Travelling in India is usually an action-packed adventure with its own share of events, sights, sounds, and, of course, smells! As a result, when even seasoned and experienced road warriors start a trip, they know that (despite thinking they’ve seen it all) there’s a surprise on every journey. So, with our expectations firmly in place, we started off on another journey. The plan was to pick up the new BMW X3 – a car that I’ve been looking forward to driving, given how positive the reports have been about the car.
At first glance, it’s evident that this completely new generation of the X3 is a tremendous improvement over the last-gen product, which received a lukewarm response in our market. With the new design and interiors, the X3 offers a contemporary product for its class.
Understanding the penchant of Indian consumers for diesel SUVs, the X3 is available with two diesel engine options. The smaller engine is the ubiquitous 2.0-liter diesel producing 181bhp and 380Nm of torque, while the larger option is the 3.0-liter diesel. Both the engines come paired with the excellent 8-speed automatic gearbox that has, in the past, proved impressive. Our particular car for the trip was equipped with the 2.0-liter diesel engine, and the equipment count was pretty good with a panoramic sunroof, dual-zone climate control, 17” alloy wheels, standard Dynamic Damper and Drive Control for improved comfort and handling, along with the xDrive four-wheel drive system and the regular passive and active safety features.
The start of the trip was, as usual, thrown out of gear by a planned departure that got delayed by several hours – yet we racked up almost 200 kilometers in just city driving. So, at the end of the first day, the total came up to a respectable 400 kilometers. But we were blessed as far as road conditions on the highway were concerned, the newly renovated and widened NH-24 towards Lucknow is now a 4-lane highway till Moradabad, and combined with a good road surface, allowed us to maintain reasonable pace and cover distance quickly.
So, after a good night’s rest at Moradabad, it was time to hit the road again, this time into Uttaranchal – heading towards Rudrapur, and then onwards to a smaller town a few kilometers away – to attend a friend’s wedding. And this is where we witness the stark contrast in the progress of our country, and its infrastructure. While Uttaranchal is highlighted as a growth area, and a popular industrial investment destination (which is apparent from the number of new industries and luxury hotels in Rudrapur), the resulting strain on the existing infrastructure is also very evident. So, while there is a lot more traffic and vehicle movement in-and-out of the state due to the industrial output rising, the slow growth of the infrastructure makes the journey through the state an acutely painful experience.
To illustrate, while it took us just over 2 hours to cover the 160 kilometers to Moradabad from Delhi, the remaining 80-odd kilometers to Rudrapur took over 3 hours – partly due to a massive traffic jam on account of a closed railway crossing, and the associated traffic chaos around it. In fact, in my over 20-years of travelling, this is the first time I’ve seen a crossing remain closed for an hour straight – waiting for 4 consecutive trains to flow through. And, once through, the overloading of commercial vehicles and the massive traffic volume was taking a visible toll on the roads.
And it’s here that the X3 shines. One of the best indicators of a car’s comfort is how the occupants react in such stressful conditions, and I have to say that the X3 scored very highly on this front. The effective climate control, paired with the excellent ergonomics, and effective isolation from the chaos prevailing outside resulted in some very calm occupants. The panoramic sunroof also serves a brilliant purpose in such conditions, with the extra light adding a very airy feel to the interiors.
My friends occupying the rear seats though were not so happy – they felt like their seats were mounted lower than the fronts, and it didn’t give them the feeling of sitting in an SUV. Plus, the seat bottom is small and doesn’t offer enough under-thigh support. The front seats, however, offer a nice view and are very comfortable over an extended period of time. What also helps, while driving the X3 in our conditions, is the reasonable overall size of the car – making it perfectly usable in our traffic conditions. And with a suitably raised ground clearance, it can traverse most terrain without any worries.
On the return leg, naturally, we hoped that the journey would prove to be less exacting – but it wasn’t to be. Combining the weekend traffic, along with the construction mayhem, meant that the same journey till Moradabad took us well over 4 hours. One positive side effect of the jam, though, was that we got an opportunity to visit a former palace of the Nawab of Rampur – allowing us to place a modern vehicle like the X3 in the midst of the regal splendor of our past. But, here too, the condition of the house was a depressing sight.
Reflecting back on the trip, though, we got a chance to experience various facets of India. And while the prosperity in the country means that we can now enjoy vehicles like the BMW X3, which are not only great on the open road, but also make dealing with the traffic and roads far easier. And BMW has made tremendous progress over the last-gen machine with superb ride, excellent interiors, and pleasing looks – making the new X3 the most well-rounded vehicle in its segment at the moment.