting shade alone lets us appreciate the cabin and its high-quality construction so much more. And it isn’t like you could let more light in with the admittedly unnecessary sunroof as that’s reserved for the step-up xDrive30i variant.
As before, it’s a fine thing to sit in with lovely materials to touch where it matters. Build quality and finishing were also pretty good with the exception of the centre console tray cover that needed way more force to open once closed. We're hoping this was a fluke issue.
The X3 is pretty spacious too with the rear bench comfortably (and plushly) able to seat 3 adults, just as long as the middle passenger is willing to share foot space to the side as that centre driveline tunnel is fairly obstructive.
Though the seats don’t fold completely flat, they do free up a total of 1,600 litres when made horizontal in comparison to the 550 litres with them left upright.
The word I’d describe the rest of the BMW X3 experience here is ‘familiar’, almost to a fault. Upfront and longitudinally mounted sits the automaker’s B48 unit, which is used across all variants besides the M40i and up.
This variant is the runt of the litter, its 2.0-litre turbocharged inline 4-cylinder is down-tuned to a more meagre 184PS at 5,000rpm and 300Nm of sustained peak torque from 1,350rpm to 4,250rpm, though it can easily produce 252PS and 350Nm from the factory in the xDrive30i.
That hasn’t seemed to dull its responsiveness or lust for revs as it pulls clean and strong if you let it. Even better, the rear-drive layout here makes the power delivery feel much less ponderous, lending it a sportier feel despite any impediments its touring-spec Bridgestone Turanza run-flat tyres might have incurred.
It feels much more ‘BMW’ than the last X3 I drove (xDrive-equipped), but that could also be down to the M Sport suspension, though I doubt that. Shame, then, that the usually brilliant ZF-8HP automatic transmission tended to seem a little unsettled at low speed where there was some odd stutter during shifts, even when left in D.
There are no issues on the highway, though. Even with less power, there’s something about the way these engines are tuned that make them feel punchier than their on-paper numbers suggest, and this isn’t quite the case with the GLC 200 and its supposedly gutsier 200PS 2.0-litre. If you can live with your BMW needing an unbragworthy 8.2 seconds to reach 100km/h, you’ll be more than happy with the sDrive20i.
Predictably, another area where the X3 pulls ahead of other premium SUVs is the drive. Against the aforementioned GLC and the Volvo XC60, maybe even the last Q5 I drove, the X3 behaves very comparably to the 3 Series on the road - that is to say, very nicely. They’re all just as easy to get around town with but it's the open, twisty roads where the SUV formula tends to fall apart.
Comfort levels remain high and cabin insulation is superb, for the most part, but the manner in which the G01 continues to track a bend, or a series of bends, so fluidly is very impressive.
That said there are lots to poke at when it comes to outright handling - dull steering feel, over-dampened suspension, a little too much body roll, my long-running hatred of run-flat tyres - but in the context of its rivals in the higher-riding premium SUVs space, there’s no question that this is the most rewarding to drive in its class.
Yes, that excludes the heavier, more cumbersome xDrive30i and xDrive30e. Short of a comparison with the X3 M40i or X3M, this sDrive20i with its fewer-frills spec sheet, rear-wheel drive and 'only' 1.7-tonne kerb weight is the most dynamically talented. There are just some really good genes here.
When you’re sat in the X3, the centrally perched 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment display, now running BMW OS 7, is the most immediate upgrade noticeable as the smaller 8.8-inch centre panel had been a sore spot for buyers of the previous base X3.
There’s no fully digitised Live Cockpit Plus instrument cluster but the halfway-house imitation OLED analogue dials are much more legible at the expense of customisability and flash. You’ll also get the full complement of BMW’s live services such as live Maps, BMW Connected, and over-the-air updates.
Over the xDrive30i, other noteworthy tech suite omissions for the sDrive20i include a wireless smartphone charging pad, as well as a Harman/Kardon surround sound system, but the unbranded ‘HiFi’ audio system supplied here is no slouch either.
There are 12-speakers and a subwoofer that delivered sonic punch and clarity to a point that I honestly did not miss the fancier setup at all, especially when I had the equaliser dialled in. H/K is but a shell of its former glorious self since the acquisition of its parent company Harman by Samsung anyway but...that's a rant for another day.
BMW have included their Driving Assistant package as standard that includes Front Collision Warning with Brake Intervention. That’s just an overlong BMW term for Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB), but the suite also has Lane Change Warning, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and a Lane Departure Warning system that is thankfully much less annoying/obtrusive than that from other automakers. Unfortunately, there’s no Adaptive Cruise Control.
If you loved the X3 before, there’s no real reason to reverse your position with this 2022 revision. After all, BMW isn’t making any claims of it being a revolutionary step forward over the 2017 G01 series, but merely improving upon it where possible based on what has been introduced since its original debut.
Unsurprisingly, you might immediately sense this car isn't especially new given how subtle some of these alterations are, but for Malaysian buyers, there is cause for some excitement. Though prices are a little higher than before, the X3 now comes as standard with the M Sport package.
In addition to this, there are some new additions to the equipment list that does improve upon the value proposition over the previous entry-variant: the sDrive20i xLine.
Ultimately, this is still the X3. It still drives the best among its peers and besides that, remains a very competent, practical, comfortable, and handsome SUV (SAV?) all-rounder that should be on everyone’s shortlist.
Though it should easily manage to hold its own against the ageing and now outdated X253 Mercedes-Benz GLC, it’s only a matter of time before its all-new successor (the X254) finds its way onto Malaysian shores.
There's just something about cars. It's a conveyance, it's a liability, it's a tool; but it can also be a source of joy, pride, inspiration and passion. It's much like clothes versus fashion. And like the latter, the pursuit of perfection never ends.