2012 BMW X3
    MSRP
    $37,100 - $42,700
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    2012 BMW X3 Expert Review:Autoblog

    The following review is for a 2011 Model Year. There may be minor changes to current model you are looking at.

    A 3 Series Wagon For The Non-Wagon Buyer



    Despite enchanting few critics along the way, the all-new 2011 BMW X3 has been helping its German parent clean up on the sales charts.

    Like the rest of the premium crossover segment, the X3 has been viewed by some brand diehards as a blatant cash-grab. The starting price might be easy enough to swallow, but start ticking the option boxes and the sticker swells to a size more startling than the first time you heard your mother drop an F-bomb. Despite this, we wanted to see if the 2011 BMW X3 xDrive28i could break through the enthusiast's wall of prejudice. As you'd expect, it's a mixed bag.


    The 2011 BMW X3 is roughly the same size as the original X5. The 110.6-inch wheelbase is essentially unchanged, but there's now three more inches of overall length for an even 183 inches from tip-to-tail. The styling uses that new room to stretch, and the dynamically straked profile makes the increase look like at least double that.

    Clamping the stubby, original X3 in a taffy pull and giving it a yank leaves the 2011 X3 looking both familiar and like a part of the modern BMW family. The carefully detailed bodywork plays up its conservative image to good effect. The Bangelized original lines have been matured without radical changes.

    2011 BMW X3 xDrive28i side view2011 BMW X3 xDrive28i front view2011 BMW X3 xDrive28i rear view

    BMW has also brought the interior of the 2011 BMW X3 up to par with the rest of the range. Like the exterior changes, BMW hasn't gone and reinvented the steering wheel, so the design of the dashboard and door panels does little more than look and feel like a current BMW interior. Materials and fit-and-finish are improvements, though the shifter and spring-loaded blinker stalk are still annoying to use for some. The clean design isn't avant-garde, but it means clear ergonomics, and the eight-way power front seats are fantastically comfortable. Rear seat passengers get a newly liveable area, benefiting the most from the size increase. The latest implementation of iDrive is finely tuned and the standard LCD has crisp graphics, but pales in comparison to the optional 8.8-inch display that's the automotive equivalent of an ostentatious plasma screen.

    A benefit of the continued refinement of iDrive is an uncluttered center stack. Our tester was bereft of navigation and the larger screen, so its limited iDrive feature set was particularly easy to navigate. Analog gauges are clear, there are real cupholders and the Sand Beige leather and warm-toned Fineline Sienna wood trim created an inviting atmosphere, especially when paired with the big, airy panoramic moonroof – worth every bit of its $1,350 price tag. Visibility in all directions is not hindered by gigantic pillars and the elevated crossover seating position makes for confidence-bolstering sightlines, too.

    2011 BMW X3 xDrive28i interior2011 BMW X3 xDrive28i front seats2011 BMW X3 xDrive28i rear seats2011 BMW X3 xDrive28i rear cargo area

    The naturally aspirated inline six-cylinder engine in the X3 xDrive28i is one of the most celebrated engines in the BMW family, even if it is facing internal competition from BMW's new twin-turbocharged 2.0-liter four. Engineering skill is shown off with a composite block of magnesium alloy for light weight, a valvetrain twiddled by Valvetronic and Double VANOS systems that do away with a throttle plate, and other slick, efficiency-boosting technology like Brake-Energy Regeneration. All the whiz-bang results in 240 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque from 3.0 liters, but the issue at hand is how this engine and its attendant eight-speed automatic transmission behave out on the road.

    Peak torque plateaus between 2,750 and 4,000 RPM, and the eight-speed transmission does its best to keep the engine in the lip-smackingest meat of the powerband, but not even BMW can overcome the fact that the X3 weighs 4,100 pounds. That's about the same as the original X3, so kudos for keeping weight in check, but it's a heavy load for the available torque to cope with, wide powerband and cornucopia of gear ratios aside.

