2011 BMW X3 in India test drive

BMW after the earlier launch of the much appreciated 650i have finally revealed another launch of theirs for the year 2011 and this is their SUV, the BMW X3 in India. Not only was the BMW X3 for the Indian market, long in the tooth but it also had a hard time competing against the likes of the Audi Q5 and stuff. For quite some time, there were news of a new X3 to come in however we didn’t know that it would be this early. Yes, the BMW X3 in India is going to be launched soon and we ended up taking a test drive of this new Bavarian beauty. It has filtered down to such a thing that just like the Q5 is called the baby Q7, the X3 is also called the baby X5. Now after looking at it, we cannot understand why it shouldn’t be called so. The footprint as also the looks mirror the X5 which was launched in 2010. It may be a deliberate thing or something that BMW doesn’t have a platform for its own SUVs. Neither does it borrow it from any other manufacturer. Infact, they use the same platform as their road going saloons like the 3 or even the 5 series. Check on Road Price

A quick review of the 2011 BMW X3 in India shows that you would love this vehicle at the first sight. Well, not exactly in the same ballpark as one would love the Q5 but yes the love would grow over the term that you have the X3 with you. The head lamps are a different hue than the earlier X3 and even different than the ones found in the X5. Infact, they are more like the ones in the 7 series but in the X3’s design, carry a fresh element. The deeply nacelled fog lamps are located just below the head lamps and signify that this SUV is a soft roader after all. We failed to understand the reasoning behind this since the fog lamps so close to the head lamps doesn’t mean anything. The air dams lend a knurlish look to the overall design of the car. Aluminium skid plates are available below the air dam to support the feel of this car. The bonnet is a mix of mish mash design cues which end up lending more swirls on it. As for the wheels, they are 18 inch ones with the twisted alloy design to them carried over from the older car. The door outlines are marked with chrome. As for the wing mirrors, there is nothing new about their design and are carried over from the old car. From the rear, the X3 cannot be missed for anything else other than being a X3. Moreover only a single tail pipe dilutes its sporty intentions and also the BMW brand image. On the rich looking black bumper, there are parking sensors embedded.

Immediately apparent are the airy feel from the previous gen car. We had noted earlier that the previous generation car had a somewhat cramped interiors while the new one feels like it is much bigger in size and dimensions. The dashboard width makes this SUV feel like its much bigger than it actually is. However use of darker color materials apart from the crisscrossed fake wood used near the gear lever detract from the luxury feel. The steering wheel is a new unit and looks like the same one from the BMW 7 series. For the driver, the cabin may seem a tight fit since the swooping arc of the door pads intrude into leg space. As for the front passenger, he would be much more comfortable. The Idrive unit isn’t a pop out one and is instead fixed into the central dash. However the dual zone climate control system has smaller buttons and ones which would certainly require that eyes be taken off from the road to operate them. The seats have a fantastic support to them. Moving over to the back reveals that only two passengers can be seated at a time since the middle transmission intrusion is so much that squeezing in a 3rd passenger would be crime. Plus, there are dedicated AC vents for each of the passengers. However, just like the X1, the X3 also has a low seating arrangement which means that under thigh support is a bit compromised. However what isn’t compromised is the boot space. It is a huge 510 liters further supported by the split seats arrangement. This makes the X3 very versatile in its nature. Build quality as always is top notch and we were hard pressed to see any uneven panel gaps and stuff. The materials felt soft to touch with a nice grained feel to them. However what was disappointing was that the throw of air from the AC vents. Its actually high time that BMW actually change the design of the vents and also upgrade the aircon compressor. We had duly noted this in our earlier aircon tests conducted for SUVs as also sedans that BMW ones rank the lowest as far as cooling the cabin is concerned.

