It doesn’t take long for the first few comments after collecting my handsome 2018 BMW X3 xDrive 30i from the Dunedin showroom (alas, only on loan). It’s getting late and I immediately make for the nearest bottle shop to treat myself to a couple of boutique brews for my lonesome night of writing before meeting up with my fiancée and her visiting family (from Scotland) in Queenstown the following day.
Familiarising myself with the Minority Report-like gesture control system that allows you to do things like adjust the stereo’s volume and take—or reject—phone calls with swipes of the hand and flicks of the wrist, I realise that from the outside it must, weirdly, look like I’m pretending to conduct my own private orchestra, or having some kind of fit. I catch the tail-end of the conversation of the couple getting into the next car. “Yes,” I hear the woman say motioning towards the BMW but apparently not noticing me, “it’s just a shame it’s white.” I kind of agree.
The owner of the motel greets me warmly as if an old friend. His accent is Russian and heavy. He comes out as I remove my duffel bag from the boot and tells me, with two slow nods of the head and an approving purse of the lips that it’s a very, very nice car. I admit that it’s only on loan. “It’s fast, no?” he asks, his Slavic lilt lending an almost threatening air that sounds as though he’s challenging me to a drag race.
I wouldn’t fancy his chances.
The next morning, great deserted stretches of State Highway 8 afford the opportunity to put this beast through its paces before rendezvousing with the in-laws-to-be to act like a far more responsible son-in-law-to-be-cum-chauffeur. The medium-sized SUV handles the winding and occasionally frosted tarmacked furlongs like a coupe, while imparting an air of indestructibility akin to a Panzer tank. It’s a magnificent drive.
The third generation X3 comes with standard treats such as plush leather interior with wood trim that takes its cues from the latest luxurious 5 and 7 series models, an idiot-proof (trust me) touchscreen infotainment system, Parking Assistant Plus with 3D Surround View and a head-up display that allows you to see your speed, the speed limit and navigational instructions at the bottom of the windscreen in front. A choice of driving modes is accompanied by safety features including steering control, adaptive cruise control, cross-traffic warning and Lane Keeping Assistant with collision prevention. Behind that iconic double-kidney grille purrs a capable four-cylinder 2-litre engine.
So, after a brief detour to throw myself toward some frigid cobalt waters courtesy of the Kawarau Bridge Bungy, I hook up with my Celtic clan. Over the coming days we explore the local region, including a jet boat tour of Skippers Canyon followed by dinner at Arrowtown that allows for the first lengthy(ish) night drive upon our return. The interior strips of ambient lighting are nicely complemented by the soothing tones of Passenger while most of my passengers snooze behind. (Also, a nice touch is the carpet of light projected onto the floor along the full length of the vehicle outside as you enter it at night time.)
During the glorious drives out to Glenorchy and Wanaka my backseat guests take full advantage of the sprawling moonroof to enjoy the endless alpine horizons, and we pull over often so that they may also take tourist shots of the heavenly lakes and mountains and I may take media ones of the Beamer for this write-up (appearing, a little embarrassingly, simply vainglorious to other tourists looking on). Though my passengers have all sorts of fun with the gesture control as I drive, I must admit that I’m not entirely sold. Maybe it just takes more getting used to, but I generally find it easier to use the steering wheel buttons instead.
A week later we head to Bluff for a couple of nights on Stewart Island before heading back to Dunedin along the Southern Scenic Route whose pothole-strewn sections sure test the X3’s Dynamic Damper Control, as well as my reactions.
The boot is surprisingly spacious (and includes a handy secret compartment), easily fitting luggage for five—though it is stacked to the roof—and even with all those full-sized adults and their baggage the BMW slides up steep hills effortlessly. While even the largest of cars are generally only realistically designed to seat four adults for long distances, everyone appears comfortable and content (says the driver in the best seat!), with the only (tongue-in-cheek) bone of contention being the lack of heated seats round back, which is a bit rich, I jest, coming from hardy folks of Scotland.