    2011 BMW X3 xDrive28i engine

    Ride and handling aims for the storied BMW smooth-and-responsive target but winds up shy of the bullseye. Occasional traces of harshness shake and stir occupants – a trait not likely improved by the Sport Activity Package (X-Line exterior trim, front fascia insert, aluminum satin roof rails, Sports steering wheel, sport seats) and its 18-inch V-Spoke wheels with all-season run-flat tires. At least the package looks spiffy and puts a nice steering wheel in your hands.

    Most annoyingly, throttle tip-in is noticeably sluggish. More than once after nosing the X3 out to snag a gap in quick traffic, we found ourselves with an indecisive vehicle and angry oncomings. The throttle doesn't just choke during clutch plays, either – the initial deadness was constantly infuriating. The situation is compounded by the whims of the eight-speed gearbox, which tries to cycle through its cogs too often. We've experienced this same ZF transmission in many other cars – indeed, in many other BMWs – and we don't recall it being so indecisive.

    2011 BMW X3 xDrive28i headlight2011 BMW X3 xDrive28i wheel2011 BMW X3 xDrive28i roof rack2011 BMW X3 xDrive28i rear detail

    The X3 has gained access to the BMW bag of technowizard tricks through its redesign, and there may be some alchemy in there to improve responsiveness. Dynamic Damping Control adds buttons to the center console that give you the choice of Normal, Sport or Sport + modes. Selecting one of the sport options makes the throttle response more immediate, stiffens the suspension and adjusts the transmission shift points. Variable-ratio steering is another enhancement our X3 didn't have. The standard electromechanical power steering system strives for both efficiency and feel and just achieves the former. By doing its best to avoid using any boost to reduce engine drag, the system unfortunately erases most of the feedback for the driver, too.

    But out-and-out driving enthusiasts aren't who the X3 has been created for, even though the XDrive all-wheel-drive system defaults to a rear-drive bias and the available Dynamic Handling Package includes Performance Control, which keeps the torque split rear-drive oriented. This is a vehicle made to appeal to buyers looking for technology, cachet and premium detailing. With that in mind, the details have been sweated, going so far as to include little treats like lighting in the door handles. The interior has an array of storage cubbies and there's a cargo-rail system in back, too. Think of the 2011 BMW X3 as a 3-Series wagon for the non-wagon buyer and you'll have it right. The X3 cedes territory dynamically to be a Sport Activity Vehicle – BMW-ese for "crossover" – but that doesn't seem to bother buyers.

    2011 BMW X3 xDrive28i rear 3/4 view

    That's good, because the price can scorch. Our test X3 hit the checkout line with a $45,725 price tag with plenty of room to go if you want to drop bigger cash on a smallish vehicle. The model's $36,750 base price is lower than the outgoing 2010 X3 xDrive30i, last year's only model, but it swelled by adding the $3,450 Premium Package, Cold Weather Package for $1,150, and Sport Activity Package for another $1,550. We were enamored with the head-up display that added another $1,300 to the bottom line, but start throwing in the other available goodies like the M Sport, Dynamic Handling and Technology Packages, and you're well into X5 xDrive30i territory. As it is, our little X3 wasn't far from the $47,000-and-change base price of an X5.

    Despite its driveline foibles, the 2011 BMW X3 feels like it belongs in the current family of BMW products, and it has the styling and available equipment to attract buyers' attention. The Audi Q5 puts up a particularly good fight to the newfound charms in the X3, and, to a lesser degree, so does a Mercedes-Benz GLK. There are lots of options for your thousands of dollars, but at least now there's a proper modern BMW available in this class.

    Refined, Not Redefined

    2011 BMW X3

    2011 BMW X3 - Click above for high-res image gallery

    Long before the segment-bending X6, BMW's crossover strategy was simple: offer the utility of a traditional SUV but in a package that's not only luxurious, but fun to drive. The original X5 Sport Utility Activity Vehicle kicked things off in 1999, and only a few years later, the smaller X3 arrived.

