When the BMW X3 debuted back in early 2004, it seemed to be an anachronism: an upscale, premium-branded, premium-priced, small sport-utility. After all, the Land Rover Freelander had landed like a thud in our market and was on its way to hiatus status. It turns out that BMW was ahead of the curve, though, because for 2007 the X3 has plenty of competition, including the Freelander's successor, the LR2, plus the all-new Acura RDX. Time for a mid-cycle face-lift, then, for BMW's small SAV, or sports activity vehicle. The freshened 2007 model makes its public debut at the Paris salon.
You'll have to look closely at the X3 to detect the physical differences between the 2006 and 2007 models. There are no sheetmetal changes, but last year's black front and rear bumpers are now body-colored, and the twin-kidney grille now has vertical strakes in it. BMW's "corona light rings," known in the parlance as "angel eyes," make their first appearance here, if you opt for the xenon adaptive headlights. Chrome exhaust tips are new at the rear.
BMW has attempted to address complaints about the shoddiness of the original X3's interior with a new dashboard material, additional upholstery in the door panels, and the addition of wood trim to the dash. There's also a new, three-spoke steering wheel, and the optional Cold Weather Package includes heated rear seats in addition to the fronts.
Under the hood, the U.S.-spec X3 adopts the aluminum and magnesium 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine that debuted in the 3-series sedan. With variable valve timing, which BMW calls Valvetronic, it produces 260 hp at 6600 rpm and 225 lb-ft of torque at 2500 rpm, increases of 35 hp and 11 lb-ft of torque, respectively. A six-speed manual remains standard, and a new six-speed automatic is a no-cost option, replacing the previous five-speed automatic. With the manual, BMW says the X3 will hit 60 mph in 6.9 seconds, an improvement of 0.7 second over the previous X3 3.0i.
We've already driven the new X3, and although more power and more gear ratios are all well and good, what the X3 really needed was a more comfortable ride, and it didn't receive that in this face-lift. In making the X3 handle like a BMW, BMW's engineers sacrificed everyday livability. This vehicle continues to err on the side of sportiness over comfort, and, at a starting price of $38,695, it isn't cheap, either. BMW sells a lot of them, surprisingly, but that's partly through sweet lease deals.