I know what you’re thinking, “Oh, here we go, another fanboy litero-gasmic rambling extolling BMW as the king of the blah, blah, blah…”
Only I am not your typical “drank-the-Bimmer-koolaid” automotive journalist, in fact, it took me a long time to even recognize some of BMW’s prowess in the driving arena, and I still believe there are many other vehicles out there in their respective categories that outshine these Bavarian crèmes.
Not so in the case of compact crossovers. After a week with the new BMW X3 I believe this is the best little CUV on the market today. Period.
No one is going to take one of these or its competitors off-road (except, perhaps, to the beach) so my opinions are strictly on-road performance and attributes and this one is simply the best. (I will pause a moment while the Tina Turner song plays in your head.)
My test vehicle was the 2012 X3 xDrive35i, a model BMW dubs a Sport Activity Vehicle. One might also designate it a Crossover Performance Vehicle and we could probably go on and on with this game of creative marketing terminology.
The point is, the X3 is more than merely a crossover utility vehicle and I would stack it up on the track against many of today’s sports “cars” – it’s that good.
Under the hood is BMW’s new 3.0-liter all aluminum turbocharged inline six-cylinder engine cranking out 300hp and 300 lb. ft. of torque via a very slick eight-speed automatic gearbox with sport mode and steering wheel paddle shifters.
This combination, when sent to all four corners via BMW’s cool xDrive all-wheel drive technology, makes for one very responsive, sporty driving experience – the best I have found yet outside the sport coupe or sedan segment.
This is the second-generation for X3, the first arriving around the world in 2004 to become an instant hit. The new vehicle is built in Spartanburg, South Carolina and rises head and shoulders over its predecessor.
The X3 is offered in “base” xDrive28i form as well as the model we tested, xDrive35i, with the entry model seeing the N52 straight six engine that produces 240 ponies.
xDrive comes standard across the X3 lineup and is now in its third generation for BMW offering normal torque split of 40 percent front/60 percent rear with a multi-disc clutch capable of sending up to 100 percent power to the rear wheels.
Sport activity and dynamic handling packages were added to our tester making this X3 even more nimble, quick and responsive. Steering was incredible at all speeds making it not only maneuverable at low speeds but well controlled and responsive when pushing things a bit.
Down on the center console just to the left of the shift lever is the “fun” button – controls for the Driving Dynamics Control allowing drives to select between Normal, Sport, and (my favorite) Sport Plus. These settings alter settings and responses in suspension damping control, throttle response, gear shift responsiveness, steering assist levels and dynamic stability control response.
Being a BMW the X3 is loaded with the latest in comfort and convenience amenities as well as the latest in safety and technology but not to the point of distraction during your driving experience. The learning interface is easier than some of the other models in the BMW fleet but everything is easy to operate and understand.
The ride is very comfortable and the seats are nicely supportive while not feeling like you are strapped into a race car. Fuel economy is surprisingly good at 19 mpg city and 26 mpg highway, due in part to that eight-speed transmission.
OK, it’s a Bimmer so it’s not cheap, but for the money you get what you are paying for. Pricing for the X3 xDrive35i begins at $42,700, which is not bad when comparing some of the competition. Our tester came with a final sticker of nearly 56 grand when outfitted with several premium packages.
For the money (and for the record) – this is it. The BMW X3 is the driver’s crossover.