    Now, luxury crossovers are a dime a dozen, and automakers are clamoring to be a part of the small CUV segment. In just the past few years, we've been introduced to the Audi Q5, Mercedes-Benz GLK, Volvo XC60 and Infiniti EX35, among others. But as the X3 aged, its unusually harsh suspension and not-so-great interior plagued sales. In 2004, BMW moved roughly 35,000 X3s off dealer lots, and just last year, that number dropped to less than 10,000. Things aren't looking good for 2010, either.

    Instead of trying to reinvent the formula, BMW has improved on the X3's original idea by offering more refinement, top-notch driving dynamics and heaps of technology focused on efficiency and connectivity. The end result is a compact crossover ready to regain its spot at the head of the class. Find out if BMW succeeded after the jump.



    Photos copyright ©2010 Steven J. Ewing / AOL



    One of the primary issues that needed addressing was the X3's design. That's not to say the original X3 wasn't attractive, but its styling grew more outdated with each year, not only within the segment, but within the BMW lineup. The 2011 X3 uses the full suite of modern day BMW design language – larger, upright dual-kidney grille; angular, sideways-T taillights – and 80 percent of the time, it looks great.

    The other 20 percent? When looking the X3 in the eyes, there's a strong character line below the headlamp cluster that's been softened, and the clear headlamp surround is more squared off. The end result is an oddly awkward front fascia, as if BMW's designers sculpted the new X3 and then realized they forgot to add headlights. It isn't horrible by any means, it just looks... off.

    2011 BMW X3 side view2011 BMW X3 front view2011 BMW X3 rear view

    We like the side profile of the new X3 with its stronger character lines and upward slope to the rear window, and things are crisp, clean and fresh out back. We highly recommend opting for the Sport Activity Package ($1,550 or $1,850, depending on model) as it adds the X-Line exterior trim treatment and larger, more attractive wheels. Still, standard-issue X3s like our tester aren't too hard on the eyes, and while the overall design is sleek and fresh, it lacks some of the unique visual interest that you'll find on a Volvo XC60 or Mercedes-Benz GLK.

    The X3 is slightly larger than its outgoing model, gaining 3.1 inches in length (183.0 total), 1.1 inches in width (74.1 inches) and 0.5 inches in height (65.4 inches). BMW points out that the new X3 is similar in size to the first-generation X5, and this dimensional increase means the automaker's smaller X1 will have more breathing room within the X Series. However, because the X3's proportions haven't grown all that much, interior dimensions haven't been greatly improved, either. In fact, front headroom and rear legroom have actually decreased for 2011.

    2011 BMW X3 headlight2011 BMW X3 wheel2011 BMW X3 taillight2011 BMW X3 rear fascia

    At first glance, the X3's interior feels a bit cramped for both the driver and front passenger, partially due in part to the wider center console and more sculpted, downward-sloping dash. If you've been in any of the latest crop of BMWs, the center stack will look extremely familiar, with the 8.8-inch iDrive screen placed front and center within the sloping lines of the dash. The integrated infotainment system has come a long way since its introduction in the 7 Series, and iDrive is more intuitive than ever. The X3's setup uses BMW's new ConnectedDrive software that offers enough features to make your iPhone jealous, including the ability to display e-mails when the vehicle is stationary, as well as a text-to-speech functionality that reads messages through the audio system while on the go.

    Overall levels of interior refinement are top notch, and though the cabin isn't as stylish as what Volvo has done with the XC60, it isn't as cold and grey as the Mercedes GLK, and the controls are simpler and easier to navigate than the ones found in Audi's Q5. All of the seats are comfortable and supportive, especially the optional sport chairs fitted to our tester. Rear seat passenger room isn't as generous as the X3's size would lead you to believe, and the back seats cannot be moved forward or backward – something that would help greatly, especially when longer-legged folks are seated in the front.

