New BMW X3: Flame’s Final Flicker

This fall at the Paris auto show, we’ll see the follow-up to the BMW X3. Its dimensions are very close to those of the first-generation X5, but its sheetmetal is adorned with a farewell selection of “flame surfaces” one can attribute only to recently departed chief designer Chris Bangle.

Inside, we’re promised a major cabin upgrade. Look for an integrated, rather than pop-up, navigation screen, BMW’s joystick transmission lever, and the latest iDrive controller. New options will include active steering, radar-based cruise control, a head-up display, night vision, and lane-departure warning. The cargo volume increases only marginally, from 55.1 to 56.5 cubic feet, but that’s enough to keep rivals such as the Audi Q5 and the Mercedes-Benz GLK at bay. What about the X3’s greatest current weakness, its subpar ride quality? Klaus Draeger, board member in charge of research and development, responds: “Although the new X3 is even more competent and rewarding to drive, we also made sure that the ride comfort is up to scratch. The revised suspension is more progressive, more responsive, and more compliant overall.”

The powertrain offerings for the new X3 – shown here as artist’s renderings – will run the gamut, with gasoline, diesel, and hybrid models. A pair of gasoline sixes will top out at 300 hp; the diesel engine likely will be shared with the current 265-hp X5 xDrive 35d; and the ActiveHybrid (which follows in 2012) should get a 255-hp gasoline engine paired with a 50-hp electric motor. Production shifts to Spartanburg, South Carolina, from Magna in Austria, which will build Mini’s new crossover.

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