Distinctive BMW X3 Ships from Spartanburg, SC | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 02 August 2012 16:02

080212aBy Steve Schaefer

San Leandro Times

BMW has cachet — and its 3 Series cars have been its most popular for decades. With the rise in compact SUVs (and crossovers), it was inevitable that the German brand would expand into that segment, and, in 2004, they did, offering the original X3 alongside the larger X5.

I drove one of these first-gen cars and it didn’t feel as “BMW-like” as I expected. I read elsewhere of complaints about the overly firm ride and a kind of plainness to the design.

Well, folks, don’t worry, because the new X3 is completely BMW — even though it is now built in Spartanburg, South Carolina. BMW started assembling the Z3 sports car there a long time ago and it’s now the source for all the X vehicles — X5 and X6 included. Americans are the largest consumers of tall wagons, and it only makes sense to build them here — for worldwide distribution.

BMWs are some of the most distinctive cars on the road, so you’ll immediately recognize the twin-kidney grille, and all of the brand’s X-series “Sports Activity Vehicles” have recognizable shapes to clue you in. The new model still has lots of lines on the surface, including six on the hood alone, but it’s a little smoother and prettier than before. The headlight assemblies are large and prominent while the taillamps wear the T shape that was established in the first generation. The sides have three sets of lines to take your eye along the surface.

My Space Gray Metallic test car arrived with the inline 3.0-liter 6-cylinder engine, as the X3 xDrive35i. It has an even 300 horsepower — which felt like lots.  It’s reputed to go from zero to 60 mph in just 5.5 seconds. I didn’t time it myself, but it felt like it was up to the job.

The eight-speed automatic has two extra gears, so there’s a taller one for more efficiency while still giving you a quick shot off the line in the lower gears. You can shift manually (no clutch), too.

The xDrive28i model sits below the xDrive35i, and now comes with a turbocharged 240-horsepower four-cylinder for increased efficiency and a little lower initial cost.

The EPA gives the X3 with the straight-six engine ratings of 19 City, 26 Highway and 21 Average. I averaged just 17.4 mpg. Green Vehicle Guide scores are a mid-pack 6 for Air Pollution and 4 for Greenhouse Gas.

Thanks to the electronic control of pretty much everything in the car, you can configure the driving characteristics using the Driving Dynamics Control lever. This optional feature lets you adjust the shock absorber firmness, engine throttle response, transmission shift characteristics, level of power steering assist, and stability control mode. That means that by choosing Normal, Sport or Sport +, you can have three quite different driving experiences.

I discovered that Normal felt fine on the freeway and around town, but when I tried the sportier settings, intermittently, it really made a difference. Especially with a tall vehicle, having the tauter handling on the windier roads was a treat. Of course, it being a BMW, even Normal was more satisfying than the average car.

080212a2The first-generation X3 may have seemed a little basic and plain, but this new X3 has all the feeling of a BMW, including the straightforward, flat instrument panel and the typical matte surface textures that convey understated luxury. There was plenty of Fineline Sienna wood trim in my tester, too. The always-excellent BMW seats are firm and hold you in place while you’re testing to see if that 5.5-second 0-60 time is accurate.

The X3 isn’t a cheap car to begin with. The xDrive35i starts at $43,595, but there are lots of extras you can pack on, and my tester was a rolling example of how to do this. The Sport Activity Package upgraded the wheels to 19-inch double-spoked alloys and enhanced the transmission and seats, while turning the headliner black (anthracite) and installing Aluminum Satin roof rails. Two cold-weather packages (neither of which I’d really require here in California) heated the steering wheel, and front and rear seats, as well as providing retractable headlight washers.

The Dynamic Handling Package gave me that adjustable ride and driving configuration I mentioned earlier. The Premium Package further loaded the boat with a power tailgate, keyless entry, ambiance lighting and much more. Premium Sound upgraded the audio system and added Satellite Radio. The Technology Package added lots of cool things you’d want to have, such as the rear-view camera with a special “Top View” feature, Park Distance Control, and a navigation system with real-time traffic information. I think that’s everything.

What happened is that a $43,000 car became a $56,295 one — compact, but loaded. What’s not to like (other than making the payments)?

 

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