    2011 BMW X3 interior2011 BMW X3 speedometer2011 BMW X3 touchscreen2011 BMW X3 iDrive

    At its launch, BMW will be offering the X3 in two flavors: xDrive28i and xDrive35i, using the same gasoline powerplants that we enjoy in the 3 Series sedan. An all-new xDrive20d four-cylinder diesel option is available in other markets, and naturally, BMW tells us that this model is "being considered" for American consumption. It's the typical response whenever we ask about diesel offerings, though BMW is seriously considering it, especially since sales of the diesel-powered X5 have exceeded original expectations.

    We tested the higher-end xDrive35i, powered by BMW's delicious new N55 turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six. 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque is more than enough to motivate the 4,222-pound 35i, and even with all-wheel drive, this X3 can do the 0-60 sprint in just 5.5 seconds on its way to an electronically limited top speed of 130 miles per hour. The naturally aspirated 3.0-liter mill in the 28i offers 240 hp and 221 lb-ft, meaning it'll take you 1.2 seconds longer to hit 60 mph, but we don't envision this engine ever feeling sluggish or underpowered. Even BMW's base engines are sweet-working mills these days. Unfortunately, none of the X3s on our drive program were fitted with the 28i setup, but if our experience in the 3 Series is anything to go on, we don't expect any thumbs-down verdicts for the base X3 engine configuration.

    2011 BMW X3 engine

    Both the 28i and 35i use a new eight-speed automatic transmission with manual shift function (steering wheel-mounted paddles are available on the 35i), and though official EPA fuel economy numbers have yet to be released, we're fairly confident that even the potent xDrive35i will be able to achieve a combined MPG number somewhere in the mid-20s. U.S.-spec X3s are no longer available with a row-it-yourself manual transmission, and to be honest, we don't really mind. The eight-speed auto is good stuff, and as much as we love a proper manual box, there just isn't a business case for that sort of thing in small crossovers. We need to stop crying about it.

    Having eight cogs to stir through aids efficiency, though the transmission has an odd tendency to hesitate ever so slightly just before a gear is engaged. This is extremely noticeable in the sportier drive settings when you aren't using the manu-matic function, and though this quirk is dulled a bit in the standard drive mode, it's still present. That aside, gear changes are still smooth as butter and unlike other eight-speed automatics, the X3 makes the most of its low-end torque power to avoid the constant need to downshift when prodded to pass. The optional paddle shifters are a nice bit of added driver involvement, but we much prefer leaving the shifter in D and letting the X3 do the work itself – with eight gears to choose from, you'll be clicking the paddles an awful lot.

    2011 BMW X3 shifter2011 BMW X3 paddle shifter

    The X3s that BMW brought for us to test were all European-spec models fitted with the automaker's new start/stop system – something that won't be offered on U.S.-spec cars. This is BMW's first application of start/stop with an automatic transmission, and we applaud the smoothness and fluidity of the engine firing up just before taking off from a stoplight. Will we ever see BMW's start/stop functionality on cars slated for North American duty? It isn't in the cards quite yet, but BMW's executives told us to test it and give feedback about whether or not we think it's a useful addition to the X3 experience. Our verdict: Offer it in the States, even if it's a stand-alone option. In a time when fuel economy numbers can truly make or break potential sales, adding another MPG or two to the X3's window sticker certainly can't hurt.

    BMW is coming through loud and clear on the sport part of its SAV nomenclature, especially with the addition of the optional Dynamic Driving Control and Dynamic Damping Control systems. This is the same sort of setup found in the 5 and 7 Series cars, where drivers can switch between Normal, Sport and Sport + modes, and an all-new five-link rear axle system dramatically improves overall ride comfort – perhaps our biggest complaint about the last-generation X3. The added 1.1 inches of width and our tester's larger 18-inch wheels with 245/55-series tires help to keep things planted and solid on the road. All in, the X3 has lost the harsh ride quality of the first-generation model while still retaining a level of firmness and confidence that you'd expect from a BMW.

