The BMW X3 was considered pointless when it was first released in 2006. Now it has created a whole new segment that includes rivals from Audi, Mercedes and Volvo. This new segment is proving to be popular with American buyers, but does it prove it's worth considering over a conventional well purposed wagon?
Performance: There are two engines available for the X3. The familiar 2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder producing 240hp and a 3-liter turbocharged six-cylinder producing 300hp. Picking between the two depends on your tastes. Our favorite is the 2-liter turbo which is the cheapest of the two and is the more sensible choice. It blends fuel economy and performance well without having to pay the premium of the six-cylinder.
On the road: The X3 we've had came equipped with dynamic handling package. This sharpened the steering and handling. It's an optional package that is well worth the premium. This seems to be a common trait with BMWs however, we have yet to test drive one with standard suspension. Ride comfort is firm but not uncomfortable with excellent body control. The engines are quiet and smooth even when pushed hard. There's no manual gearbox like the previous generation. This may not seem like a bad thing because the manual gearbox wasn't impressive in the previous generation.
Behind the wheel: The front seats are comfortable and offer plenty of support for drivers of all shapes and sizes. The dashboard has a minimalistic approach in design. It's easy to navigate and all the controls are clearly labeled and easy to read. The iDrive controller has been vastly improved with much simple and easy to use menus. Rear passenger space is comfortable for two, a third person may not feel as comfortable due to the large transmission tunnel. Boot space is generous as well with the rear seat in place. Fold them down and the space increases considerably for added versatility.
Equipment: The Standard X3 comes with stop/start technology, leatherette upholstery and automatic climate control. Top of the range X3 comes with Xenon headlamps with LED daytime running lamps. 18-inch alloy wheels and a power tailgate system. You'll have to pay a rear view camera, heated front seats and variable sport steering with performance control.
Buying & owning: The X3 is competitively priced among its rivals. You'll have to stay clear of the options list if you want your X3 to be within reasonable price levels. The Audi Q5 and Volvo XC60 are both able to cater to drivers in the same levels as the X3 but both don't offer the fun to drive factors as the X3. Then again we have yet to test drive the X3 or any BMW with standard suspension.
Reliability & Safety: The X3 cabin materials feel upscale and long lasting. Much attention was put into the fit and finish. It may not be as classy as the Audi Q5, but it is a vast improvement over the previous generation. Reliability should be good as BMW has been vastly improving their reliability over the years. Front and side curtain airbags come standard across the range. ESP, anti-lock-brakes come standard as well as X-drive all-wheel-drive system. Deadlocks and anti-theft deterrent system comes standard to keep theft away.
The BMW X3 is a great choice among it's keen rivals Volvo XC60 and Audi Q5. It's quite fun to drive and vastly improved over previous generation. Both engines offer plenty of oomph and the refinement is improved as well. We have yet to test drive a BMW with standard suspension and the options send the price to X5 levels. If you can ignore these few downsides the X3 is a great vehicle that's worth considering if its rivals don't tickle your fancy.
Devon's Pick: The X3 xDrive28i is the pick of the range. The 2-liter turbo engine is all the engine you'll really need. There is plenty of pace for both city and highway driving. It may seem like the watered down version of the X3 but it makes the most sense financially. If you stay clear of the options list you'll get a decently priced X3 that's worth an extra look.
Likes: Optional variable damper control makes the X3 more fun to drive. Quality and cabin materials are vastly improved.
Dislikes: Options send price to X5 entry level. Large rear tunnel limits space for three. We've yet to test drive any BMW with standard suspension.