Sandwiched between the big selling X1 and the iconic X5, the X3 needs to find its own niche. We drive to Pondicherry in one to figure out if it has…

Just what exactly is the X3? Like the Audi Q5, it suffers from an identity crisis, flanked on one end by the X1, which sells in huge numbers, and the X5, which is largely considered to be the quintessential soft roader! I’ve always been curious with why this car got so much flak, and so I decided to take it on a holiday, to Pondicherry!

I’ve just landed in Chennai, and am greeted by what is one of the most run-down airports anywhere in the country. And no, there isn’t a new terminal under construction to replace this one. This is the new one! After a 30 minute wait for my luggage, I walk out and am greeted by a bright white, sparkling BMW X3. First thoughts are that it’s not particularly great to look at in the flesh. The lines are clean and handsome, but it almost seems like the designers ran out of creativity when they reached the headlights. Slapped on they are, confused between whether they should be bold and in your face like the X5’s or subtle and somewhat flowy like the X1’s. But it’s not a bad looking car by any stretch of imagination. And it looks particularly decent in this white colour.

On the inside, things get much much better. The interior is typical BMW, and that’s a great thing. The design is similar to the 3-series or the 5 series. The buttons and switches are all top-notch quality, and it’s nice and airy too, with ample sunlight coming in from the large windows and panoramic sunroof.

iDrive is on-board too, but vaguely enough, there is no satellite navigation, not even in this top of the line xDrive20d Xline variant. But then again, Google Maps has that covered. I feed in Pondicherry on the phone and we’re good to go. Pondy is around 150km away, and we’ll be driving south from the airport on the GST Road for around 70 km before cutting across a state highway to the fabled East Coast Road. It’s June. and it’s pretty hot outside, but the greens haven’t really faded away. It’s still beautiful all the way to Pondy. The East Coast road is much talked about as one of the best driving roads in the country. I must agree it’s paved beautifully, but at two lanes in width, it’s starting to show its age a lil’ bit.

The good thing is, there’re lots of high speed sweeping, 40-50 degree corners to deal with. And this is where the X3’s core strengths shine through.It corners absolutely flat, with almost no body roll.

There’s tonnes of grip on offer, and you get this feeling the car can always go a bit faster than what you’re asking of it. The steering is brilliant too, typical of a BMW. It’s well weighted and very consistent. It does get very slightly wavy off centre, but that’s probably because I’m still hungover from the Mini I drove a month and a half ago. The last 50km to Pondicherry go by in a state of trance, navigating through the twists and turns and sparse traffic on the ECR.

Pondicherry is itself a relaxing weekend getaway from Chennai. It has something to offer to everyone. If you move away from its hippy influence, its multitude of restaurants and great architecture leave you spell-bounded. We’re staying at The Promenade, a hotel designed by the Hidesign group. Yes, the same guys who design your handbags and wallets. The hotel is a great blend of classic French architecture and modern, well laid out rooms. That it’s located by the sea is an added advantage. The X3 looks perfectly in place in white town (that’s what they call the older part of Pondicherry, since all the buildings are coloured White), it’s stark white colour seeming one with the architecture around it.

Pondicherry as a city (Oh wait, Union Territory!), has always surprised me. This is my seventh trip to Pondy, and I’ve been presented with something new every single time I’ve visited. What’s interesting is that the place’s economy runs on tourism. Since most of the tourists end up living in white town, you’ll find lots of small bistros and cafes serving sumptuous cupcakes, breads and snacks. Try out 221 Baker Street for example, a small cafe that serves some of the finest cupcakes and quiches you’ll find anywhere in the country.

Also checkout the Lighthouse. It’s open for visitors during the day (till 5pm), after which it assumes its duty of warning ships that the land is nigh. The climb up to the top of the lighthouse is a lil’ tedious but the views of the sea and the city more than make up for it. Once you’re done with the light house, and if you have some time on your hands, head down to the Jetty, a small piece of land that extends into the sea.

I drove the car all the way to the jetty. Surrounded by the sea on 3 sides. The light house and the jetty are around a kilometre away from the main city. You could trek down the distance, but we’d recommend hiring bicycles from MG Road. Bicycles are a great way to explore the city since quite a few areas (including the promenade area) ban thoroughfare of motor vehicles in the evening.

After a tiring day of driving down from Chennai and then exploring Pondicherry in the sweltering heat, we return to “The Promenade” hotel. No matter where you’re staying in the city, it might make sense to come down to The Promenade for dinner. Their restaurant has a wood fired oven that can crank out delicious, thin crust pizzas. It also has a roof top restaurant bar, which offers great views of the Bay of Bengal.

Tired and exhausted, we get to bed early, looking forward to the next day. Next morning we were up at five, and we drove out to the beach to catch a glimpse of the morning sun as it rose in the east.

The roads were deserted, and it was a nice time to let the 2.0L diesel lose. This 4 pot turbo makes 190 horses and 400Nm of torque. But more importantly, most of that torque is available from 1800RPM onwards, Mighty impressive!

There is a hint of turbo-lag, and you would want to keep the revs in the mid to high range to make quick progress, but it’s a lovely motor to drive around. A hundred comes up in 8 seconds or so, and the car touched 180kmph with relative ease on the highway. We reach the beach in about 20 minutes, the sun’s just come up, and it’s a beautiful sight.

I drove the car on to the beach to test its off-roading credentials. For the first 400m or so, it moved about smoothly, navigating the coarse sands that line the beaches on the Eastern coast of India. But then it got stuck and refused to budge. Not once, but twice. It was almost like it was trying to show-off its “soft-roader” credentials.

Top Tip – Get a proper off roader if you’re planning to go off roading. Or carry a few pairs of chappals which can be stuffed under the tyres to provide some measure of grip for the car to act on. Indian “Jugaad” at its best!


When we did finally get ourselves out of the sand the car had dug itself into, we drove back to Chennai, reminiscing about the great time we’d had in Pondicherry. That’s what cars like the X3 are for. They’re about packing your bags and heading out for an epic road trip, they’re about exploring new places, about meeting new people, all of this while travelling with the people you love. It’s not as big as an X5, and it’s not as small as an X1. In that sense, it’s just appropriately proportioned. And if you look at it that way, the X3 makes a lot of sense!