    Things are perfectly pleasant with the X3 left in Normal mode, but for drivers with an enthusiast soul, Sport and Sport + is where it's at. Here, the throttle response is sharper and the electric power steering offers more weight and feedback, though still providing a linear steering feel lock-to-lock. Additionally, the transmission comes into tune to the sportier driving style – it's more eager to hold a gear up to the redline and keeps your tach needle pointed right in the heart of the X3's powerband. If you're worried about sacrificing fuel economy, the driving control systems allow you to configure Sport mode to only improve the chassis, leaving the transmission alone, and unless you're seriously pushing the X3 down some challenging canyon roads, the eight-speed auto does a fine job of providing power on demand in its normal drive setting.

    2011 BMW X3 rear 3/4 view

    The new X3 hits dealerships later this year with the majority of sales expected to begin in the first quarter of 2011. The cost of entry is $37,625 for xDrive28i models and $41,925 for xDrive35i models, and in true BMW fashion, there will be an extensive options list encompassing things like sport, convenience and premium packages. What's more, BMW will be offering custom interior and exterior color packages, and consumers will be able to receive videos of their individual X3 as it moves through the different build phases within the automaker's Spartanburg, South Carolina plant.

    We don't find many faults with the 2011 X3, but if we're honest, there isn't a lot to get excited about, either. What BMW has done is simply rework and refine its small crossover instead of jumping through hurdles to redefine its image. That's fine, but the end result is a vehicle that reeks of anonymity. It's the perfect vehicle for people... who have things... and like to drive to places. It's an entertaining, involving steer out on the road, but it won't turn heads like a Mercedes-Benz GLK, it doesn't look as classy as an Audi Q5 and doesn't speak of uniqueness like the Volvo XC60. Still, anonymity isn't all that bad, particularly when you have 300 hp on tap.



    Photos copyright ©2010 Steven J. Ewing / AOL

    Recently redesigned with more room, improved ride.

    Introduction

    The BMW X3 was all-new for 2011. So for 2012, the X3 is largely unchanged. All 2012 BMW X3 models come standard with black high-gloss interior trim, option packages have been changed on 2012 X3 xDrive 28i and 2012 X3 xDrive35i models, and a new M Sport Package with a sports suspension is available. 

    Completely redesigned, this latest-generation BMW X3 is roomier than pre-2011 models. Cargo space behind the second row is generous for the class, an unusual achievement for a BMW SAV. 

    The exterior is tasteful. It holds onto BMW design cues but makes the previous version look suddenly dowdy and dated. 

    During our test drive, the BMW X3 xDrive35i demonstrated some of the best poise and isolation we've ever experienced in an SUV on gravel roads. A completely redeveloped suspension technology, with a new double-joint spring-strut mechanism at the front and a multi-link system at the rear improves handling over the previous-generation X3. 

    BMW's xDrive all-wheel-drive system, standard on all models, retains as much of a rear-drive feel as it can muster, using a multi-plate clutch to vary rear-to-front torque split from fully 100 percent committed to the rear to 40 percent sent forward to assist with traction. 

    Two engines are available, a 3.0-liter inline-6 and a turbocharged version of the same engine. They get essentially the same fuel economy, but the turbocharged engine has more power. Otherwise the two models, X3 xDrive28i and X3 xDrive35i, are nearly identical, though the xDrive35i comes with slightly larger wheels. The xDrive28i and xDrive35i come with an 8-speed automatic transmission. 

    An optional electronic damping control system is available to vary shock response according to conditions, with a driver-selectable three-position switch to focus its operation to the driver's intended activity. This so-called Performance Control switch also affects the level of steering assist, and the xDrive all-wheel drive system by selecting a 20/80 front-to-rear torque-split in steady state driving and also providing some so-called torque-vectoring influence in corners by braking an inside wheel. These new technologies may prove decisive to buyers searching for the latest in safety and dynamic systems. 

    Lineup

    The 2012 BMW X3 xDrive28i ($36,850) comes with a normally aspirated 2996 cc inline-6 that produces 240 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque. The xDrive28i comes standard with 17-inch alloy wheels. 

