First Drive: 2011 BMW X3

When the BMW X3 was first launched, way back in 2004, it was somewhat of a bargain basement BMW, and it suffered a few flaws. The first was an obviously cost-cut interior and the second was a seriously harsh ride. Although the X3 was thematically similar to the pioneering X5, it was very much a step down not only in price but also in execution.

Nuzzling up to the X5
With the smaller and (presumably) cheaper BMW X1 poised to enter the U.S. market, it's not surprising that the new X3 has grown larger, more sophisticated, and much closer to the X5.

The new styling certainly looks more akin to the X5, particularly as it's laid out on a body that is 3.4 inches longer. Other dimensions have increased as well, but more modestly. Width is up by 1.1 inches and height and wheelbase have grown by a fraction.

More so than the new design, the new X3's interior has been upgraded, and now feels like a full-fledged member of the BMW family. Materials are rich and the layout of the dash and the controls -- complete, naturally, with iDrive -- is familiar.

From one engine, to two
Then there's the powertrain. The previous version was available with a lone, 260-hp straight six. Now there are two engine options: a normally aspirated six (240 hp), in the xDrive 28i; and a turbocharged version of the same 3.0-liter (300 hp), in the xDrive 35i. That latter serves also as the base engine in the X5 (and both engines appear elsewhere in the BMW lineup).

Previously, BMW gave X3 buyers a choice of an automatic or a manual transmission, both six-speeds. A manual is rare in this segment, and now it's even rarer, as BMW has dropped it; in the U.S. market, the new X3 comes with an eight-speed automatic only. As before, all-wheel drive is standard, and has a sporty, rear-biased (40/60) default torque split.

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