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Should your next BMW X3 be petrol-powered?

  • We speak to a BMW UK boss on the launch of the new X3
  • Petrol engines aplenty on the way for the medium SUV
  • Is now the time to consider the swap away from diesel?

The BMW X3 has been quietly racking up some serious sales statistics since its launch in 2002. We’ve just had a chance to sample the third generation car, which hits the market with a pair of diesel engines – the 20d and 30d – along with a high-performance M40i due to join the range in December 2017.

However, the German carmaker has also announced a second petrol motor will join the X3 line-up at the same point – a 2.0-litre turbo called the xDrive20i, which is available in M Sport specification for under £40,000, dipping under the £310 premium car tax.

Does this signal a move away from a traditionally diesel-focused area of the UK car market?

The shifting sands of diesel’s fleet fortunes

James Thompson, head of product – medium cars for BMW UK, tells us that the fleet market’s perceptions of diesel are changing.

BMW X3 interior

 ‘People are thinking about the message they send out. They will be concerned about whether diesels will allow them to drive everywhere they want to. But we don’t have any concerns over that.

'The EU6 engines we have [in the X3] are very clean, there’s no concern from our point of view that the government is going to take a negative stance on those,' he says.

Public opinion is rapidly changing

Thompson adds: ‘Having said all of that, the general public does listen to the rhetoric that they hear, and they’re more inclined towards the petrols engines at the moment. One of the reasons for bringing that 20i out is it’s this B48 engine.

'If you’ve driven a MINI Cooper S it’s the same engine – it’s got a lot of character, it makes some nice noises, it’s got quite a lot of torque – and if it wasn’t for all of those factors I wouldn’t have brought out a 20i. But the point now is that you can have a 20i engine that is actually good fun to drive; it’s got a bit of character.'

BMW X3 side-on shot

However, if you’re set on an X3, it might pay to hang on a little because there’s a plug-in hybrid vehicle (PHEV) version coming to UK showrooms soon.

‘Actually the key car for us for the X3 to compete in [the company car] segment will be the Phev, when the time comes,’ said Thompson. ‘I can’t tell you when it’s coming yet but there is a PHEV planned for the X3 in the not-too-distant future’.

Should you still consider diesel for your next company car?

It depends, according to Thompson.

‘Generally with any corporate buyers – they’re often in a slightly tricky situation in that their company will impose rules on what they can and can’t take. There’s still this divide in which people are thinking they should buy petrols when actually diesel functions perfectly well for them.

BMW X3 M40i

‘I would always advise a customer when they’re making a choice to look at what sort of mileage they’re doing, so if you are a high-mileage user, and particularly if you’re paying tax based on the CO2 emissions of the car, you can get a 20d for 132g/km, whereas a 20i is at least 163,' he says.

So you’re always balancing price off against the BIK tax rate that you pay. But having said all of that, the diesels take a charge that’s linked to the CO2, so they add 3% to what you pay.

Fancy a two-wheel drive X3?

Tough. If you’re holding out for a two-wheel drive X3 (with the perceived lower BIK bills that would command due to lower CO2 emissions), forget it. You’ll only be able to have one with xDrive all-wheel drive.

‘A lot of customers may not use the xDrive system every single day, but there would be nothing worse than driving a big, heavy SUV that gets stuck the first time it snows,' says Thompson.

'And apart from that the [X3] drives better as a 4x4 anyway, particularly when it’s raining – especially if you’ve got a higher-powered car – the rear wheels can’t transfer the power onto the road. It’s really important in this class that if you’re going to have an SUV, the vast majority of customers are going to want xDrive.

‘Other cars such as the [Audi] Q5 are built from a front-wheel drive platform that has been converted to four-wheel drive, whereas our platform is a rear-wheel drive one, so I think our xDrive system is the better one as it’s able to transfer the power from the front to the rear axles almost 100% - most of the other systems can’t do this. It’s a better position to start from.’

The BMW X3 will remain all-wheel drive only in the UK

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