I was so ho-hum about the last X3, that I was completely unprepared for the drive home. Holy Toledo, Buckaroo! I think we found the oscillation overthruster. This turbocharged 6 and the other-wordly eight-speed transmission (that will make you wonder why you’d ever need a manual) make the X3 the star of BMW’s whatever-utes. This X3 is a preproduction prototype, which means it’s not totally ready for prime time. Plenty ready for my garage, I’d say.
– Jean Jennings
Put the X3 into Sport Plus mode, and the eight-speed transmission will snap off upshifts that are harsher than those in a Nissan GT-R. It’s absolutely ludicrous. And also absolutely awesome. It makes for a dramatic personality change, particularly when you’re calling the shifts from the steering-wheel-mounted paddles. The gearchanges are so quick and so aggressive that they invite triple downshifts into full-throttle passes.
Put it back in Comfort mode, with the transmission choosing the gears, and the shifts are much gentler. However, there are times when the gearbox feels overactive and slightly abrupt. It’s evidence that we’ve maybe added one too many gears to the automatic transmission, or that the calibration team need to be more willing to skip gears altogether in certain situations.
Beyond the transmission — which leaves me with a divided opinion — I’m really impressed with the new BMW X3. It’s comfortable, spacious, and attractive. The engine offers the usual BMW goodness with imperceptible turbo lag and linear power delivery. After the new 5-series left many cold, the X3 should be a definite hit for BMW.
– Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
Like Eric, I was taken aback by the rapidity of the eight-speed auto’s upshifts, and I wasn’t even using the shift paddles; I just had it in Drive. This X3 has quite the powertrain. I remember not so long ago when we heard that BMW was going to implement turbocharging widely across its powertrain lineup, and many of us were put off by this news, because we’d driven so many turbo engines over the past fifteen or twenty years that were peaky and had lag and sounded like crap. BMW, the car company with the word “motor” in its name, was going go down that same road? It didn’t sound good, but our fears were unfounded, and now we’ve come to expect and accept that BMW’s turbocharged engines are absolutely top-notch.
The X3 as a whole appears to be pretty top-notch, also, with the predictable crisp exterior styling, smartly turned-out cabin, and premium features that we expect from a modern BMW. Compared with the first-generation X3, the biggest improvements are the cabin, as the last one was subpar; and so too was the ride quality, as the first-generation X3 rode like a farm wagon, especially when it was equipped with the sport package.
With the arrival of the X3, we now have four solidly capable and competitive compact luxury crossovers from Europe: the BMW; the Audi Q5, newly available with an efficient yet powerful turbo four-cylinder; the Mercedes-Benz GLK, which is, arguably, the least pretty of the group; and the Volvo XC60. Comparison-shop them all.
– Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
I don’t care what car you put this engine in, it’s fantastic. The turbocharged 3.0-liter straight six sounds especially cool in parking garages and also first thing on a cold morning, when it sounds very burbly and mean.
What do I think about the brand-new X3? On the outside, it looks quite smart and more carlike than its predecessor (do I see a bit of Mercedes-Benz GLK in the side profile?). The X3’s comfortable cabin uses nice materials all around, and there’s plenty of room for me to sit behind myself (I am only five-foot-six, though). I’m not entirely sold on the interior’s wood trim, however, which looks a bit weird because of its very light hue. In any case, I’m looking forward to spending more time in a U.S.-spec X3-the car we tested here was a European-spec preproduction model.
– Rusty Blackwell, Assistant Editor
As Joe noted, the Europeans as a whole have really brought their ‘A’ game when it comes to compact crossovers, such that it’s now a matter of personal taste. The X3 just might be my personal favorite. The turbocharged six-cylinder is predictably superb, as is the eight-speed automatic, which is indeed wonderfully aggressive in sport mode. The suspension and handling really hit the Goldilocks “just right” spot, with steering that’s a bit easier at parking lot speeds than in an Audi Q5, and sharper reflexes than a Mercedes GLK.
I only wish the X3 were more exciting visually. Much like the new 5-series and 7-series, the new X3 clearly avoids controversy at the price of standing out. Isn’t there a happy medium between flame-Bangle and bland?
– David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
2011 BMW X3 xDrive35i
Base price (with destination): $41,925
Price as tested: $57,850
3.0-liter turbocharged 6-cylinder engine
8-speed Steptronic automatic transmission
xDrive all-wheel drive
Dynamic stability control
Hill decent control
4-wheel disc brakes with ABS
Xenon adaptive headlights with auto-leveling
LED adaptive brakelights
8-way power front seats
60/40 split rear seats
Automatic climate control
Tilt/telescoping steering column
AM/FM stereo with CD/MP3 audio system
HD radio with iPod and USB adapter
Dynamic cruise control
Tire pressure monitoring system
Options on this vehicle:
Premium package — $3450
Auto-dimming rearview mirror
Technology package — $3200
Park distance control
Rearview camera with top view
Oyster Nevada leather — $1450
Dynamic handling package — $1400
Dynamic damper control
Variable sport steering
Head-up display — $1300
Sport activity package — $1250
Sports leather steering wheel with paddle shifters
X-line exterior trim
Roof rails in aluminum satin
Convenience package — $1150
Comfort access keyless entry
Rear manual sunshade
Cold weather package — $1150
Retractable headlight washers
Heated steering wheel
Heated front/rear seats
Premium hi-fi system — $875
Mineral silver metallic — $550
Smartphone — $150
Key options not on vehicle:
Fuel economy: 19/26/22 mpg (city/hwy/combined)
Size: 3.0L turbocharged I-6
Horsepower: 300 hp @ 5800 rpm
Torque: 300 lb-ft @ 1300-5000 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed Steptronic automatic
Unladen weight: 4222 lb
Wheels/tires: 18 x 8.0-inch aluminum wheels; 245/50R18 Pirelli P Zero tires