New & Used BMW X3: In Depth
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The BMW X3 is a luxury mid-size SUV that's a rival for vehicles like the Mercedes-Benz GLK, Cadillac SRX, Audi Q5, and Range Rover Evoque.
Built in the BMW plant in South Carolina, the X3 slots in between the larger X5 and compact X1 in the automaker's lineup.MORE: Read our 2015 BMW X3 review
As one of the anchors of the luxury crossover segment, the BMW X3 first showed up in U.S. showrooms with six-cylinder engines, manual and automatic transmissions, and an advanced all-wheel-drive system that used input from stability control to determine how to distribute its power. It also features a relatively small interior with inexpensive-looking trim and had a very firm ride.
In almost every model year, BMW tweaked the X3's looks or hardware. In 2007, the engines were updated, and ride and steering were revised, while the cockpit was refurbished with better materials--a noticeable improvement all around. Toward the end of its first generation, BMW dropped all engine variants save for the 260-horsepower, 3.0-liter in-line six-cylinder engine. A brisk performer, the X3 remained responsive and eager.
With the 2011 model year, BMW introduced the second-generation X3. Growing in all directions, this X3 -- largely carried over for the 2012 model year--also adopted the familiar BMW in-line six, in normally aspirated and turbocharged versions, with 240 horsepower and 300 hp, respectively. An eight-speed automatic transmission and BMW's sophisticated xDrive all-wheel-drive system are standard on either model. This X3's handling improved greatly while versions with adaptive suspension and driver-selectable steering gave drivers better comfort and precision than in the older version.
The current X3's styling has also adopted some of the latest BMW curves, though in this iteration, it's a much happier mix than in some of the early examples of this design theme--the 7-Series and 6-Series of the early 2000s, to be specific. Inside, the X3's upgraded interior brought new clarity and richer materials front and center.
BMW now offers a choice of three powertrains in the X3. The base setup is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, available with either rear- (sDrive28i) or all-wheel drive (xDrive28i). A 2.0-liter turbodiesel xDrive28d costs just a bit more and makes all-wheel drive standard while improving greatly on fuel economy. The top engine is a turbocharged inline-six in the xDrive35i.
With carlike ride and handling, and 0-60 mph times of 5.5 seconds on turbo models, today's X3 sits atop the luxury-crossover class in almost every regard. It's also a safety winner: the IIHS has named it a Top Safety Pick. And entertainment's finally on the menu: the options list includes an excellent navigation system, iPod integration, HD Radio, Bluetooth, and a big panoramic sunroof.
The 2013 model year marked a major turning point for the X3, as the base in-line six was dropped in favor of a turbocharged four-cylinder engine with nearly identical power ratings to the outgoing six and improved highway fuel economy. Then 2015 marked the introduction of a rear-wheel drive base sDrive28i, as well as a new xDrive28d turbo-diesel model.
To keep things fresh, the 2015 X3 got some exterior and interior design tweaks, including a new grille, a new headlight design, and some cabin trim updates. The X3 also received BMW's latest iDrive controller, which incorporates a touch pad, as well as some newly optional active-safety features.