The sport seats in our X3 actually feel a bit too firm when you first get in, but for a couple of three-hour highway blasts they provided the perfect kind of support—along with extendable thigh cushions.
Inside, with the current generation of the X3 BMW has done a lot to keep the look and feel premium. All the materials from the middle of the doors on up are soft-touch, with really nice-looking grains, and the net effect is that the cabin has a muted ambiance that helps soak up harsh sounds both from conversations inside the car and, we suspect from the outside.
At about 183 inches long and 74 inches wide, with a wheelbase of 110.6 inches, the X3 is now a step bigger than most of the mainstream compact crossovers like the Toyota RAV4 or Ford Escape, but it's sized almost identically with the Audi Q5 and a bit shorter than the Cadillac SRX.
The current generation of the X3 drives a bit more like the X5, and a bit less like the firmly sprung 3-Series wagon on stilts. If anything, the X3 feels a little more compliant and allows a little more lean than before—to the benefit of handling—and the 28i in general felt a little lighter and more nimble than we remembered from the six-cylinder model. Though we have to add that if you're expecting the level of driving engagement that you've experienced before in BMW vehicles, you might be happier with a 2013 BMW 3-Series Sports Wagon.
Our car has the available Variable Sports Steering, which is essentially just a good variable-ratio rack, providing a relaxed feel on center, at high speeds, but allowing you to more easily maneuver at lower speeds, around tight corners. And we dare say we got more steering feel through the unit, surprisingly, than through the base electric steering system that's now included in the sedans.
The turbo four proved very fuel-efficient, too. Over about 700 miles of driving in wintry Michigan—with most of those miles either in suburban errands or high-speed highway cruising—we averaged more than 24 mpg.
Charming, but pricey at $52k
The bottom-line price for our 2013 BMW X3 xDrive28i was a eyebrow-raising $52,345. That included—as most BMWs you'll find at the dealership—a long list of options, like the $1,150 Sport Activity Package (aluminum-satin roof rails, sport seats, sport steering wheel, X-line exterior trim, anthracite headliner); the $3,450 Premium Package (universal garage-door opener, panoramic moonroof, ambient lighting, additional storage); a $3,200 Technology Package (rearview camera, Park Distance Control, navigation with real-time traffic, BMW Assist); a $1,300 Convenience Package (xenon headlamps, rear side sunshades, and Comfort Access entry); Premium Sound ($950); and a $700 Cold Weather Package with heated front seats and a heated steering wheel.
What we found, in the end, is that the current X3 is neither first and foremost a rugged off-pavement machine nor a vehicle honed for curvy mountain roads. What it is, is a vehicle that makes a lot of sense for American suburban families who want a vehicle that's roomy inside and very luxurious, yet fuel-efficient and responsibly sized—yet without a doubt, a BMW from the driver's seat.