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New BMW X3

More powerful, more efficient and more practical mid-sized soft-roader unveiled. BMW has released the first official pictures and details for its second-generation X3 that is set to become the fuel efficiency benchmark for the luxury mid-size SUV segment when it goes on sale locally in March 2011.

The all-new X3, which grows in dimensions to further distance itself from the smaller X1, adopts an eight-speed automatic, engine stop-start function and two new engines for launch to improve its green credentials.

The base model xDrive20d is powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel that gains 5kW (to 135kW) but improves fuel economy by 14 per cent to 5.6 litres per 100km compared with its direct predecessor.

A range-topping model for now is the xDrive35i, which gains the 225kW/400Nm turbocharged six-cylinder that was first introduced on the company’s 5-Series range. Consumption of 8.8L/100km is superior to the 9.7L/100km of the 30i model it replaces.

A six-speed manual is standard on the 20d and the eight-speed auto standard on the 35i. Most car makers are offering stop-start technology with manual gearboxes, but on the X3 it’s also included on auto models.

Both X3 models are four-wheel drive, and BMW’s medium soft-roader isn’t expected to follow the X1 by offering a rear-drive variant.

The new model is 79mm longer (to 4648mm) than the outgoing X3 that was roundly criticised since its 2004 launch for both its sharp ride and austere interior. A wheelbase increase of 15mm contributes to BMW’s claims that X3 mark II offers increased rear-seat legroom.

Boot space also increases, by 70 litres to 550L. This expands to 1600L when the rear seats – which have switched from a 60/40 split to a 40-20-40 arrangement – are folded down. BMW claims the luggage capacity is best in class.

A multitude of options will include variable dampers, reverse-view camera, xenon headlights, iDrive menu operating system and a handling aid called Performance Control that can brake an inside rear wheel and shuffle more power to the outer wheel to help ‘push’ the vehicle around corners.

BMW also claims the X3’s optional 8.8-inch satellite navigation screen is the segment’s largest on-board monitor.

The screen is now incorporated into the dash rather than popping out of the top of the dash as part of a major overhaul for the X3's cabin. Key controls are more driver-oriented than before while BMW is promising higher-grade materials to lift interior quality above that of the original.

The X3’s new body shape doesn’t look vastly different to its predecessor that has always had slightly awkward-looking proportions because of the mix of long, thin bonnet and chunky passenger section. The new model seems to share more in common with the design of the baby X1 rather than large X5.

The side glass is more pronounced after the introduction of a chrome surround, however, and the flanks gain more dramatic-looking rising crease lines.

Production of the X3 also shifts from Austrian company Magna to join the X5 and X6 assembly line in BMW’s Spartanburg plant in the US. BMW will showcase the new X3 publicly at September’s Paris motor show.

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