When BMW South Africa drops you a line asking you to join them for some dune driving in an X3, you might be a bit reluctant at first. The 4×4 community views BMW’s off-road capable offerings with healthy scepticism, and you won’t find an X3 or X5 off the beaten track that often.
Historically, there have been a few simple explanations for that: minimal ground clearance, lack of off-road tires, poor underbody protection, and an off-road system more geared towards icy European roads than rocky African adventures. BMWs have, thus, always been relegated to the bench when it comes to tackling truly testing off-road trails.
In 2019, however, things have changed. You see, the metallic brown X3s stationed up in Namibia aren’t ordinary Beemers. They’ve been raised, fitted with Michelin all-terrains, and protected down-below with functional bash plates. Coupled with the criminally underrated xDrive system, they’re mean machines tuned to handle tougher trails, thicker sand, and the kind of places you would never before have dreamed of taking them.
Let’s not forget that glorious powertrain – in this case, the 3.0-litre turbocharged 6-cylinder diesel produces 195kW and 620Nm. Those are healthy numbers, considering that this is the middle-model in the X3 line-up. In this relatively compact bodyshell, it’s a potent machine, and the eight-speed Steptronic transmission is pure ecstasy.
X3 ON STEROIDS
Here’s the list of upgrades on these X3s, which can be fitted to your own model by approved workshops upon request:
50mm ride height lift
Full aluminium underbody protection
Increased approach & departure angles
Larger, higher-profile all-terrain tyres
Full-sized spare wheel mounted in the boot
Pre-air filter and mesh grille to block out sand ingress
Naturally, of course, it’s plush and comfortable inside, with the typically-BMW driving position that’s fantastic on the tar, but a bit alien off-road. Then there’s the added pride that comes with driving a car that’s built locally.
Enough about the car, though. This expedition is more about the destination than the means to get there.
R75 000 p.p. (max 2 per vehicle, max 12 per trip)
8 days and 7 nights
Full-board accommodation in luxury lodges and hotels
All activities and tours
Secured payment certificate
BMW team support from local guide and driving instructor
Fuel & vehicle (BMW X3 xDrive 30d)
What’s on offer?
Basically, BMW Group South Africa has taken over operation of the Namibia multi-day tour from its parent company. It makes logistical sense, and serves to encourage more locals to take part. The tour itself involves a seven-night overland journey across 1300km of Namibian desert, tar and gravel. In some parts, in fact, the X3s take on proper 4×4 trails.
Although we (as the media) were shown a condensed version of the trip, the full package is extensive and comprehensive, covering several classic Namibian highlights. The tour starts in Windhoek, before heading off to Swakopmund and Walvis Bay via the Otjihavera and Erongo mountains.
After leaving Windhoek International Airport, guests are given time to acclimatise to the car and the Namibian environment, before settling in at Okapuka Ranch.
The X3s are put to the test on daunting trails in the Otjihavera mountains and canyons, followed by a safari that introduces visitors to some Namibian wildlife. We didn’t get to see Okapuka Ranch, but BMW Driving Instructor Bernie Williams assures us that the terrain up there is no joke.
After arriving and spending the night at the Old Trader’s Lodge in Erindi Private Game Reserve, guests visit the famous wood-carving market in Okahandja, and later enjoy a proper safari in game-viewing vehicles, on which one is sure to see some grizzly old lions − and plenty of rhino, too.
Ai-Aiba Lodge is the base of operations for an excursion out into the Erongo mountains, where you’ll find rock art, volcanic secrets and strange rock formations, all from the comfort of the X3. The evening is spent enjoying a classic braai at the lodge, before taking in the star-show between the mountain peaks.
This was one of the highlights of the journey. After departing from Ai-Aiba, the convoy drove into the Khan riverbed and explored an old, abandoned copper mine, before venturing into the Swakop riverbed en route to Swakopmund. Guests then have the opportunity to interact with, and learn from, some indigenous Namibians, who have maintained much of their traditional culture even into modern times. Dinner on the fifth night is best left as a surprise, but I will disclose that the evening is spent in the sublime Strand Hotel.
Ultimately, this experience is also a driver-training programme. This is to ensure that guests with zero off-roading experience leave the trip with practical training, and experience under their belts. BMW Driving Instructor Bernie Williams is a veteran off-roader and a treasure-trove of knowledge. If he happens to have his guitar on hand, ask him to play you a song. He’s an accomplished musician, too.
Forgive my obvious prejudice, but this is by far the best day of the multi-day experience. We are a 4×4 magazine, and that means we chase the best 4×4 experiences out there. Believe me when I say that dune driving in a 195kW X3 is some of the best fun you can have off-road.
The convoy winds its way southward along the Atlantic coastline, and after enjoying a boat trip among the seals – and whales, if you’re lucky – the real fun begins. Near Sandwich Harbour, where the dune slip faces are steep and treacherous, the X3s take turns dropping in and power sliding through the red sand, with mind-boggling vistas of the ocean over every rise. Does that sound good or what?
If you get stuck despite all the power and the aired-down tyres, Bernie and his team are always on hand to pull you out of trouble. It’s an epic experience for first-timers and well-weathered dune warriors alike.
After the adrenaline overdose along the coast, it’s nice to wind down and enjoy some more safari time back at Okapuka Ranch. A farewell dinner wraps things up, before everyone goes their separate ways in Windhoek on Day 8.
What’s all the fuss about?
While this sort of trip won’t appeal to all overlanders and 4×4 enthusiasts, we’d be wrong to forget about those who love the outdoors, but can’t justify owning their own rig. By supplying the vehicle and managing the logistics of the trip, BMW opens this sort of experience to a new, different audience. Yes, the price does limit the reach somewhat, but this trip will possibly inspire more people to extend their four-wheel-driving horizons. That has to be a good thing, right?
Yes, it’s a BMW Driving Experience, but it’s open to fans of all cars. The Bavarians are out to prove that their vehicles can handle the rough and tumble of Africa − and I, for one, am convinced. Provided, of course, the X3 is upgraded like these mean machines.
To find out more about this experience, fill out the contact form below.