As discussed earlier, the BMW SUVs are built on the same platform as their sedans and hence they have the same agility as their sedan counterparts albeit with a bit of compromise. Compromise that a usual driver on his commute everyday would hardly notice. First up is the new electric nature of the steering wheel which is now being widely adopted by other BMWs across the range. This new steering wheel however loses out on the feel that it was known for earlier and at the same time increasing fuel efficiency. All the 4 wheels here have independent suspension just like the way BMW cars have. The monocoque construction and the perfectly balanced body ensure that these cars are good around a corner. Moreover the straight line stability is commendable for a tall car. Infact, it felt rock solid on the short drive that we were treated for. The latest generation Idrive system allows one to select between the three driving modes namely Comfort, Normal and Sports. By the way, the 2011 BMW X3 in India would come with an all wheel drive system codenamed as Xdrive in BMW speak. There is satellite navigation provided for as well. The X3 felt reasonably comfortable as far as the ride quality goes in the first two modes however for the Sports mode, the ride is definitely on the back breaking sides. However the steering response sharpens in this mode and hence it delivers the all important sporty feel. We, however, missed out on the earlier sharp response from the chassis feel of the 2010 BMW X3. As far as NVH goes, the BMW X3 is a quiet beast, even quieter than the Audi Q5. This is considering that the X3 was available with the choice of a single diesel engine that we got to drive. Infact the ticking rpm meter was the only giveaway that this car’s engine was actually running.

BMW didn’t exactly put in the specifications of the engine configurations that would be coming to India. However we can safely say that the 2.0 liter turbo diesel would definitely make the cut to the Indian market. Like the way Audi uses its 3.0 liter diesel engine in various power outputs, the BMW X3 also makes use of its 1995 cc engine which has 4 cylinder. This same engine powers the BMW X1 which has a less weight configuration than the X3. However, save for the punchy mid range, there was nothing to speak about the bottom or top end power. However the engine pulls eagerly to its redline without much increment in the power stakes. This makes one doubt if the engine has been mated with a CVT. Instead it has been mated with the 8 speed auto transmission which is there in the 5 series and also 7 series sedans. By the way, the engine makes 181 Bhp of power and 380 Nm of torque from as low as 1750 rpm. The transmission is a gem which downshifts when needed and also upshifts on the go. The power delivery isn’t peaky as well and this aids in the manner in which the car can be driven in traffic. The visibility all around is good and for the rear portions, BMW have provided a reverse camera and also rear parking sensors. 0-100 kmph times cannot be quoted however expect it to beat the time of the outgoing model and moreso since it weighs in 35 kgs lower than the earlier model.

BMW have incorporated the start stop technology in the new 2011 BMW X3 in India. This has enabled the car to post significant fuel gains as also run cleaner and leaner. The brakes have been provided with energy regeneration capabilities. The all wheel disc brakes are coupled with ABS, EBD and also Electronic Stabilization Program. As far as safety goes, it is right upto the mark as far as BMW standards are considered. 4 air bags and stuff complete the package. As for fuel efficiency, BMW are claiming an overall 12.2 kmpl in standard conditions.

BMW India have managed to get the correct product in the Indian market. With the launch of the BMW X3, the Audi Q5 with its 2.0 liter TDI engine will definitely have a tough competition. It remains to be seen if the much established Audi Q5 can stand its might against the Bavarian onslaught. The Audi Q5 has the same brand power which the X3 also possess. Whilst the earlier X3 was down on cabin space, the new one improves on that and now is at par with the Q5’s interior dimensions. Dynamically, the X3 is far ahead of the Q5 however on the ride quality front, it is the Q which trumps the X. However the X may be lacking in the number of engines that it can provide since as of now, only the 2.0 liter diesel has been confirmed. The launch date has been scheduled for around September 2011. The dates are yet to be confirmed. Prices are supposed to hover around the Rs 35-40 lakhs mark. The earlier BMW X3 price in India would definitely be eclipsed by the new model. Watch this space for more information.

Audi Q5 vs BMW X3 – war of the oil burners

Only last night, I had got the Toyota Fortuner, Mitsubishi Pajero and also the Ford Endeavour to slug it out amongst themselves and today I have got two of the most selling SUVs in the premium segment and those are the BMW X3 in India and the Audi Q5 in India. Not only do these cars promise their owners instant attention, they also ensure that the owners travel in style and pomp. The Q5 had got a heart transplant recently whereas the BMW X3 is due for a revamp soon. Its bigger brother, the X5 got a revamp last year however the X3 that we have now is the old one that still sells in India. Inevitably a buyer looking out for a SUV in the Rs 50 lakhs segment would be eyeing these two SUVs. Earlier on, I remember having compared the Audi with the Freelander and Volvo XC60 where the Volvo significantly trumped the others out. Only this time, it would be traditional German rivals fighting it over in India. Curtains drawn, the battle is about to begin now. For once, we have got the oil burning versions of both as it is said that the diesel versions outsell the petrol ones as far as the sales charts are concerned.

