First Drive: 2011 BMW X3 Prototype

Don Sherman

While there are incremental gains in front seat space, the real breakthroughs are found in the X3's second row and cargo hold. A lower and much wider door opening provides significantly easier entry. With the rear wheel wells moved further outboard, there's additional hip and elbow room. A lower center tunnel and additional space between the center console and the rear seat facilitates side-to-side transfers. While the center seating position is stiffly padded to accommodate a fold-down armrest with cupholders, there is ample head, leg, and shoulder room to carry three adults in a pinch and two in comfort. Moving the outermost weather seals from the body to the door has greatly reduced the chances of soiling trouser legs upon entry.

Moving the rear wheels outboard and increasing the hatch's opening width has done wonders for the space and utility provided by the cargo hold. Door panel pockets are now large enough to carry 1-liter beverage bottles.

Handy Bluetooth cell phone communication and convenient IPod hookups are now standard in the X3. Auxiliary audio connection sockets are more logically located and steering wheel mounted paddle shifters are included with the optional sport package. BMW intends to offer a fuel saving automatic engine stop-start system at some unspecified point in the new X3's lifetime.

With the optional Dynamic Drive Control, one console switch adjusts the dampers, throttle response, and transmission shift points. The usual Normal, Sport, and Sport Plus positions are provided. By dialing into I-Drive, it's also possible to decouple chassis and powertrain settings in the Sport Plus mode.

In spite of a wealth of added creature comforts, the X3's steering column tilt and telescope movements are still managed by a simplistic single-lever release instead of the power adjuster that is common fare in the $40,000-plus crossover category.

The powertrain report is a mix of good and bad news. As before, all-wheel drive is standard X3 fare. The base model, which will be labeled X328i, will be powered by the normally aspirated 3.0-liter six that has been available since this crossover's birth. A single-turbo 3.0-liter six should give the more upscale X335i class leading power and torque. While no ratings have been released, BMW engineers tout 12-percent more horsepower, 27-percent more torque, and 9-percent better fuel economy than current editions of this engine. If those prognostications are true, the X335i will have at least 330 horsepower in its holster.

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