May 25, 2013
Written by Sally Sanders
Monday, 05 September 2011 11:06
BMW’s redesign of its popular X3 compact sport-utility vehicle for the 2011 model year was, from our perspective, an unqualified success. We initially didn’t care for our first X3 test car, the debut 2004 model, though it did grow on us as the days passed. The new model elicited an entirely different reaction: We liked it immediately.
Not long after turning in the X3, we drove a similarly sized and priced SUV from a premium Japanese manufacturer. The BMW essentially spoiled the experience for us. The X3’s competitor simply didn’t measure up.What’s so special about the X3? It rides more smoothly than its predecessor, yet handles as a BMW should. It’s roomy and comfortable, even in the back seat — a rare trait in this class. And BMW has upgraded the interior materials and switchgear.
The X3 comes in two flavors: the xDrive28i, starting at $36,750, and the xDrive35i, $41,050. All-wheel drive is standard on both. Our test car, a 2011 xDrive35i with several costly options, came in above $50,000.
The heart of the xDrive35i is a 3.0-liter, turbocharged inline six-cylinder engine that produces 300 horsepower and 300 lb.-ft. of torque. BMWs we’ve driven in the past tended to emphasize smooth power delivery and exquisite balance over raw muscle, but our X3 was gratifying on both counts. It delivered highway fuel economy in the mid-20s, but required premium gasoline.
For the driver, the X3 offers two major challenges — the shifter and BMW’s iDrive system.
The former is essentially an up-and-down lever with two buttons on it, one to put the eight-speed transmission in park, the other to release the shifter to engage reverse or drive. The iDrive consists of a notched, multi-function wheel on the center console. It operates a number of cabin systems, including audio, climate and navigation. When the iDrive first appeared in high-end BMW models a decade ago, many drivers and critics complained bitterly that it was too complicated, but over the years BMW aficionados have reached a comfort level with the system.
Crash-test data aren’t available yet, but past X3s have earned Top Safety Pick ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The X3 typically has maintained average to above-average reliability scores in Consumer Reports magazine owner surveys.
Some critics have noted turbo lag, especially at low speeds. We didn’t notice this trait, but for those who are sensitive to such things, the 240-horsepower xDrive28i comes equipped with a normally aspirated version of the same engine.
Compared with the Japanese SUV we drove shortly after turning in the X3, the BMW handled more crisply, rode more smoothly and seemed more refined. It also was roomier, especially in the back seat, perhaps because the Japanese SUV was more aggressively styled. That’s not to say the X3’s lines lack character, but it’s apparent the function-over-form contingent won the arguments they needed to win for the X3 to be a truly enjoyable car to own and drive.
Price: $41,050 (base)
Engine: 3.0-liter inline Six, 300 horsepower, 300 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: 8-speed shiftable automatic
Weight: 4,222 lb.
Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
Ground clearance: 8 inches
Wheels: 18-inch by 8-inch alloy
Tires: 245/50R18 100V run-flat
Seating capacity: 5
Luggage capacity: 27.6 cu. ft.
Maximum cargo capacity: 63.3 cu. ft.
Maximum towing capacity: 3,000 lb.
Fuel capacity: 17.7 gallons
Fuel economy: 19 mpg city, 26 mpg highway
Fuel type: premium unleaded
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