BMW X3 28i and X1 20i: Soft Roaders for the Gravelled Drive Brigade

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We normally drive a car for a full week, but offered a chance for a spin in a couple of updated BMW SUVs we thought a couple of mini-reviews would be in order. That is, mini-reviews of BMWs not mini reviews of Minis. Hope that’s as clear as mud.

First, the updated X3 28i. Remember when 28i meant 2.8litre injected engine? So do I. Once upon a time you could tell what was under the bonnet of the BMW in front of you by what was written on its bum. Nowadays, smart BMW and Mercedes Benz buyers have the model badges removed so you don’t know whether they’ve paid a lot, or a real lot, for their car.

Here are a few quick facts:

X3 xDrive20i $60,900 135kw/270Nm, 7.5L/100k, 8.6 secs 0-100, 2.0 turbo petrol
X3 xDrive20d $64,400 140kw/400Nm 5.2L/100k, 8.1 secs 0-100 2.0 turbo diesel
X3 xDrive28i $73,400 180kw/350Nm 7.5L/100k, 6.7 secs 0-100, 2.0 turbo petrol
X3 xDrive30d $77,400 190kw/560Nm 6.0L/100k, 6.2 secs 0-100, 3.0 turbo diesel

A quick spin on the freeway revealed a comfy competent SUV, which also proved to be light and nippy in the CBD crawl. That is a very important attribute for a BMW buyer. Like most SUVs there will be no off-roading involved, so 4WD not needed. The idea is to have lots of space, not to break fingernails. Some X models have BMW Xdrive which is an AWD system so gravel drives and grassy banks will be a doddle. Actually the grassy banks would probably need to be dry or there may be broken nails. Off roading breaks nails, or at least so I’m reliably informed.

The Bangle Edge has been rounded and tamed, and generally the looks less polarising. Chris Bangle’s “Polarising” looks have gradually be watered down over the last decade. “Polarising” is journo parlance for “it’s not terribly pretty but someone out there will probably like it”. Previous X models were sharp and angled and generally hacked about. You either loved the look or you didn’t, and therein lay the problem. The current X3 appeals to a much wider demographic. It’s true that there is generally more disposable money in a gay household but looks and badge are equally important.

The classy cabin is tasty. It is elegant and soothing in that Teutonic kind of way. It isn’t cosy as such, but is very comfortable and cosseting. Some have said the cockpit feel has gone but I won’t have a bit of it. The instruments wrap round the driver with everything being in easy reach, but more on that later. The leather feels soft and supple, with stitching that wouldn’t dare put a foot out of place.

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The switch gear continues that quality feel. There is a resistance to the knobs as you give them a twist, and if you fork out a few extra shillings on the 28i over the lower models, the fancier infotainment system can be had. It has a larger screen and more options in the menus. The sound is superb, and at last Bluetooth streaming is standard. Sadly two addled old motoring writers were unable to get the system to co-operate. It requires a deft hand, and time spent trawling through the user guide.

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The Heads-Up display is a must- have, but by far my favourite gadget was the I-Drive toggle. Once merely a big metal knob, is now more like a mouse with a scratch pad on top. In functions like the Satnav, the inputs BMW X3 2014 gaycarboys (9)can be made by using a finger to scribe letters and numbers instead of dialling then confirming. A right-handed finds it off using the left hand to write even the most basic letters but you no doubt get used to it and it is reasonably forgiving.

However it wasn’t all beer and skittles when it came to something as simple as tuning the radio. The FM stations were tuned to Melbourne which did us little good in Sydney. Between the two of us we were unable to work it out how to tune it, even with the user guide. Defeated and utterly useless, we retreated to stare soporifically into our lattes somewhat stupefied by hours spent trying to get classic ABC.

The drive is what you would expect from BMW. In normal mode the steering is very light, perhaps a smidgen too light. None the less you turn the wheel and the car follows without hesitation or complaint. The optional sports suspension is one that is worth having.

BMW’s current engines are a stunning surprise. They are frugal yet nippy and our 28i felt more like the old 2.8 straight six. The twin scroll turbo means the lag is gone so a small engine can act like a big one. Remember putting your foot down and being able to make a cuppa before the car takes off like a scalded cat? Twin scroll is like two turbos in one and has the ability to boost from lowdown in the rev range. It also means the fuel figures are more 21st century than 19th!

On city roads, the ride feels sophisticated and compliant thanks to the sports suspension option. I should add that our test car was loaded to the gunnels with options, $15,700 worth to be exact. That’s the price of a cheap and cheerful Kia. With that considerable investment comes considerable advantage.

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Like all BMW (and Mini) models, the options list is extensive and the prices considerable. You’d ad many shekels should you want: sunroof, traffic satnav add-on, radar cruise control, Head Up Display or automated parking to name but a few. The full options list is 4 pages long, so much of the really cool stuff is an option at cost. There are packs of bundled options which save considerably on the individual prices but I’m not sure that some of the inclusions suit most buyers. I’ve always wondered why the really desirable attributes cost so much considering auto parking can be found standard on a Commodore. Bluetooth streaming has only just been added to the “standard inclusions” list but has been standard on Hyundais for many years.

I’ve not mentioned much about the X1, but to me, there was little difference between them. They look similar but the X1 is slightly smaller and slightly cheaper.

Would I buy one? No. Let me explain:

Option 1

I love X3 a lot but with this level of option the X3 28i would be about $95,000 on the road give or take. For that price I’d probably buy the larger Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT V8 for 85k, or the Diesel Summit 6 cylinder for $75,000-ish. For that price you get a bigger car with full 4 wheel drive. Or, I’d get the Ranger Rover Evoque, just because.

Option 2 (and by far, the more likely option)

I’d buy a 1, 2, 3 or 4 series BMW with whatever door/roof combo I could get if I didn’t absolutely have to have a big wagon.

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