Looks

Both the Audi Q5 in India and the BMW X3 in India are scaled down versions of their bigger brothers, the Audi Q7 and the BMW X5. Both these cars from a distance can definitely be identified as Audi and BMW SUVs but ask someone who has seen a Q7 or the X5 in flesh and heads on, even he wouldn’t be able to distinguish the difference between them. Its only when you draw closer to both of them, then you realize that these SUVs are smaller than your presumptions. However for once, the Q5 doesn’t seem as intimidating as the Q7 and therein lies the crux. If you want a more intimidating vehicle, then the Q7 it is. Move onto the sides and the Q5 looks normal and not huge. The BMW X3 looks very much like the BMW X1 and the Skoda Yeti mix. More of the latter’s design towards the rear. Chop off that long snout and the BMW would look like the Yeti. Though BMW is a master in creating niches, Audi seems to have taken the cue and created the Q5. 17 inch tyres are available on both with the Audi having an option to upsize it to 19 inch ones. The wheel design or rather the alloy wheel design however leaves a lot to be desired. The BMW X3 acquits itself from off-roading duties by having its fog lamps placed near the head lamps cluster. The rear windscreen space in both the cars is almost the same while the X3 has split tail lamps, the Audi has got its tail lamps stamped on the boot, much like elder brother Q7. While the X3 has Fortuner like boot, the Q5 looks the same as its bigger brother and is more of a rounded design. The tail pipe barely peeps out from under the bumper of the X3 whereas the Q5 boldly displays twin tail pipes. Moreover the reflectors on the bumpers of the Q5 look far more elegant than the ones on the BMW X3.

For its rounded and more friendly design, it would be the Audi Q5 which comes out in trumps. Not only does the Q5 look bold, it also makes heads turn. I am sure people would dismiss the BMW quickly as “any other BMW on the road” attitude. The BMW’s design is also likely to age very soon while that of the Audi would age more gracefully.

Interiors

The BMW X3 in India has got a plain Jane looks to its interiors while the Audi Q5 in India is more of flamboyance as compared to the X3. The Audi has got one of the better interiors in its segment save for the Volvo XC60 which has got a bit more of freshness to it. The Q5 is based on the Audi A5 and the A4 platform. However the Q5 is slightly shorter than the latter but then some wizard from Audi’s designing team has managed to liberate more space inside the cabin. The Audi immediately makes you feel at home while the X3 makes it look like you have just entered a hen coop. Not because of the interiors but the overall package as a whole is a let down considering that the radical design themes outside the cabin have restricted the space inside. The Audi also has more features as compared with the BMW. While Audi is quick to offer the MMI or Multi Media Interface system with quick access menus, BMW haven’t offered their Idrive system for the BMW X3. The cabins also differ in the way the materials have been used. The overall upholstery theme with the Audi brand is a light grey one whereas the BMW brigade uses darker wood trim but with a hint of beige to it. Certainly the BMW’s cabin may be sparse as compared with the Audi but it fights back with a nicer looking cabin, ergonomics be damned. The second row of seats is also more comfortable in the Audi than the BMW. However the BMW offers slightly more of boot space than the Audi. Equipment wise, the Audi Q5 in India gets 2 SD card readers, adaptive Xenon head lamps, Bang and Olufsen audio system with 14 speakers attached, 40 GB hard drive and also DVD screens at the rear. Moreover the Audi has also got a Bluetooth connectivity option and also the biggest panoramic sunroof in its class. The BMW can hardly boast of any such features though the music system in the BMW matches up with the one in the Audi quite effectively as far as sound quality is concerned. Though the Audi might offer better overall space, it is the BMW which has got a rich feel coming out from its seats.

The Audi Q5 wins this round since it is the more plusher of th e two plus also offers more equipment level than what the BMW can currently offer.

