The BMW X3 Explore Experience

Recently I had the privilege of joining the BMW team at the launch of the new generation X3. I was thrilled to be part of this exciting journey as a photographer under the wings of Marvin. The launch was nothing short of amazing as the launch tour took us to some scenic parts of South Africa. Road tripping though our beautiful country is always great, especially when it’s mixed with something you love; now throw in a German SUV and the gorgeous Luyanda Mafanya as my driving partner, and the trip becomes even more interesting.

The drive kicked off at the Intercontinental Hotel at O.R. Tambo where we met up with the various delegates from their respective media houses. Since I got in the car after Luyanda had strapped herself in the driver’s seat, she took the wheel first. With Luyanda driving it gave me the opportunity to take some images of the interior while she swiftly took us to our first stop. During this short drive, I was also able to familiarize myself with all the buttons and “gizmos” inside. One thing I loved about the X3 is the massive panoramic sunroof, this is such a great feature that allows ample light to brighten the car and make it appear even more spacious than it already is. The most obvious thing about the X3 is the size, which makes it perfect for a small family.

You might be asking yourself what’s so special about this X3? Well, I too asked myself the same question and all was revealed when we arrived at the BMW Plant in Rosslyn for the tour.

It turns out that the next generation of the BMW X3 is being produced in South Africa, it will be built here and exported to the rest of the world. BMW has worked hard to increase its efficiency and they definitely put their money where their mouth is because they have invested R6 billion in this plant. As mentioned, the investment will assist the plant to output an increased number of vehicles which in turn secures jobs. The machinery upgrades meant that the employees would undergo specialized training in order to operate the new state of the art machinery.

The tour launched with us being taken through the all new body shop, which takes up 27 000 square meters of floor space, where we were exposed to a massive army of robotic machines welding different parts of steel together. The space is quite remarkable as the robotic machines that have been installed are energy efficient and the space itself allows for plenty of natural light.

We then moved to the paint shop where a number of structural changes were made. This section is specially sealed off and only specialized machines operate here in order to reduce unwanted impurities which can be brought in by people. It has also been estimated that 317 vehicles undergo this process daily. The tour was wrapped up with a walk through the assembly line, a brief walk through the BMW “walk of fame” and then the training academy. The academy uses advanced technology and miniature robotics like the ones in the actual factory to teach their learners.

Bio2Watt Biogas Plant in Bronkhorstspruit was the second significant destination of the tour for the day. This facility uses mixed organic waste and cow manure to produce biogas, this biogas is put into a gas mechanism to produce electricity. The electricity is then distributed back into the grid where it is then used up by BMW.

Day two and three of the tour took us across three provinces where we got to enjoy the car on and off road. During this time I was able to push the car to its limits, it just kept screaming “give me more give me more”. The new generation X3 really left me grinning as we went around the bends whilst driving through the Panorama Route in Mpumalanga. The car really handles well and takes the bends with such ease and as the driver you really do feel in control. So, on road I was convinced about the drive and how smooth it is, especially when it came to switching through the different differentials with just a click of a button and the car just adjusting accordingly to your preference. Of the two options we were given to test out, the X3 xDrive20d and the X3 xDrive30d, my favourite was the X3 xDrive30d. This model just seems to handle better along the curves and has great sport features with a notable growl as you pull away. In addition to this, the braking is remarkably responsive in both models.

The Panorama Route was great and stopping at the Three Rondavels was even more beautiful as we got to soak in the marvel that is South Africa. As afternoon hit, we made our way to Makalali Private Lodge for our last stop of Day two. The last thirty kilometers or so was gravel road and the car handled it surprisingly well. I mean, the ride was moderately smooth, considering that it was a gravel road. With the dust came a beautiful sunset and we saw giraffes and some springboks as we approached the lodge. Upon arrival, we were given five-star treatment and this included us being individually escorted to our rooms. Now the reason for the chaperoning is because the lodge is situated right in middle of a wild life habitat and wild life roams freely in the area. Overall the lodge is picturesque, has amazing rooms (no TV so you have peace of mind) with an additional shower that is situated outdoors. That outdoor shower feature was great but with wild life roaming around freely I didn’t want to risk getting soap in my eyes.

Day three’s drive was at an easy pace and our route to Kruger Mpumalanga Airport detoured through the Kruger Park. Upon entering the Kruger, we were welcomed by one of the big five at the riverbed. We then drove a few kilometers to Cattle Baron where we had lunch and then continued to get up close and personal with nature. The X3’s diesel engine is so quiet that we were able to get intimate with elephants and zebras without startling them. I enjoyed the slow pace through the Kruger as it mimicked being stuck in relatively moving traffic in Johannesburg. This got me thinking how bearable this would be, being stuck in such comfort.

The last hour in the car allowed me to really soak in the last three days and the time I had spent driving it. The X3 is an incredibly consistent car that can be enjoyed on and off road and notably one can enjoy a Kruger Park drive in it. Exceptionally so, BMW has invested so much in the technology and the car to make it environmentally friendly. Being taken through the manufacturing process and eventually driving the actual product is nothing short of amazing and something that doesn’t happen to everyone. What I loved most about this tour was the fact that the car was being made in our own back yard and that BMW has invested so much to bless the world with this wonderful car.

Writer & Photographer: Tshego Mmahlatji