REVIEW | The 2020 BMW X3 M40d is a bittersweet symphony
Diesel may be dying out but this German oil-burner remains a delight, writes Brenwin Naidu
In 1893 the first prototype diesel engine coughed into life. There was no easy ride for inventor Rudolf Christian Karl Diesel, whose original concept only saw official production in 1897, after numerous trials, errors, patents and run-ins with vociferous critics.
In 1912 he died at sea under mysterious circumstances. But that is a Google search for another day. In this space, we want to talk about his pioneering brand of internal combustion that changed the world. Diesel engines saw use in passenger vehicle applications as far back as 1933, with the Citroën Rosalie widely accepted as the first production vehicle to employ such a power plant.
Mercedes-Benz followed with the 260D in 1936. Contemporary diesel cars are far removed from their rudimentary predecessors, as countless drivers will attest. In the first decade of the new millennium, Audi won the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans from 2006 to 2009, fielding the R10 TDI racer. It was an undertaking that revised sentiments usually held towards diesel motors. Now we regard them with a different esteem, rather than solely being identified as the preserve of trucks and farming implements.
The widespread scandal that came to rock the Volkswagen Group (and the global industry at large) would dramatically undo much of the goodwill held for oil-burners, as well as expediting the demise of pistons and sparks as a means of propulsion. Many European countries are getting closer to the endgame of completely phasing out fossil fuel vehicles altogether. Electrification is nigh. And this brief history lesson is essential to framing the mighty BMW X3 M40d that spent a week in our possession.
A diesel with sporting credentials, it packs one of the most advanced engines of the breed. But this is a comparison in likeness to what might have been said about the wares produced by Godrej & Boyce, the last company in the world to produce typewriters, when they shut doors in 2011. They were the most sophisticated typewriters money could buy.
Having put forward such an unflattering parallel, it must be said that the potent six-cylinder mill behind those aggressive kidney grilles deliver a compelling argument for the endurance of diesel. No two ways about it: this derivative of the popular sport-utility vehicle allows you to have your strudel and eat it too. Stretching your big toe summons a torque-enriched groundswell of 680Nm (a whole 80Nm more than an X3 M Competition); with power quoted at 240kW. That is courtesy of a 2993cc unit with two turbochargers.
At the helm, it certainly evinces a sense of swiftness that matches the on-paper sprint time of 4.9 seconds. And if you find yourself over-indulging in the on-demand grunt available, consumption remains palatable. Our readout indicated 9.1l/100km after a 150km stint that would easily be described as more than just a bit “spirited”. Of course, all those sensible X3 hallmarks you know and appreciate remain very much intact. That includes a useful ground clearance of 204mm, plus a fording depth of 500mm in the unlikely event you need to cross a small body of water.
My only reservation about trekking over gravel was sparked by the larger wheel and lower-profile rubber optioned to our tester: 245/40 R21 at the front and 275/35 R21 at the rear. The standard variety has slightly more forgiving, plumper sidewalls and slightly smaller alloys.
Some have expressed the view that the “M” in M40d is a misnomer. It could be, to those who fancy themselves as purists in their commitment to the BMW Motorsport GmbH subdivision. But then again, customers can even have the “most powerful letter in the world” on a humble 118i these days if they wish. So there’s little point getting one’s blood pressure up over these subjective notions.
This most powerful diesel option in the X3 range is a treat – and provides excellent fodder for the musings of diesel apologists.
Pricing: From R1,065,000