Handling and ride quality

Audi have been projecting the Audi Q5 in India as a sporty SUV. Now, this is certainly a dig at the BMW X3 and as of late I have noticed that most of the manufacturers in this segment carry forward sporty pretensions to even their brochures and advertisements. The Audi Q5, is based on a saloon’s chassis and this ensures that it has some sort of agility as compared to the traditional SUVs built. The all wheel drive system or as Audi calls it, Quattro, makes this SUV a nice handler. It also has a sort of direct steering wheel which is ultra light overall rendering it a nimble feeling around in town. While the Q5 may look ponderous from outside, its not so. The ride quality is a bit stiff but never too intrusive. Its like the proverbial sports car setup with a soft suspension. NVH levels are also down with the 2.0 liter TDI engine. You would be hard pressed to tell if this is a diesel or not. However once the speeds go beyond 130 kmph, the diesel drone is quite evident. However when it comes to corners, there is no beating the BMW X3. It not only carves corners but is more inclined towards apex hunting. Infact it can teach a lesson or two to sports saloons. BMW’s permanent all wheel drive system called as xDrive is present in this SUV and it helps the X3 to grip the tarmac like a leech. However tarmac is the X3’s forte and it has no off-road credibility other than the all wheel drive system. The BMW’s engine has an NVH comparable to the Audi but overall, it feels a bit better than that of the Audi. However all this corner carving comes at the expense of ride quality. The reason for this is the stiff suspension package is because as always, BMW wants to make this SUV a driver’s delight (which it is) but they conveniently forgot the passengers comfort. Ride quality is bone jarringly stiff and at the end of the drive, I did come out with a sore back. The steering wheel seems to lose its assist in town which makes parking a heavy chore however it is well weighted on the highway and lets you know what exactly are the front wheels upto. Off-roading can be better handled by the Q5 since it has a hill hold assist function which regulates the speeds at which the SUV climbs or descends inclines.

The X3 is the one to have if you live in a hilly region and do more of driving chores whereas the Audi for its overall dynamic abilities. My bet would be on the Audi since the BMW’s ride quality is nothing home to write about.

Engine, performance and fuel efficiency

Since I am comparing a diesel with a diesel, the 2.0 liter diesel motor from the BMW X3 is a borrowed one from the BMW 320d. It makes 175  Bhp of power and 350 Nm of torque. BMW has employed a 6 speed automatic transmission to handle the gear shifting duties for this 2.0 liter engine. The gearshifts are on the smoother side of automatic transmissions. Downshifts are also very conveniently done. The engine is also a gem since it doesn’t have to be revved too hard to extract performance from it. The BMW moves from standstill to 100 kmph in only 8.8 seconds whereas its top speed is 208 kmph. What the BMW can do is comfortably cruise all day long at speeds of 130-140 kmph. Audi however has a trick or two more than the BMW in the crucial engine department. The recently Audi 2.0 Tdi Quattro gets a 2.0 liter engine with 170 Bhp on tap and 350 Nm of torque. It is aligned to a 7 speed automatic transmission and one which has twin clutches to aid shifting duties. Though the shifts may not sound as refined as the ones in the BMW, the DSG box is right upto the task with its correct blip of the throttle when downshifts happen. Upshifts are also met with more urgency than conventional boxes. 0-100 kmph comes up in only just above a shade of 9 seconds. The Audi however has a better top speed chickening out at 213 kmph.

Brakes on both the cars are fantastic with various braking aids available. The safety features are also similar in both the SUVs and both promise that the occupant would come out the least scathed, were an accident to happen. Fuel efficiency is one more place where BMW strikes back at the Audi with its overall mileage figure of 11.8 kmpl to the Audi’s 11.2 kmpl. Being a diesel means both are easy on the pocket given the rising prices of crude.

The BMW X3 in this one with its better fuel efficiency and also performance figures goes one up against the Audi. The Audi however is not a laggard and performs decently with its better top speed than the BMW.

Verdict

While the BMW X3 has been thoroughly beaten up by the newest variant of the Audi Q5, it still has some strong selling points. Primary amongst them is its handling prowess which the Q5 cannot match. Plus its old engine still has the hots to give the other competitors a run for their money as can be evident from this test. However times have changed and the BMW X3 in India begs for a revamp, both in the interiors as also the exteriors. The Audi Q5 in the meanwhile is the rockstar in a suit. It is the perfect vehicle to arrive in a party or even off-roading event. It is easier to drive around in town and also is a good performer. Its interiors are also better than that of the BMW X3. It also rides better than the X3, which by any standards is uncomfortable due to its short suspension travel. Now comes the time to check out the prices. The Audi Q5 price in India for its 2.0 liter TDI variant stands at Rs 39 lakhs while the BMW X3 price in India is available for a significantly higher Rs 43 lakhs. All these prices are ex-show room, Mumbai. The BMW X3, I am sure will come back stronger with a change in heart (not that it needs one) but also with a facial and also stomach cleansing. As of now, my money would be on the Audi Q5 in India.