    The BMW X3 xDrive35i ($42,400) features a 2979 cc inline-6 equipped with a twin-scroll turbocharger, and produces 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque, the latter available from 1300 rpm through to 5000 rpm. The xDrive35i comes standard with 18-inch alloy wheels. 

    An 8-speed automatic transmission is standard with both engines. 

    Standard features on X3 models include climate control with micron air filter, leatherette upholstery, black high-gloss tirm, 205-watt AM/FM/CD with MP3 and HD radio, power locks, power windows, eight way power front seats with memory for driver seat, steering wheel audio controls, Bluetooth, iPod connectivity, on-board computer, floor mats. 

    Options include Nevada leather ($1,450); navigation ($2,150); rearview camera ($400); satellite radio ($350); premium audio ($875); panoramic moonroof ($1,350); Park Distance Control ($750); power tailgate ($500); keyless entry ($500); heated front seats ($500); folding rear seats split 40/20/40 ($200). The Dynamic Handling Package ($1,400) includes dynamic damper control, variable sport steering, and performance control. (All prices are Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Prices, which do not include $875 destination charge and may change at any time without notice.)

    Safety features include the mandated dual front airbags plus side-curtain airbags for head protection, side-impact airbags for torso protection. Active safety features include anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, all-wheel drive. Optional safety features include rearview camera, Park Distance Control. 

    Walkaround

    The crisp lines of this latest BMW X3 seem more familiar than novel at first sight, but the design soon dates the previous car, and you need to see old and new side by side for the full import of the new look to be absolutely clear. Up front is the usual forward-leaning BMW kidney grille. The headlight assembly is large and emphatic, and is integrated with a detailed front apron which uses contrasting colors and various apertures to provide plenty of surface excitement. There are six contour lines sweeping down to meet at the kidney grill for a sculpted appearance. 

    BMW says the twin round headlights combined with the round fog lamps form a triangular light pattern that is characteristic of its SAV design. (BMW calls its SUVs Sport Activity Vehicles.) The upper edge of the headlight assembly is accented by a chrome trim, and BMW's signature Corona Rings are again used as the daytime running lights. When equipped with the optional xenon high-intensity discharge headlights, the Corona Rings and daytime running lights are provided by bright white LEDs. 

    The profile of the BMW X3 is characterized by flared wheel arches and short front and rear overhangs. Three creases in the car's side add detail to the silhouette, with the X3's signature upper contour line (at door-handle level) rising steeply from the front wheel arch area, then tapering toward the rear light clusters. This line is echoed by two subtle lines following the contour line above the wheel arches. 

    Horizontal lines abound at the rear, with contrasting angles at the rear glass and lights providing perspective. The designers have used concave planes and a recessed license plate area to alter the reflective dimensions, adding a sculpted effect. The taillights are positioned well to the outside, and have a distinctive mushroom shape that allows the outboard lenses to be substantially larger than the shapes in the tailgate. LED light bars are intended to create a distinctive BMW nighttime design signature. 

    When compared to its predecessor (pre-2011), the new X3 is a half-inch taller, 3.36 inches longer, 1.1 inches wider, and features a half-inch more ground clearance. It rides on a wheelbase that is just 0.6 inches longer, at 110.6 inches. 

    Interior

    The interior of the BMW X3 is welcoming, with tasteful surfaces and a tidy arrangement of components. Dark dashboard moldings contrast with lighter lower sections and carpet colors. High-grade wood trim accents are used sparingly on the center console, door cappings, and above the glovebox. 

    The view out the windscreen is commanding. Big mirrors provide a good spread of rearward visibility to deal with the inevitable blind spots that occur in cars with vertical D-pillars. 

    A fourth-generation iDrive multi-media controller keeps control-button proliferation to a minimum, and the dashboard looks tidy and organized. 

    Anyone with a passing acquaintance with BMW ergonomics will have everything working within seconds; strangers may take a few minutes more, but they'll doubtless appreciate the quality feel of the switches and controls. A fat-rimmed three-spoke steering wheel incorporates various satellite switches for the audio system and cruise control, and the ambiance is at once functional and luxurious. Storage compartments and cupholders are present at every turn. 

    The navigation system uses an 8.8-inch high-resolution display featuring a trans-reflective screen said to be the largest in the vehicle segment. 

    The rear seats are roomier than in pre-2011 models. 

    The luggage compartment provides 56.6 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats down, 19 cubic feet with the rear seats in place. Rear-seat backrests split 60/40 and can be folded separately or together. The rear seats that come with the optional ski pass-through have three segments (40/20/40) that can also be folded down individually. 

    Driving Impression

    This latest BMW X3 has made great strides in chassis sophistication over the previous-generation versions (pre-2011). In an X3 xDrive35i we tried in Atlanta, Georgia, the sensation was of a stable but well cushioned chassis that covers rough ground with little transmission of sound or vibration. 

    On a short off-road course provided by BMW, our colleagues showed a distinct tendency to approach ridges and cut-offs at too high a rate of speed. (Of course, we didn't make this mistake.) The quiet and unruffled way this car swallowed the imperfections in a rough gravel road was extremely illustrative of how seriously BMW took criticism of the first-generation X3 (2004-2011). 

    The same is true of the X3's behavior on a paved road. It's extremely smooth, with much of the sound of the car's undercarriage effectively attenuated. Luckily, this commendable compliance does not translate into a sloppy ride. Indeed, ride-motion control is exemplary, so progress is smooth and flat, just the way it should be. 

    Big 12.9-inch disc rotors inside 19-inch wheels shod with 245/55R18 tires slow the xDrive35i's 4222-pound mass with real authority, backed up by ABS. The base-level xDrive28i has the same brakes, but uses 17-inch wheels and 225/60R17 tires. 

    BMW has adopted an electric steering assist system, and its engineers have not done a bad job of overcoming the feedback challenges attendant to this burgeoning new technique. In the X3, wheel weighting verges toward hefty, perhaps a tad too much so, accompanied by quite a bit of self-centering torque, but this should not be confused with real steering feel. 

    Nonetheless, clear and readable off-center response combines with very accurate path control to imbue the steering with a sense of virtual feedback feel that the mechanism itself does not impart in great measure. Better get used to it, because EPS (electric power steering) will soon be ubiquitous on passenger cars. The rest of the X3 chassis allows sporty driving with plenty of attitude control, and, with the optional electronic damper control, surprising adaptability. 

    The turbocharged engine in the xDrive35i is responsive and powerful, driving the biggish vehicle from rest to 60 mph in about 5.5 seconds (6.7 seconds in the normally aspirated xDrive28i), and on to a governed 130 mph with a series of brief romps up the tachometer dial. The 8-speed automatic provides for close ratio staging and quick responses to a dig at the accelerator pedal. 

    At the same time, the broad torque band allows relaxed cruising at low engine speeds that will calm passengers and save on fuel. The combination of a relatively compact overall size, excellent power, newly imparted poise, plus improved space and comfort, ought to attract all those X3 fans back to this new one along with a horde of fresh converts. 

    Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 19/25 mpg City/Highway for the X3 xDrive 28i, 19/26 mpg City/Highway for the X3 xDrive35i. Premium fuel is required. 

    Summary

    This latest BMW X3 offers a ride smooth enough to satisfy the strictest critics, and all the latest drivetrain and chassis technologies at BMW's disposal. The rear seats are comfortable and there's decent cargo space behind them. Fold the back seats down, and the X3 can haul lots of stuff. All-wheel drive gives this BMW good winter capability, and we found it handled gravel roads brilliantly. 

    Barry Winfield filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his brief test drive of the X3 xDrive35i near Atlanta. 

    Model Lineup

    BMW xDrive28i ($36,850); xDrive35i ($42,400). 

    Assembled In

    Spartanburg, South Carolina. 

    Options As Tested

    Model Tested

    BMW X3 Xdrive35i ($42,400). 

    *The data and content on this web site is subject to change without notice. Neither AOL nor any of its data or content providers shall be liable for errors in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.

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